No moment in education history has ever highlighted more powerfully the need for libraries than the pandemic. When 1 in 11 children from disadvantaged communities don’t own a single book and 700,000 young people mainly from the same communities are digitally excluded, the impact of closing public and school libraries during lockdown was inevitably most damaging to our poorest and most vulnerable young people.
This challenge was immediately understood. Within weeks of the first lockdown the Education Endowment Foundation was projecting that:
School closures will widen the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, likely reversing progress made to narrow the gap since 2011. The median estimate indicates that the gap would widen by 36%.Education Endowment Foundation, Impact of school closures on the attainment gap, June 2020
As the nation begins to focus in on the priorities for educational recovery, the role of school libraries in supporting the reading and literacy of this group must be seen as a priority.
School libraries play a unique role in supporting the reading of young people from this group, from the very communities who have suffered most in the pandemic. National Literacy Trust research demonstrates how school libraries attract higher levels of use from the FSM group than their more advantaged classmates. This is a huge achievement when we know that students from the FSM group are more likely to have literacy challenges and be classed as reluctant readers. Despite this school libraries are frequently not seen as a priority, the role of the school librarian is underappreciated and schools library services as a buy-back service have become an optional extra, where they continue to exist at all. This needs to change. At this moment school libraries need to be recognised as a vital resource in educational recovery and in creating the skills base to enable levelling up to succeed.
So, the National Literacy Trust is thrilled to support Cressida Cowell’s support for better primary school library provision. For the last three years we have worked with Penguin Random House and local public and schools library services to develop over 250 primary schools in disadvantaged areas. We have seen how the primary school library can invigorate a schools’ reading culture and ignite a love of reading in pupils and amongst families. They have proved to be a vital resource for teachers, supporting the professionals whose expertise will lead the recovery.
To support Cressida’s campaign we have launched today the call for evidence for the Primary School Library Review. This project will review current primary school library provision and make policy recommendations to government to position them as a central resource in educational recovery.
The presence of libraries are a powerful statement by society of the democratic power of literacy and the universal right to read. In the post-pandemic context of a chasming literacy gap, they need to be treated as a national priority.