Why is there no statutory requirement for schools to have any library facilities? - Gill Furniss

As a child, I started going to libraries and I have never stopped. In fact, I spent so much time in libraries that I ended up working in not just one but several over the years, from public libraries to academic libraries.

I eventually earned my degree in information and library studies as a mature student. Books changed my life. I know that they have the potential to change the lives of millions of children, too.

As a former librarian, I have had the privilege of welcoming countless children through the doors of my local library, watching as they were whisked away to far-flung places, captivated by the magic of words. Children are whisked away to the land of Shakespeare, Dickens, the Brontës and many others. This is a country whose identity is steeped in story, which is why I find it so shocking that there is no statutory requirement for schools to have any library facilities.

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It is no wonder that one in six adults in the country have very low levels of literacy, rising to one in three in some of the poorest communities. I fear that those statistics could be even bleaker in future. Research conducted by the National Literacy Trust found that 56 per cent of eight to 18-year-olds do not enjoy reading in their free time - the lowest level since surveys began in 2005.

Students reading in the library of a school. PIC: Ben Birchall/PA WireStudents reading in the library of a school. PIC: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Students reading in the library of a school. PIC: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

More than ever, books are fighting phones and video game consoles for relevance at home. Although those have their place, it is vital that we do everything in our power to help establish a love of reading during children’s formative years.

Recently, led by Sir Michael Morpurgo, the current and former children’s laureates united to call for legislation to make it a legal requirement for all schools in Britain to have libraries.

Some may question that as a priority and deride it as something that would be nice to have, especially during these difficult economic times, but the benefits of reading are innumerable, and support across the country for such a policy is overwhelming.

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86 per cent of parents said that they would support making it a legal requirement for every primary school in the country to have a designated school library on site - and for good reason.

Studies from the OECD show that reading for pleasure has a more profound impact on a child’s academic success than their socioeconomic background, while research by Farshore into the impacts of daily story time in primary schools found that 65 per cent of boys and 76 per cent of girls agree that story time makes them feel calmer.

Those children went on to develop increased enthusiasm and motivation to read and, on average, their reading age improved at twice the expected rate over the period of the study. Children are not the only ones to benefit from the impacts of daily story time: 91 per cent of teachers said that they want to continue with daily story time, and 88 per cent would like it to be mandated in the curriculum to help mitigate the guilt of coming away from the statutory curriculum requirements to spend time reading stories.

It is clear from multiple academic studies and reports that a love of books can help to form the bedrock for a better life. However, we are in the midst of a national reading crisis. That crisis is compounded by the fact that one in seven state primary schools in this country do not have a library.

Gill Furniss, the Labour MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, was speaking at Westminster Hall debate on Books in Primary School.

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