Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Dear PTAs: if you want your children to go places, a School Library Service subscription will be a better investment than a school trip or a minibus.

A child’s education is the responsibility of their parents and guardians as much as their teachers and most good schools have the support of a dedicated Parent Teacher Association. A key activity of most PTAs is fundraising. A recent survey carried out by UK PTA organisation Parentkind revealed that PTAs raised £108 million for UK schools in 2018, with an average of £8,030 per school.

2018 PTA fundraising infographic from Parentkind
The survey showed that books were among the items most commonly bought with PTA funds along with school trips and sports and playground equipment. As we approach the end of this school year, and PTAs start to think about their fundraising wish-lists for next year, I’d like to make the case for making an annual subscription to a School Library Service a priority item.

For anyone unfamiliar with them, a School Library Service or SLS (also known as an Education Library Service or ELS) is a locally run service that provides books and other learning resources to schools. Books are borrowed rather than bought, enabling schools to refresh in-school stock on a regular basis. The way School Library Services are funded varies, but most schools have to buy into the service. As school budgets have become tighter and tighter, some schools have had to cancel or reduced their SLS subscriptions, opting to purchase new books for themselves or make do with the books they already own. As a consequence, many SLSs are struggling to stay in business. Last year both Derbyshire SLS and Walsall SLS were closed. And once an SLS is gone, it’s gone for good – it’s a case of use them or lose them.

The cancellation of SLS subscriptions may save schools a few hundred pounds a year in the short term, but it’s a false economy that could have a detrimental effect on children’s educational achievement and life chances in the long term. There is now a wealth of research demonstrating that children that read for pleasure do better in maths, vocabulary and spelling than those who rarely read and gain advantages that last their whole lives. Children have widely differing tastes, so the more books a child can get access to, the more likely they are to find books they’ll enjoy reading. The easiest way for most children to get regular access to a wide selection of books is through their school library.

"The only way to create a lasting culture of reading for pleasure within a school is to have a thriving school library; an annual SLS subscription is THE easiest and most cost-effective way for schools to achieve this."
As an author who visits schools regularly, I know that the only way to create a lasting culture of reading for pleasure within a school is to have a thriving school library; an annual SLS subscription is THE easiest and most cost-effective way for schools to achieve this. Most children will not want to keep visiting a library that offers the same selection of books any more than they will want to keep watching a TV channel that offers the same selection of programmes. For a school library to maintain its appeal and relevance, its stock needs refreshing frequently and an annual SLS subscription, which allows schools to exchange books regularly, costs a great deal less than repeatedly buying in new books.

Inspire ELS, my local service, currently charge primary schools just £5.85 per book, per year for their “Unlimited Exchange” package. This is less than the price of most new paperbacks! Schools can keep the same book all year or exchange it for another as often as they like, either by visiting the Inspire ELS showroom or by weekly van delivery. So if a book is swapped every half-term then the cost works out at less than £1 per book per half-term. And, while books owned by schools deteriorate and go out of date, books borrowed from an SLS are constantly refreshed with new and up to date replacements.

SLSs can put together tailor-made book collections
to match specific topic criteria.
An SLS will stock a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction books, along with many other educational resources. So, whether your school has ‘traditional tales’ or ‘space’ as a classroom topic, an SLS can provide a range of books to support it. Teachers can either select individual titles themselves (by browsing in the showroom or using an online catalogue) or ask the SLS to put together a tailor-made collection to match their specific topic criteria.

Another huge benefit of an SLS subscription is access to the SLS’s team of specialist librarians. Around 10,000 new children’s books are published in the UK every year. Teaching staff have enough work on their hands without having to sift through this endless stream of publications trying to find the new “hook books” that will turn children into avid readers. Fortunately this is a task that SLS librarians excel at. All the books in an SLS loan collection will have been individually reviewed and selected by the SLS’s expert team and their advice and assistance comes for free with an SLS subscription.

So, if you are a hardworking member of a PTA and would like your fundraising efforts to have a lasting legacy, please consider directing some of your funds towards an annual SLS subscription. And, if your school’s lucky enough to have an existing subscription, please consider increasing it to cover a few more books. You will be helping to build a culture of reading for pleasure in your school that will benefit your children for the rest of their lives.

You can find your local UK School Library Service on this page of the School Library Services UK website: https://schoolslibraryservicesuk.org/your-nearest-sls/

If you are a PTA of a school in Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire and would like to find out more about subscribing to Inspire ELS, you can visit their website at https://www.inspireculture.org.uk/services-schools/els/, phone Val Sawyer or Rachel Marshall on 0115 98854200 or email them on val.sawyer@inspireculture.org.uk and rachel.marshall@inspireculture.org.uk. Inspire ELS can arrange for a librarian to come to talk to your PTA about the service they offer, if you’d like them to.