Boys’ Reading Commisson Report & Libraries

This week began with an interesting new report from the National Literacy Trust/Boys’ Reading Commission. The report reveals that “three out of four (76%) UK schools are concerned about boys’ underachievement in reading despite no Government strategy to address the issue. Last year an estimated 60,000 boys failed to reach the expected level in reading at age 11”.

The report contains many recommendations (and does go on to mention school libraries), however the one I found most interesting is this:

  • Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading materials that will appeal to disengaged boys.

My issues with this are as follows:

a) Is it fair to expect all teachers to have such a knowledge? Perhaps English teachers ought to be up-to-date with pupils’ reading habits, and a cross-curricular approach to literacy is certainly something to strive towards, but my fear is that teachers, quite simply, have enough to do already. Which leads me to…

b) Isn’t this the job of librarians? If there is a good school library with an enthusiastic librarian who can work with teachers across the curriculum, then perhaps this would lessen the pressure on teachers (already arguably too high) and enable them to do the job then should be doing.

Libraries/school libraries are discussed in Chapter 2. This extract is, I feel, especially important:

“Libraries have a vital role to play in addressing this knowledge gap around books and reading materials. This function has traditionally been fulfilled by schools library services but evidence heard by the Commission highlighted how many of these have closed in the last 10 to 15 years. In May 2011, the TES published analysis that showed “just 85 councils out of more than 150 with responsibility for schools run their own dedicated service”. Since then, others have been put under review or cut back. In 1997/8, 83% of UK pupils were served by a school library service; by 2002/3 this was 72%. This trend can be linked to the introduction of the fair funding scheme in 2001,which requires local authorities to devolve all funding to schools.

Unfortunately, as pressure on school budgets has increased, many headteachers have chosen not to prioritise school library support, and local services have been forced to close.

Where schools library services no longer exist, public libraries and school libraries need to be supported in taking on this role. As Professor Cremin explained:

“If she [a teacher] does not have a librarian to support her, what does she do? Go to Waterstones? Turn to a publisher perhaps. We are dealing with a problem there.” (Final Report, page 13)

Public libraries could, theoretically, take on some of the work of school libraries in encouraging literacy. However, as public libraries are currently diminishing in number hugely,  it seems highly unlikely that this would be sufficient. So what is being done about this?

It’s been recently announced that there is to be a mass lobby of Parliament in October calling for libraries to be included in school inspections and a wide range of people calling for legislation to ensure there is a library in every school. There is also Ofsted’s recent Moving English Forward report.

Here is Michael Gove talking about the issue.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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