The Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell MBE has called on Downing Street to put primary school libraries at the centre of the government’s response to the pandemic by ring-fencing £100m a year in spending to preserve under-threat facilities.
The author, who is most well-known for books including the How To Train Your Dragon series, has written an open letter signed by former Laureates including Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman, and by the heads of a number of literacy and publishing organisations.
The £100m in funding would allow schools to develop new libraries, hire skilled librarians and buy new inventory. By comparison, £320m has been ringfenced to promote physical education in primary schools this year, with hundreds of millions set aside every year since 2013.
The letter highlights the chronic underfunding of libraries within primary schools, with research showing that up to one in eight primary schools has no library space whatsoever. That statistic doubles in schools where more children receive free school meals.
The letter reads: “Surely the opportunity to become a reader for pleasure is just as important as Physical Education?”
“How is it fair that some children are being given this immeasurable advantage in life, but stark book poverty means many more are denied this same chance to change their future?”
“I have visited primary schools across the country over my 20-year career as a children’s author/illustrator and it is heart-breaking to see just how unevenly this fundamental opportunity is distributed”
“So often the children who need books the most are in schools that cannot provide them with even an adequate school library, let alone a good one.”
She added: “I know that the government is looking for practical solutions for the problems caused by the pandemic: placing primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term education recovery would change lives, and level up this country.
“By supporting primary school libraries with a yearly, dedicated boost of £100 million, we can help children whose future now lies in the balance.”
Cowell's flagship project during her two-year tenure as Children's Laureate is called "Life-changing Libraries". The initiative transforms library spaces in primary schools across England – creating a space with 1,000 books and providing staff with training and mentoring from the School Library Association.
The project spotlights the four pillars of a successful ‘gold standard’ school library – space, book provision, expertise, and whole-school and parent involvement, with the BookTrust monitoring pupils’ engagement and reading behaviour over a 12-month period.