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Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has written a powerful open letter to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for the government to ring fence a yearly investment of £100m for school libraries. The letter, part of Cowell’s Life-Changing Libraries project, is signed by a host of highly respected children’s authors and illustrators including Malorie Blackman, Sir Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Lauren Child, Julia Donaldson, Anne Fine, Sir Michael Morpurgo, Chris Riddell, Michael Rosen and Dame Jacqueline Wilson. It also has the support of the UK Publishers Association and bodies involved with children’s literacy and education.
Cowell writes: ‘Millions of children, particularly those from the poorest communities worst hit by the pandemic, are missing out on opportunities to discover the life-changing magic of reading – one that OECD research suggests is a key indicator in a child’s future success. How can a child become a reader for pleasure if their parents or carers cannot afford books, and their primary school has no library, or that library is woefully insufficient? I am writing – with the support of former Laureates, literacy organisations, and publishing industry leaders – to ask the Government to help reverse the spiralling inequality in education by putting primary school libraries at the heart of our long term response to the pandemic with a ring fenced, yearly investment of £100m.’
She continues: ‘The devastating impact on the most disadvantaged school children is not going to be remedied with a quick fix. We must properly invest in their future at this pivotal moment. Decades of research show a reader for pleasure is more likely to be happier, healthier, to do better at school, and to vote – all irrespective of background. According to the OECD, reading for pleasure is a bigger indicator of a child’s educational success than their parent’s socio-economic status….Since 2013, the physical education and sport premium – allocated directly to primary schools and ring-fenced to improve physical education – has helped ensure that all young people can experience the numerous benefits of physical activity. Surely the opportunity to become a reader for pleasure is just as important? 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 twenty-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. There is vast inequality in the current primary school library provision. In 2019, the Great School Libraries report found a lack of space, resource and expertise, and that libraries are deteriorating. Whilst every prison has a statutory library, one in eight primary schools has no library space at all. Worse still, schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals were more than twice as likely not to have access to a designated library space. ….It is these children, and their families, whose voices are not always heard, and I am using my platform as Waterstones Children’s Laureate to speak out on their behalf.’
She concludes: ‘Put simply, libraries change lives. Literacy changes lives. I look forward to hearing from you and would be pleased to discuss this call for support.’