New Yorkshire primary school library part of efforts to tackle nation's 'vast reading inequalities'

Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell will be visiting a Yorkshire primary school to open its new library as part of a BookTrust initiative. Chris Burn reports.

How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell after being announced as the new Waterstones Children's Laureate at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London in 2019. Picture: PA.
How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell after being announced as the new Waterstones Children's Laureate at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London in 2019. Picture: PA.

Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has called on the Government to do more to tackle the “vast inequality” in the provision of primary school libraries.

Now the best-selling author is helping to demonstrate the huge difference a well-stocked library can have with a pilot scheme in Yorkshire

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Dinnington Community Primary School is one of six English primary schools – all of which have at least 25 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals – which have been selected for her Life-changing Libraries initiative.

The aim of the scheme is to help develop a “reading for pleasure” culture within the selected schools, with a dedicated library space created by BookTrust and stocked with a specially-curated list of around 1,000 titles.

Staff will be provided with professional training and mentoring from specialists at the School Library Association, as part of a two year-membership.

Cowell, known for books including the How To Train Your Dragon series, will be at Dinnington Primary School next Thursday to officially open the new library, which has been built over the past few weeks.

Sarah Reason, head teacher of Dinnington Community Primary School, says: “Many children’s only experience of reading and literature is what they are exposed to at school so we feel passionately that this project has the possibility to be life changing for many in our community.

“Finding the right book can be the key to unlocking the world of reading or discovering a new passion. Combined with opportunities to meet authors and illustrators, this has the potential to ignite a lasting spark of inspiration. We believe that being part of this project will show our community that others are invested in the pupils at Dinnington Primary and reinforce our belief that all children at our school can achieve their dreams. Reading is an escape, and I believe that being part of this project will inject the school with the magic that only books can bring.”

The initiative comes after Cowell wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson in April supported by former Laureates, literacy organisations, and publishing industry leaders. They were asking the Government to demonstrate their commitment to levelling up the country by improving primary school library provision through a ring-fenced £100m annual investment.

Cowell warned of “vast inequality” in the provision of primary school libraries, and said the gap in educational achievement and opportunity “remains stark, worrying and urgent”.

The author said: “It is heart-breaking to see just how unevenly this fundamental opportunity is distributed.”

The letter said the lack of access to libraries means millions of children, particularly those from the poorest communities worst-hit by the pandemic and whose parents cannot afford books at home, are missing out on the opportunity to become a reader for pleasure.

She said this severely inhibits opportunities for educational development, health and well-being, personal growth and future prospects. Cowell has called on 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” through the ring-fenced yearly investment.

“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.”

She added: “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.”

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