Reading for Pleasure – the bedrock of #GreatSchoolLibraries

“The active encouragement of reading for pleasure should be a core part of every child’s curriculum entitlement because extensive reading and exposure to a wide range of texts make a huge contribution to students’ educational achievement.” (The All-Party Parliamentary Group for education, 2011)

Not every child has access to books at home or parents or carers who take them to the public library but every child must go to school. Therefore, in order for reading for pleasure to be a core part of every child’s curriculum entitlement, every school needs a school library. But that isn’t enough. To create a great school library that isn’t just a room full of books, but the heart of the school, the library needs to have a school librarian who can provide the active encouragement, knowledge and expertise in reading as well as keeping the library and stock relevant, attractive and up to date.

Many schools don’t know where to start when wanting to create a dynamic, vibrant space where children are keen to come and borrow books nor do hard-pressed teachers have the time. Their stock usually consists of books that have been in the library since the last librarian left twenty years ago with some recent, popular titles that are falling apart. Often the space has become a dumping ground or an extra classroom. Schools Library Services can help. We can come into schools, weed the stock, organise the library including cataloguing, classification and advise on what new stock to purchase and what library management systems to use. If there is no Schools Library Service in your area, contact SLS-UK through our website and we will find someone to help create that Great School Library. If schools can’t afford a librarian some Schools Library Services offer a professional librarian in school for one or two days a week, which has proved invaluable:

“The work of a School Librarian has the potential to make a huge contribution to the school in ways that I had not realised until we found ours. Her work has impacted directly on the children; their involvement and enthusiasm for reading as well as our participation in enrichment activities and the maintenance of the reading environment.” (Headteacher, Primary School in Tower Hamlets, London).

While most primary schools no longer have a school librarian thanks to massive cuts to budgets, the many secondary schools do and reports show the critical value of a good school librarian:

“The school librarian is uniquely placed to support teaching and learning in all areas of the National Curriculum, not just English, as well as the wider school curriculum. Through the librarian’s knowledge, expertise and skills, children are taught how to access and explore for themselves all the school curriculum subject areas and beyond. This is particularly important for the large number of pupils who still do not have access to books and/or the internet at home.” (Beating Heart of the School Report, 2014)

Ofsted, in its report Good school libraries: making a difference to learning, 2005, says:

“Well trained and energetic librarians with good specialist knowledge had a major influence on increasing effectiveness of school libraries. The best school librarians had a positive impact on teaching, pupils’ personal development and their learning.“

Yet despite their level of professional training and experience, many school librarians are regarded as support staff. Often they have dual roles. They are also responsible for careers, reprographics, admin, video conferencing and accelerated reader or other structured schemes.

Status and salary need to be of a high enough level to attract high quality, experienced, dedicated people to the role. They are a vital ingredient in making the library the heart of the school and to improve a school’s performance in SATs and exams.

Ron Weasley sums it up well in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: “But why’s she got to go to the library?” “Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”

Every child should have somewhere to go when in doubt; to learn independently and to retrieve information. Every child deserves a great school library.

Image from Flikr Creative Commons.  Created by Carlos Porto here.

Mental Wellbeing and School Libraries

Christina Clark, Head of Research at the National Literacy Trust, is a member of the campaign working group. In this blog she introduces us to some of their latest research into links between well-being and literacy.

We’ve long known that a love of reading and writing can help children flourish at school and go on to succeed at work. But our latest research on the link between reading, writing and mental well being tells us that reading and writing for enjoyment can also help children lead happy and healthy lives.

This matters as the mental health of our children and young people is increasingly an area of concern. Indeed between 2015 and 2017 the Government announced new funding for mental health, including specific investment in perinatal services and eating disorder services for teenagers, and in July 2018, statutory health education in schools was announced.

There are a few studies that explore children and young people’s subjective wellbeing. However, to our knowledge, no one has looked at the link between how one feels about oneself and reading or writing. We therefore wanted to know how general mental wellbeing is related to several reading and writing variables, such as enjoyment, frequency, self-rated perceptions of skill and attitudes.

So, what did we do? In our latest Annual Literacy Survey of 49,047 children and young people aged 8 to 18, we focused on three aspects of mental wellbeing: life satisfaction, coping skills and self-belief. To explore how mental wellbeing in general is associated with aspects of reading and writing, we combined responses across the three components into one to create an overall Mental Wellbeing Index.

We found that children who enjoy reading and writing in their free time have significantly better mental well being than their peers who don’t. Indeed children who enjoy reading and writing, do it daily outside school and have positive attitudes towards literacy are three times more likely to have high levels of mental well being than their peers who are not engaged in reading and writing (39.4% vs 11.8%). On the flip side, not being engaged with reading and writing makes children twice as vulnerable to low levels of mental well being than their engages peers (37.4% vs 15%).

Previous research has shown that reading skill is linked to mental wellbeing, with children who struggle with reading having worse mental wellbeing outcomes. We had reading skill data for 1,098 pupils aged 11 to 15, which allowed us to explore not only the link between mental wellbeing and reading skill but also how important reading skill is when other reading components are considered. In line with previous studies, we found that children and young people who read at or above the level expected for their age have higher mental wellbeing scores, on average, than their peers whose reading skills are below expected levels.

However, what was particularly interesting was that when all the reading variables were considered simultaneously, reading skill was not found to be a significant predictor of mental wellbeing in our study. This might indicate that enjoyment and attitudes are more important for mental wellbeing, which in turn might suggest that focusing on improving positive attitudes and enjoyment of reading might be particularly beneficial in the classroom and across the whole school.

And this is where school libraries have a vital role to play. We know that school libraries are positively linked to personal and interpersonal outcomes such as feelings of success, resilience, independence and self-esteem. Positive attitudes and enjoyment of reading in particular have been consistently linked to school library use, both in the UK and internationally. Data from a large scale survey in the UK has shown that pupils who use the school library are more likely to enjoy reading, to read more books in a typical month and rate themselves as good readers. The data also showed that school library users think more positively about reading. They are more likely to see reading as fun and cool and less likely to agree that they only read when they have to. Some evidence also suggests that the impact of school libraries might be particularly important for engaging boys in reading.

At a time when children and young people are facing a multitude of pressures at school, at home and in their social lives, it is vital that we do everything we can to help them develop the resilience they need to cope with life’s challenges — something that we now know a love of reading and writing can help with. And school libraries can play a central part in this.