She has written to Boris Johnson calling for change – and her letter has also been signed by top children’s writers Michael Rosen and Sir Quentin Blake. Cressida, who is the Children’s Laureate, said: “Every prison has a statutory library, but one in eight primary schools has no library space at all. And the poorest children in the most deprived schools are most likely to be without books.” She said £100million a year was needed to bring the worst schools up to the same standard as the best.
This would give children from poorer backgrounds the same chance in life as those from more affluent areas.
Her open letter to the Prime Minister says the gap is “stark, worrying and urgent”.
It goes on: “It is heartbreaking to see just how unevenly this fundamental opportunity is distributed.”
Cressida is calling on the Government to “reverse the spiralling inequality in education” by putting primary school libraries “at the heart of our long-term response to the pandemic”.
She said: “The devastating impact on the most disadvantaged schoolchildren is not going to be remedied with a quick fix. We must properly invest in their future at this pivotal moment.”
Cressida, 55, cited the PE and sport premium, introduced in 2013, which is given to primary schools to improve physical education.
She said: “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 20-year career as an author-illustrator and it is heartbreaking 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.” Cressida also announced plans for an initiative by the BookTrust called Life-changing Libraries.
Over the course of a year, six primary schools in England, which have at least 25 percent of pupils eligible for free school meals, will be helped to develop a “reading for pleasure” culture.
A library of 1,000 books will be created in Benwick primary, March, Cambs, Dinnington community primary in Rotherham, Griffin primary in Wandsworth, south-west London, Saviour C of E primary in Manchester, Darlington’s Skerne Park primary and Woodchurch C of E primary, on Wirral.
BookTrust chief executive Diana Gerald said: “It’s impossible to overstate the life-changing impact that books have on a child’s life prospects, their mental health, wellbeing, self-esteem and educational achievement.
“It can drive social mobility and mitigate the effect of social inequality.”
Analysis by Cressida Cowell
I have been delighted by the widespread support for my Life-changing Libraries campaign and open letter to the Prime Minister.
This was backed by many literacy and reading organisations, such as BookTrust and the National Literacy Trust, and all former Laureates.
There has been so much enthusiasm for our call to place primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term response to the pandemic, with a ring-fenced, yearly investment of £100million.
But I’ve also been struck by how many people are surprised that we even need to ask. What’s clear from this reaction is that people assume that all primary schools have well-stocked libraries. However this is not the case.
I have spent 20 years touring schools and have seen the astonishing inequality in library provision. Heartbreakingly, schools with a greater percentage of children on free school meals have fewer libraries and fewer books.
So, the children that need books most are the very children who are least likely to have them.
This cannot be fair. Decades of research show that reading has a life-changing impact on a child’s life prospects, their mental health, wellbeing, self-esteem, educational achievement and so much more. It opens up a world of possibilities and develops aspiration, while driving social mobility and mitigating the effect of social inequality.
But how can a child become a reader for pleasure if their parents or carers cannot afford books, and their primary school has no library?
Through our six pilot schools, the Life-changing Libraries project will spotlight the four pillars of a successful “gold standard” school library – space, book provision, expertise and whole-school and parent involvement.
The Prime Minister has made helping children who have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic a priority. So I urge the Government to take this step to invest in school libraries and in our children’s and our country’s future.