War Horse author and former Children’s Laureate calls for schools to make time for stories by reinstating Storytime in primary schools
WarHorse author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo will today criticisetesting in schools for killing the joy of reading, creating fear and anxiety,and bringing about a sense of worthlessness in children.
The former Children’s Laureate and President of BookTrust, speaking at the inaugural BookTrust Lecture this evening, will state that we are all as a society responsible “both for the successes and failures of our literacy and our society.” Morpurgo says that it is not just the fault of successive governments, “who corral schools and pressure teachers into teaching literacy fearfully, who insist that measurable outcomes and results are the be all and end all of the education process.”
Michael Morpurgo will say that the teaching of reading in schools can take the wonder out of stories and turn them into a subject for comprehension tests, handwriting tests and grammar tests in which at least as many children fail as succeed, leading children to give up.
“You disappoint yourself, disappoint others. You give up. I gave up. To give up on books is to give up on education, and if you give up on education, then you can so easily give up on hope… So many avenues barred, so many possibilities never imagined, so many discoveries never made, so much understanding of yourself, of others, stunted forever.”
Morpurgo is calling for every primary school to reinstate Storytime at the end of every school day, and make it: “a special time, a fun time, devoted entirely to reading, to writing, to storytelling, to drama. No testing, no comprehension, no analysis, no interrogation. Let the children go home dreaming of the story, reliving it, wondering. All that matters at that early age is that they learn to love it, that they want to listen to more stories, read them, tell them, write them, act them out, sing them, dance them. All the rest will come later, the literacy side of things, which is important, once that seed is sown. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first; the rest will follow.”
He will point to, “an apartheid system of a kind in this country, between haves and have-not children, between those who read, who through books, through developing an enjoyment of literature, can have the opportunity to access the considerable cultural and material benefits of our society; and those who were made to feel very early on that the world of words, of books, of stories, of ideas, was not for them, that they were not clever enough to join that world, that it was not the world they belonged to, that it was shut off from them for ever.”
“Our prisons are full of them, full of those we have failed. Many remain lonely and marginalised all their lives. The right book, the right author, the right parent, the right teacher, the right librarian, at the right time, might have saved some of them at least, made the difference, shone a light into a dark life, turned that life around.”
The BookTrust Annual Lecture has been launched by the leading children’s reading charity, to give a platform for debate around children’s reading. BookTrust’s Time to Read campaign is calling for families and schools to support children in developing a love of reading, keeping shared reading alive even when children are ‘too old’ for a bedtime story. Research shows that as children start school, reading enjoyment starts to slip; by the time they are ten or eleven reading as a pastime has been superseded by social media and screen time. On average 78% of children age 5-7 read to themselves at least once a week, compared to 53% of 11-13 year olds and 38% of 14-17 year olds [Egmont].
BookTrust Chief Executive, Diana Gerald, says: “Children who enjoy reading are happier, healthier; they are more empathetic, do better academically, and do better in life generally. But reading enjoyment doesn’t just happen; it needs to be encouraged, by parents, teachers and librarians. Children need to be supported to find the book that gets them hooked – whether that book is a Dickens classic, a turn-pager thriller, or a story about football, Minecraft, zombies or witches. The important thing is to give children a choice, and to support that choice.
“Reading isn’t a tick list of books that need to have been read; nor is it just a skill to be learned then filed away. Literacy can, and should be tested; reading for pleasure needs to be nurtured, and seen more like exercise – do it as regularly as you can, make it fun, and read together whenever possible for maximum benefits.”
Michael Morpurgo is one of Britain’s best-loved writers for children. With a writing career that spans four decades, he has written over 100 books, selling more than five million copies in the UK and over 35 million worldwide. A former Children’s Laureate and current BookTrust President, Michael has won countless prizes, including the Smarties prize, the Blue Peter Book Award and the Whitbread Award, and was awarded an OBE for Services to Literature. Michael was also awarded an MBE in 1999, along with his wife Clare, in recognition of their work in founding Farms For City Children, a charity that has enabled 100,000 children to visit the charity’s 3 farms over the last 40 years.
Michael’s latest novel, The Fox and the Ghost King, Harper Collins) inspired by the premiership win of Leicester Football Club and illustrated by Michael Foreman is published on 22nd September by Harper Collins Children’s Books (£9.99).
BookTrust is the largest children’s reading charity in Britain. We work to inspire a love of reading in children because we know that reading can transform lives. We give out over 5 million carefully chosen books to children throughout the UK; every parent receives a BookTrust book in the baby’s first six months. Our books, guidance and resources are delivered via health, library, schools and early years practitioners, and are supported with advice and resources to encourage the reading habit. Reading for pleasure has a dramatic impact on educational outcomes, well-being and social mobility, and is also a huge pleasure in itself. We are committed to starting children on their reading journey and supporting them throughout. www.booktrust.org.uk