Cuts see author visits written off

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Literacy bodies fear creative teaching will suffer as school bookings fall by up to 50 per cent

The financial squeeze is being blamed for a drastic cut in the number of schools willing to pay for visits from children's authors.

Writers are reporting bookings down by as much as 50 per cent and a rise in the number of schools clubbing together to afford a visit.

Literacy organisations say the cutbacks risk undermining creative teaching that inspires children.

Antony Lishak, who writes fiction and non-fiction, has been visiting schools for 14 years and was a primary teacher for 16 years. He also runs authorhotline.com, a site where writers can post profiles of themselves. "Since about February or March, lots of people have been talking about schools cancelling or asking to reduce prices," he said. "For many of us, school work is quite a large chunk of our income, but also a lot of us are ex-teachers and we see this work as important."

Mr Lishak said he had been looking at ways to help cash-strapped schools, such as working in clusters, including training sessions for teachers or creating books of children's work that could then be sold to parents.

Last week's emergency Budget has raised fears that school finances are set to get much tighter, with education funding due to be slashed by as much as 25 per cent over the next four years.

The Society of Authors website says school visit rates are #163;350 per day or #163;250 per half day, although charges can vary.

Philip Caveney, author of the Sebastian Darke series, said: "I have definitely noticed a severe drop-off in school visits this year compared to last year.

"There is a sense that schools do not have the budgets they used to have to bring in authors."

Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "The natural reaction of schools is to think, 'times are going to be tough, let's focus on our perceived real needs'.

"It's a great shame if these visits are to be seen as a luxury. The impact of an author coming in and reading about his or her work shouldn't be underestimated.

"These are the type of things that people talk about when you ask them what they remember about school."

David Reedy, president of the UK Literacy Association, said schools risked losing "the big picture" if they focused only on basic provision.

"Money spent on bringing authors into school who enthuse children to write is money well spent," he said. "We think it should be written into the curriculum as an entitlement for pupils."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said that "soft targets" such as visiting speakers and training for staff are the first things to go when budgets come under pressure.

"Both of these are essential for the pulse of the school, for its health," he said. "We would also issue a dire warning that if belt-tightening results in higher reserves, that will almost certainly be used by politicians to assume schools might have too much money."

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