A Midland primary school deserves a brand new library
For a school so dedicated to reading, the library for the youngest learners at Longwood Primary School in Tamworth, near Birmingham, is woefully inadequate. By sharing corridor space with the lockers where the children store their clothes for outdoor activities, it is an uninviting environment where they will find great joy in reading.
Tucked away in a corner between the lockers is a small bookcase like the bins on the floor – smaller than a supermarket trolley. Inside, there are a handful of picture books. There are phonics posters on the walls above, but the bright red lockers dominate everything. There are no seats, making it hard to see how young children – many of whom live on the nearby council estate – could enjoy books here.
It’s great that a primary school isn’t compulsory to have a library – and many schools working in deprived areas don’t have the money to create one, focused on helping their children in other ways. However, a library is compulsory in prisons.
But now, thanks to the generosity of Daily Express readers and the far-sighted vision of the dedicated teaching staff at Longwood School, this is about to change.
Following our Christmas campaign last year, in association with reading charity Give A Book, Longwood – a high-deprivation area where 45 per cent of children receive free school lunches – was chosen as a bespoke, brand new recipient. Key Stage One library built.
“There will be no wellies, soggy shoes and spare glue sticks stored here but a proper reading space,” says teacher Vanessa Ranch, the school’s Head of Reading who was in contact with the charity at the school. And the children are already full of anticipation, especially because they had a say in the design of the upcoming library.
With colorful ‘toad stool’ style seating, reading poles, tree-shaped shelves, and the woodland theme continuing into the bright green arch that completes the space as a reading area – “like a portal into another world” as Vanessa puts it down on it. – this is a reading space that will have the power to inspire generations of children when it is built later this month.
The Daily Express will be providing a full update to show you how your donation was spent and the difference it is making to the children.
“We believe that reading opens the door to all education,” says principal Pauline James. “So I’m speechless about this project. I want to thank you for this wonderful opportunity for the children.”
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In the case of a school so dedicated to reading, the library is a great deal
When her colleague Vanessa first told her that the school, which has a Good rating by Ofsted, had been chosen to get a new library, Pauline wondered how they would pay for the books to fill it.
“It was a bit worrying because we have no book budget. Then we found out that 1,200 books are included in the library supply. I kept wondering what the catch was. We never seem to get anything, so I couldn’t really believe it.”
His deputy, Rachel Matthews, who is also the school’s Special Needs co-ordinator, said: “We just want to give the children the best possible start. This project makes that possible.”
A school vote showed that the children most wanted books about outer space, insects (generally known as ‘small animals’ in the primary school parish) and crocodiles.
“Most of them have never been to a zoo, so they want to know more,” says Pauline, whose reading is central to the school’s mission.
“When I came here 14 years ago, the PTA kindly put all the money they raised towards Christmas and each child received a box of selected chocolates on Christmas Eve. Now they each get a book and put them in a deposit.”
On World Book Day – which the school celebrates over a whole week – the school takes the children to WH Smith to use their free book coupon, to give extra support to their parents who may lack the resources to do this . All the costumes are made at school for the same reason too.
“We understand the pressures at home, and we don’t blame them,” says Pauline. “We always have volunteers to hear the children read because that can be challenging when you have six children.”
After lunch, the children read before going out to play. And Vanessa explains that there is a ‘reading shed’ in the yard “For children who prefer to read at break time rather than crawling around”.
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‘Wellies or soft shoes will not be stored here but a proper reading space’
At the Friday morning assembly at this warm and friendly school, reading is central. After a song that Pauline says will bring “sunshine into the school” on a mild morning, she asks her cohort of 142 students: “Who’s doing extra reading this week?”
Most hands up. Charlotte receives an award from her class teacher for “having her head in a book every chance this week”. Pippa is to be commended for her “always asking for extra reading books for a fortnight”. The little ones, who are all very good and attentive, absorb everything.
And it is paying dividends. Sienna reached Year 5 in September, and this intelligent girl quickly developed a love of reading. “It’s really beautiful to be able to read here; it’s peaceful and relaxing,” she says.
“I think it would be good for children to have more books,” says Summer, 10. Her friend Jessica enthusiastically supports this. “If I’m stressed it can take on a new life,” she enthuses. And Kai agrees, also 10,. “Books matter,” he says. “Especially if someone is stressed. They take you places you could never travel to.”
Pauline, a former nursery school nurse, has steadily risen up the teaching profession to date, her first leader, due to her deep commitment to the welfare and well-being of the children she is responsible for educating. During the pandemic she went back and forth to help local families with the school’s food bank, and when the older children go to secondary school she continues to care – sometimes going to battle at the new school when the she made careful notes on some of it. the complex needs of children are ignored in the rush to educate large numbers.
This is a school that cares, and is the perfect recipient of a fantastic new facility.
When it comes to reading, there is no one size fits all
“We deal with a lot of social issues, and some parents don’t have English as their first language,” says Pauline. The school also runs a food and hygiene bank, and employs catering staff who run a spotless professional kitchen, where they whip up delicious meals, including healthy salads.
Every day each child can choose a homemade pudding; chocolate chip cookies on the day photographer Andy Stenning and I visited. They are served toast at 10am because many do not eat breakfast at home.
“For some children our school lunch is the only meal they have every day,” says Pauline.
To give extra support to the children, the school runs Inspire Workshops. “There is a lot of unemployment among our families, and a high percentage of single-parent families,” she explains.
“We want to show their parents how to support learning at home.” They are also taught computer skills, and the school provides a support service for parents who have difficulty reading important communications, including legal documents.
Since 2015, Give A Book, founded by Victoria Gray, whose late husband Simon was a playwright and theologian, has been working with one primary school each year on its All-School Reading Project.
“I’ve seen what library space can do in prisons and primary schools,” says Shamima Edye-Lindner, project manager with the reading charity.
“They are not just a place to choose a book, they are a space where children can spend some time quietly discovering new books and authors.
“The children in the primary schools we work with do not have books at home. If they are coming to school and there are no books, it is even more difficult to become a reader. We do not want any child to miss out on developing a love of reading.
“That’s why our Whole School Reading Project exists; to build a school library but overall to foster and foster an environment of reading for pleasure, and to encourage excitement about books.”
Most of the schools the charity works with receive a library or reading space as part of the year-long partnership. “But it’s called ‘reading’ rather than ‘library’,” says Shamima, explaining how the charity works with each school to find out what will work best for their unique circumstances.
“When it comes to reading, there is no one size fits all,” she says. Watch this space for the next chapter…
Give Books puts books into the hands of those who need them most. To donate to the charity you can send a check to Give a Book, 112-114 Holland Park Avenue, London W11 4UA. To donate online visit giveabook.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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