If only our politicians would cease their wrangling for one power for a moment and start to pay attention to what is going on in their country.
Recently, I have started to increase the NIoE Primary English presence on Twitter (@eleanorpower18). The aim is to find those people who it would be helpful for our trainee teachers to follow. This is a heady mix of academics, authors, students and experienced teachers. It has, unfortunately, become a bit of an addition over the last couple of weeks–but a necessary one to build up a suitable profile.
The point is however that I have noticed something: something that I already knew in my heart, but now have evidence for. Primary school teachers are passionate about developing a love of literature in their classes. How do I know this? Well, most of the tweets that I am seeing involve teachers requesting recommendations of what books to share with their class, other teachers sharing posters or lists or padlets of favourite books (painstakingly categorised around key stages or subjects) or authors, photographs of beautifully designed and prepared classroom reading areas or school libraries, and finally, teachers showing off their hauls of books that have arrived in the post or that they have scoured charity shops for. It makes my heart fill.
Why do I want politicians to take note? Because, while it is inspiring, amazing and, quite frankly, wonderful that teachers are spending their summer holiday doing all of this and using their hard-earned money to resource their classrooms, it also means that the government is being let off the hook. A teacher’s salary should not, by rights, be ploughed straight back into their classroom, especially in this time of economic uncertainty. They are only having to do so because of a lack of suitable funding in school. The government and politicians say all the right things about promoting a love of reading as it has future educational and consequently socio-economic benefits but they need to match this rhetoric with suitable action.
A first step to a solution would be to prevent the closure of many school libraries. Cressida Cowell, the new Children’s Laureate believes that school libraries should be a statutory requirement. In an interview in The Guardian she makes the powerful point
“If your parents can’t afford books and your primary school doesn’t have a library because they’ve been shutting over the last 10 years and you don’t go to the public library, how do you become a reader? How is that supposed to happen? Nobody has been able to answer that question effectively for me. At the very least primary schools have to have libraries.”
As it is, it would appear that those in control are relying on teachers and schools to paper over the cracks as effectively as they can. A cost cutting initiative in Scotland made the news last year with its proposal that secondary pupils and volunteers should take over the roles of the library staff. The opposition to this idea was that it fundamentally undermines the knowledge and skills of librarians and how they support children and young adults in their reading development.
I’m not for one second suggesting that teachers and schools dedicated to promoting a love of reading in whatever ways they can should stop what they are doing, merely pointing out that they shouldn’t have to use their own time and money to do it. Let’s be proud of our teaching professionals and celebrate their dedication, and work together to find appropriately funded ways forward.