We might all be a little bit too old to have read it, but I am sure that nearly all of us have heard of it: The Gruffalo. This enigmatic and endearing book has been heralded as the most popular children’s literature of this decade and its author, Julia Donaldson, has been campaigning hard against the government’s proposed initiative to cut library funding across the nation. The word “initiative” embodies an idea – a good idea with positive outcomes and resolves an issue. Yet this is far from what this “initiative” would be.
Donaldson has used her fame as Children’s Laureate to cast a spotlight on the government’s plans to close 250 libraries across Britain. This restrictive initiative follows their spending cuts on libraries only earlier this year, when the library budget was drastically cut by 30% to £862,000. A question that is most certainly paramount at this point is: what is the government’s incentive in proposing such a restrictive initiative?
One of our current government’s aims is to make education, particularly higher education, available to everyone (wasn’t that why they increased the fees?), so why are they cutting off access to that education at the most basic and fundamental level? The literacy rates and abilities of children in Great Britain are diminishing and fewer schools are achieving the levels the government requires. From 2008-2009, the Key Stage 2 Reading, Writing and English skills dropped by 1.5% across the entire country and in March 2012, Chief Schools Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, acknowledged the fact that 1 in 5 primary school students were not achieving their grades at the end of each year. When an Infant School child falls below their standard reading rate, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to attain their expected literacy rate as they become older. The government have received warnings since 2009 about the lowering literacy rates and so this increasingly no longer seems like a promising initiative.
Libraries allow anyone access to books, from children’s fiction to classical literature. If the government restricts access to these resources, then reading and literature will hardly be successful in the struggle for the modern child’s attention when it is pitched against that of Xbox games and the internet. Most libraries run reading schemes, creative writing clubs and book clubs as ways of getting children interested in reading as an enjoyable pastime and method of learning. They incite children to read of their own accord. Without this support from the libraries for the primary schools, the government cannot rationally expect the child literacy rate to increase to the standard they expect – a standard which Sir Michael Wilshaw has called to be raised again. Our government is thus creating a paradox between what they expect to achieve and what they will be allowing to be achieved in this circumstance.
In a BBC news interview on Thursday 11th October, Donaldson boldly stated that without her local library, she would never have been the renowned author she is today. As Children’s Laureate, whose voice would be more powerful than hers to express the dangers of this initiative? Donaldson believed that without her local library, she would never have discovered the joy of reading and therefore of writing. Our government would not only be causing immediate consequences to the child literacy rate, but this “initiative” would yield consequences on child and subsequently adult literacy rates for years to come.