What keeps me awake at night - It may be libraries' final chapter

17th August 2012 at 01:00

I was saddened recently when one of my teaching assistants told me she was being made redundant from her part-time job at the local library. It is a shame for her, of course, but also for the school to be losing this link to our library.

Promoting a love of reading is one of the most important things a teacher can do. What infuriates me are the barriers to developing that love: the threat of library closures and an apparent obsession with the teaching of phonics as the sole strategy to give our children reading skills.

The local library is the most fantastic resource for enabling children to immerse themselves in books of all kinds. We are all guilty of ignoring this resource - parents who never get round to taking their children and schools that don't encourage regular visits by local librarians. Schools library services, where they survive, can also be woefully neglected - loans, library audits, suggested reading lists, projects and awards are all ready to be used but too often aren't.

My school recently held an assembly at which the schools library service, ably supported by some enthusiastic Year 6 readers, promoted the annual Summer Reading Challenge, which is organised by national charity, The Reading Agency. The assembly was watched by schools minister Nick Gibb, who appeared to be impressed by pupils' explanations of why they love reading and their ability to identify books from short extracts that were read aloud.

We started our assembly with a group of pupils reading while others exercised behind them. It might sound strange, but this was our attempt to demonstrate what Sir Richard Steele, the 17th-century Irish writer and politician, famously said: "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."

If you stop exercising you become sluggish and unfit. For many pupils, the long summer holidays mean exactly that for their reading. Too many are not directed to read by their school or parents and sadly don't choose to read for pleasure.

Teachers need to work with libraries to keep pupils reading through school holidays. It is important to reward children when they come back to school and to get them talking about what they have read. Then we may have children with minds alert and buzzing, ready to take on learning.

The writer is a headteacher of a primary school in West Sussex. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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