Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell MBE reveals transformative 'Life-changing Libraries' research

Published on: 08 June 2022

Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell MBE has revealed the transformative impact on the pilot primary schools taking part in her ‘Life-changing Libraries’ initiative, with an increase in a love of reading, motivation towards learning, well-being and feelings of self-worth.

The key findings in the ‘Life-changing Libraries’ report, published today, describe a transformation in attitudes towards reading, with an enthusiasm and passion for books ignited amongst the students of the six pilot schools and a considerable uptake in the time spent engaged in reading for pleasure both at school and at home.

Teachers have reported increased attention, engagement and motivation to learn amongst students in the classroom, alongside a significant improvement in both children and staff wellbeing, as well as a boosted sense of pride, confidence and self-worth.

The full report is available to view here.

On launching the report, Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell MBE, said:

“This report shares the powerful stories of the ‘Life-changing Library’ schools, adding to the raft of evidence about the crucial role reading for pleasure and school libraries play in a child’s life chances. A great library positively affects an entire school ecosystem, encouraging teachers, parents, students, as well as the wider community.

In addition to the evidence of increased engagement, aspiration and well-being, I find it compelling that the words ‘safe, calm and quiet’ were frequently used by teachers and students when talking about their new library.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on children’s mental health and these libraries have provided a special space for students to find ‘shelter’, to relax, to regulate and to share their new-found love of books and reading.

This research has come at crucial time when schools are not only trying to close the learning gap created by the pandemic, but are also being affected by rising costs: every child deserves the educational, economic, health and mental health benefits a school library and reading for pleasure bring to their lives, and the chronic problem of inequality - left unsolved for too many years - is now a crisis. We must take action now.’

Cressida Cowell and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall visit one of the six schools taking part in the Life-changing Libraries project. Photograph by David BebberCressida Cowell and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall visit one of the six schools taking part in the Life-changing Libraries project. Photograph by David Bebber

Quotes from Life-changing Library schools

“It’s changed the feeling of the school, the attitudes of children and staff, it has changed everything.”

- English Lead at Benwick Primary School (Benwick, Cambridgeshire)

“Many of our children are in their emotional overdraft but every time they pick up a book it is making an emotional deposit.” 

- Head of School at Dinnington Community Primary School (Dinnington, near Sheffield)

“Before the library was here the books weren’t interesting to me. Now reading makes me feel like everyone has a place in the world and you can always achieve your dreams. It has expanded my love of books forever.”

- Pupil at Griffin Primary School (Wandsworth, London)

“The biggest impact on our school has been the change in attitudes. Staff and children are now avid readers. They’re making choices about books and exploring different titles and texts. The impact has been amazing.”

- Headteacher at Saviour Church of England Primary School (Collyhurst, Manchester)

“We are improving the life chances of our children. This is the thread that pulls everything together for them... It’s such a quiet and warm, safe space. Homes aren’t always like that.”

- Community Governor at Skerne Park Academy (Darlington)

“For years we have been looking for interventions to boost attainment to help close the gap between disadvantaged and SEN children and their peers. The library was the only intervention they needed.”

- Headteacher at Woodchurch Church of England Primary School (Woodchurch Estate, The Wirral)

Background

Cowell announced the ‘Life-changing Libraries’ initiative, delivered in partnership with BookTrust, in April 2021 to showcase the transformative impact a well-resourced primary school library has on a child’s opportunities in life, as well as the shocking inequality currently facing children across England. Whilst every prison has a statutory library, one in eight primary schools has no library space at all: a statistic that doubles in schools in disadvantaged communities. 

The initiative was delivered in partnership with BookTrust to showcase the transformative impact a well-resourced primary school library has on a child’s opportunities in life, as well as the shocking inequality currently facing children across England.

Whilst every prison has a statutory library, one in eight primary schools has no library space at all: a statistic that doubles in schools in disadvantaged communities.

Over the course of a year, six very different primary schools across England – with at least 25% of pupils eligible for free school meals – were helped to develop a reading for pleasure culture, focused on the four pillars of a successful ‘gold standard’ school library – space, book provision, expertise, and whole-school and parent involvement.

Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell. Photography by David BebberWaterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell. Photograph by David Bebber

The internationally bestselling author-illustrator launched the campaign with a call on the Prime Minister – supported by former Laureates, literacy organisations, and publishing industry leaders – to help reverse the spiralling inequality in education by putting primary school libraries at the heart of our long-term response to the pandemic with a ring fenced, yearly investment of £100m.

Read Cressida Cowell's open letter to Boris Johnson

‘Life-changing Libraries’ has been Cressida Cowell’s flagship campaign as Waterstones Children’s Laureate, and the culmination of this project marks the end of her three-year tenure in this prestigious role. For the past twenty-five years, Cowell has campaigned for the necessity of school libraries, and she will continue to fight until every child has access to a great one:

“My tenure as Waterstones Children’s Laureate comes to an end in June, but my quest goes on: every single child has the right to this life-changing opportunity.”

BookTrust will continue to work with the six Life-changing Libraries, building deeper understanding about the role that they can play in supporting families to continue reading, and their connection with communities and public library services. BookTrust is also proud to support the Great School Libraries Campaign which believes all children should have access to a school library, and supports schools, policy-makers and others in helping create this change through sharing best practice, building networks and conducting research. BookTrust is also a supporting partner of the Primary School Library Alliance.

Download the press release

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