This recent article, that made national news, highlights how the level of a child’s literacy is a key indicator of how well they will go on to do in later life, with those with poor reading and writing skills far more likely to struggle than their better-read peers
Why is ring-fenced funding needed?
Astonishingly, there is currently no statutory provision for school libraries, with funding for libraries dependent on the specific budget of schools, multi-academy trusts, and local authority budgets. This causes a large gap to widen between schools from communities with higher deprivation levels and those from more affluent areas.
The sort of books deemed ‘reading for pleasure’ tend to be near the very bottom of priority lists for school funding as they do not form part of the general early year's curriculum and so are not able to be read by young primary-aged pupils. Unfortunately, schools are forced to use their limited resources wisely and those books not on the curriculum are the first casualties. This can mean that children from poorer backgrounds don’t get the opportunity to read ‘interesting’ or ‘exciting’ books such as Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon. This, in turn, can make it very hard for children to develop a real love of reading, instead of seeing it as a chore that must be endured not enjoyed. Those children unable to hone their ‘reading for pleasure’ skills are unlikely to develop their literacy skills to the same level as a child who is an avid reader.
Where does the funding come from for ‘reading for pleasure’ and stocking libraries?
The wealthiest schools have sufficient budgets to be able to pay for good libraries and books to fill them and other schools that may not have their own resources but are located in affluent areas also tend to benefit from that affluent community. This is commonly achieved through local Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs). PTAs from wealthy neighborhoods are able to generate large amounts of money through fundraising and sourcing funds from more affluent families and friends. They also tend to have better connections to businesses and networks to further help source resources for their schools. Schools situated in more deprived areas are not able to raise large amounts of money from the families of their children, nor do they generally speaking have good connections to businesses or wealthy benefactors. Even when schools from disadvantaged communities do receive literacy support from funders and bodies such as the Department for Education, this funding is generally not given to pay for reading resources but, rather, staff time, training, and development.
St John’s funding
Recently, we awarded funding to a number of local schools from deprived communities and we gave the headteachers from these schools the freedom to use the funding in any way they wished that they felt would best support the children. Almost all of the schools chose to spend a portion of that funding on books, which is very telling and just goes to show how little resource is available in this area. Even so, the books that were purchased were educational, ‘decodable’ books and texts, not the reading-for-pleasure books such as ‘How to train your dragon’.
By way of conclusion, we wholly endorse the ring-fencing of funding to bolster/create libraries for schools from deprived communities. It would be a hugely valuable initiative and help level up the playing field when it comes to children’s literacy and education.