Yet again a report has come out showing that children who have books to read outside of school are well equipped to access education. The study, published in the journal Social Science Research, shows children with access to more books developed a direct positive relationship with literacy, numeracy and even IT skills in later years.
In one of several encounters I’ve had with ministers in your department, I provided them with another study, from the US, proving the value of reading for pleasure. I suggested that since the NHS, libraries and schools are public institutions, it would be simple for children to be issued with library tickets at birth, or else on entry to school. I pointed out that it was within the power of the Department for Education to adapt a technique it used several years before with the Language in the National Curriculum project.
This created a national conversation among teachers in their localities and regions, where practitioners mingled with researchers, shared practice and developed policy. The National Union of Teachers produced a booklet on the importance of children reading for pleasure. I presented two TV programmes on it.
In 2011, Ofsted, the inspectorate, produced a report, Moving English Forward, [pdf] stating that every school should develop a policy on reading for enjoyment for every pupil. I was so delighted I helped organise a summit for all the voluntary bodies involved, so we could give the last push over the line on this, using Ofsted’s statement as the justification.
I did it in the naive assumption that the matter was now beyond dispute and a new movement would burgeon, drawing in and uniting the library service with schools, the health service, Booktrust, the Reading Agency, the National Literacy Trust, the voluntary reading organisations such as Beanstalk, the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, the National Association of Writers in Education, the National Association for the Teaching of English, the United Kingdom Literacy Association, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, the Education Media Centre, the English Association, the Royal Society of Literature, the Children’s Bookshow, the education and children’s literature departments in universities, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, and the many agencies who put writers and books into schools.
The reason I’ve listed them, Mr Hinds, is to remind you of their existence but also because it is within your powers to convene a national conference of all these bodies, tasked with producing an agreed set of guidelines on children’s reading for pleasure.
Despite the Ofsted report, the government did almost nothing. No provision was put in place “for all” – which is what the inspectorate called for. The summit I helped to arrange was itself successful, but in my experience, nothing with a universal reach happens unless there is leadership and money from government.Instead what do we have? Reading: the Next Steps contains a handful of clauses. The most laughable of these says: “The government would like all children to be active members of a public library and we are asking all schools to arrange library membership for all year 3 pupils”.
Haven’t you and your minister Nick Gibb noticed: lately the library service has been decimated? Then, with what’s left of libraries, instead of putting a library ticket into every child’s hand, you say limply “we are asking …”.
Changing that involves bringing organisations together, listening to them, and backing their ideas with serious money. It’s not the way anyone in your job has behaved in the last 40 years but maybe it’s time to give it a go.
Yours, Michael Rosen