In the last twenty four hours the government has announced that they will no longer be funding the charity Booktrust for its bookgifting schemes which promote reading by providing free books to children in England.
The schemes which will lose funding are:
- Bookstart, under which every baby in the UK receives a free pack of books – programmes in England will be affected
- Booktime, which provides further packs for children as they start primary school
- Booked Up, which enables all year 7 pupils in England to choose a free book.
This appears to be a very cynical decision as there aren’t many babies, 3 and 7 year olds who will remember this when they are old enough to vote. It is one of those cuts which doesn’t get much publicity and which civil servants try to hide. I posted about it on a non educational forum I frequent and the reaction varied between anger through “It’s all Gordon Brown’s fault” to “It’s very sad but something has to be cut”. On a wider angle the reaction has included Former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen who said that he was “absolutely appalled and utterly enraged” by the news.
Alan Gibbons – a wonderful author and campaigner for library services wrote a fantastic blog post on this yesterday.Â A quote which sticks with me is one he cites from Michael Rosen “Reading for pleasure can easily sound like some kind of wishy-washy, soft option, while instructional stuff like learning-to-read through â€˜synthetic phonicsâ€™ and endless worksheets requiring children to answer questions about the facts in short passages, sound to some tough and purposeful. In actual fact, as the PIRLS research of 2006 has shown, children who read for pleasure achieve better school performance than those that donâ€™t.”
I am urgently trying to find the UNESCO report which states that the one thing which unites all successful world leaders, businessmen is the fact that they were all voracious readers for pleasure. If I look at most of my friends they are people who read for interest and for pleasure and this gives us a different perspective on life. It simply appears to me that it is a selfish act for those who are able to read and to provide a literate environment for their own children to pull up the drawbridge to the magical kingdom of reading to those who are not from similar backgrounds.
It is our duty to hold a magnifying glass up to this decision which is to remove funding of Â£13 million at a time when other areas are being maintained and our country has agreed to bailout the Irish nation. The argument for this was that by supporting the Irish we would secure a better future for our citizens. Surely we are risking the future of our children if we do not invest their love of literature and this is exactly what the Book Trust funding for Book Giving ensures.
I work with schools where children do not see a book when they are at home and are not surrounded by the wonders of text. We could sit back and insist that it is the responsibility of the parents to provide this or we could fight these cuts and try to break the cycle in these families. On a financial basis surely it is better to support children to become readers from the youngest age than to have to invest in expensive intervention for children who are falling behind. Taking this one step further one only has to look at the correlation between low reading age and prison records – recently it was claimed that 85% of the male adult prison population has a reading ability commensurate with a Level 1A (an average ability 6 year old child) – if this is true then surely investing in something like Book giving is a sensible economic decision irrespective of one’s views on reading.
I emailed Alan Gibbons this morning to inform him of the #ukedchat tonight about the cuts – this was organised only this morning directly in response to news of the decision and to allow people on Twitter to discuss it and to think about how they could support the campaign to fight it. Alan is a literary hero of mine and it was wonderful to receive his response.Â He urges people now to write to the media and to their MPs.
It is clear from the way in which in the cuts have been reported show that the Schools Sports Partnership campaigners had the advantage of the forthcoming Olympics to provide the embarrassment factor which means that we will need to work even harder to get our message across. If Michael Gove believes that knowing poetry is like having an iPod in your head and that all schools should immerse children in great literature then it is up to us to persuade him that he is robbing children of the opportunity to learn the power of literature about which he talks so eloquently.