It is 2016. We live in the United Kingdom, birthplace of the English language, home of so many leading authors of children's literature. Birthplace of Shakespeare, Milton, Austen. Books are our shared heritage. If you're trying to puzzle out what British values might be, the best place to start is in a library.
Yes, you do detect a note of sarcasm.
What's happening in our schools?
- Books are piled into skips and destroyed
- Budgets for school libraries are slashed.
- Libraries are dismantled and converted into classrooms.
- Librarians have been sacked or demoted.
This week the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) published a survey of school libraries at their annual conference in Liverpool. It told a devastating story of decay and destruction.
Sometimes it was budget cuts, sometimes the lure of new toys. 'The new head has decided a library is no longer needed so is planning to get rid of it as all reading can be done on iPads,' said one teacher at a primary school in the West Midlands. A PRIMARY school, a place where children learn to read, but will now be unable to browse books and discover the ones they might enjoy. ' Our library has become a wall of shelves in a corridor with two chairs - we used to have a designated room where children could sit or read or research, We needed the space for another classroom,' said a teacher in a primary school in Cornwall.
It's not just school libraries that are being eviscerated. School library services are disappearing too. This year I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the Red Book Awards in Falkirk, run by the School Library Service there. The dedication that had gone into making this event fun, meaningful and a positive learning experience for the students involved was obvious. And yet Falkirk Council is cutting the entire SLS budget - saving less than £400,000 - in an appalling act of cultural vandalism.
The ATL's modest suggestion to stop the rot was that Ofsted should be charged with reporting into schools' library provision. I like this idea. The judgment of Ofsted inspectors is something that school leaders genuinely care about. If they could fail an inspection for not employing a librarian, not restocking a library or replacing books with tablets, then we might see a change in policies and priorities.
I'd go further and suggest that academy chains taking over a school should be required to ring-fence a percentage of its budget to maintain a physical library, employ a librarian or library service and replenish the book stock.
We also need to champion the schools that are bucking the trend.
Last month author Jonny Zucker opened a brand new library at Kenilworth Primary School in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. The school choir sang. The Jolly Postman delivered book recommendations to every child. The Hungry Caterpillar provided snacks.
Head teacher Samantha Jayasuriya said: “We are determined at Kenilworth to keep our library open and thriving helping our children develop a love of lifelong reading.