So let me get this right. A week before Christmas, the British Government decides to completely cut funding to Booktrust, a charity that provides free books to children. And in the same week, figures showed that one in 11 boys start secondary school with a reading age of only seven. Surely that shows that we should invest more in schemes to promote national literacy.
Thank God the cry of ‘Scrooge!’ from the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and other authors has brought the Government to its senses.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has now back-tracked and said the Government will continue to fund book-gifting programmes. He will be talking to Booktrust about ‘how to develop a new programme… ensuring we develop an even more effective way of supporting the most disadvantaged families to read together’.
It’s welcome news that there will be some continued support from Government. But I expect funding will be reduced. And the programmes – which currently see that every child receives books at birth, as they start primary school and at Year 7 – will no longer be universal. They will target only disadvantaged families.
You don’t have to be financially ‘disadvantaged’ to be impoverished of books. I know middle class parents, for instance, with a strong focus on their children’s academic achievement that don’t see the point in novels. The children are encouraged to read non-fiction because it is seen as more educational than story books.
I grew up in a lower middle class family but wasn’t surrounded by books at home because my mum thought they were ‘dust-gatherers’. I was, however, encouraged to go to the library. But local councils are also making cuts to library services, which could lead to a quarter of librarians losing their jobs over the next year. In London alone, 130 libraries are expected to close.
In cutting Booktrust schemes and in closing libraries and generally restricting access to books, we impoverish the minds and imaginations of our children, when we should be enriching them.