I was the head of an English department for six glorious years and I’m proud to say that throughout that time I never once asked staff to dress up for World Book Day.
I never asked staff to teach zany lessons where students made puppets of their favourite literary characters or to use valuable lesson time so students could create a book-based board-game.
I dislike World Book Day because for me it has become a gimmick, a way of dumbing down the most precious of things – reading.
It’s become a day where David Walliams and the singer from McFly are celebrated as fantastic children’s authors, where books such as The Dinosaur that Pooped a Planet and Gangsta Granny are heralded as the great literature of our time.
It’s not a time when students are imbued with a love of great children’s authors like Dahl, Pullman and Blyton. Instead, it’s a day where students dress up as Spider-Man, Mrs Incredible or a generic pirate or footballer. Where the school’s literacy co-ordinator is wheeled out for the only time all year to give an assembly to bored looking faces.
During my six years at the helm of the English department, we barely even acknowledged World Book Day. There may have been the odd assembly at the bequest of the head. There may even have been a poster or two in the library advertising free book tokens, but that would be it.
Instead, we made sure that all of our students were regularly exposed to the very best English texts, day after day, year after year, through our curriculum and through dedicated guided reading time. We constantly spoke to students about books, we recommended texts to them and encouraged the head to spend a small fortune on new books for the library, because if you can’t justify spending money on books, what can you justify spending it on? We made sure that our students read demanding texts every single day. Whether they were in Year 7 or Year 11, every child was given the opportunity to read Dickens, Rowling, Shakespeare and Atwood.
World Book Day was initially designed to celebrate and promote a love of reading but in reality it has become nothing more than a costly exercise for parents, who have to spend a fortune on those Batman and Iron Man costumes that line the walls of Asda and Tesco.
For teachers, it has become just another tick box exercise, something else to do that stops them from getting on with the real thing they want to do in the classroom – teach.
Finally and most worryingly, for students it has become a day where they associate reading with dressing up as characters from films and messing about at school all day.
Teaching children to read and making them lifelong readers is the greatest thing a school can do and if schools really believe this then they need to make reading an integral part of daily school life. Have all of your staff talk about how wonderful and life-changing reading can be on a daily basis. Ensure that all of your students have access to the very best literature texts through your library and curriculum.
In every single classroom in your school, make sure that students read lots and lots of words every day. Make every day World Book Day, so every student leaves school not only with the ability to read well but also with an everlasting love of reading. Reading is a vital, life changing pursuit, where students can lose themselves in other times and in other worlds, it should not be an empty gesture tacked on the end of the school calendar once a year.