Authors call for intervention on school libraries

150 authors including Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Cressida Cowell and Chris Riddell have signed an open letter to Education Secretary Justine Greening calling for her to intervene to stop the 'shocking decline' in England's school libraries.

Greening is being asked to signal her belief in the "value of literacy" for learning and to set up a national service and to safeguard the positions of qualified librarians in schools.

According to library and information association CILIP, some 30% of the school librarian workforce has been lost since 2008, and the provision of adequately staffed libraries in schools and colleges with up-to-date learning and reading resources has declined sharply. A recent survey suggests that more than a quarter of schools have no librarian.

The letter's signatories are asking Greening to make an "urgent intervention" to stop the drop in school libraries and in qualified school librarians. The letter adds,"Before they can read to learn, children and young people must first learn to read, to research and successfully to navigate today's information-rich world".

While Ofsted is considering guidelines for inspectors to consider how schools and colleges access the support of a trained librarian, the letter says, "The urgent need is with us now - we must act now to counter the loss of school and college libraries before we consign a generation to a lifetime of low attainment and mobility."

It highlights how England has lower rates of teenage literacy than other developed nations, according to international rankings.

Ministers say they want all children to have the opportunity to read widely but that spending on libraries was decided by schools.

Dawn Finch of CILIP, who headed up the letter's signatories, told The Bookseller: "For far too long we have been failing to see the connection between the lack of investment in school library provision and falling literacy levels. There is a huge body of evidence that shows that a well-stocked school library staffed by a skilled and knowledgeable professional has a direct positive impact on a child's education, as well as their emotional and mental wellbeing.

"It seems absurd to me that this is not a statutory requirement in our schools. If we can oversee their physical fitness with significant national investment in sports and healthy eating, then we should add to that with an investment in their mental and educational health too - and that requires a library in every school."

The authors also want more schools to have school librarians; the letter shares figures from one split-site state secondary which lost its school librarians in 2014. In 2014, between September and November, when the school had a full-time librarian on each site, 1508 books were loaned to children. Over the same period in 2017, when the school had no librarians at all, children borrowed just 48 books.

"These figures represent a 97% decline in books issued to children at that school to support their learning and development," the letter states. "In the same period across the UK, the usage of ebooks and electronic resources in schools in particular has flatlined and even in the last year begun to decline - it is not the case that use of books is being replaced by technology. It is the case that children are not receiving the support and encouragement they need in order to become readers."

The letter reminds us that England is the only OECD nation where the literacy of 16- to 24-year-olds is below that of people aged 55 and over. "If a child cannot read well by the age of 11, the negative impacts on their attainment last for the rest of their lives," the authors added.

24/11/2017Authors call for intervention on school libraries

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