Amol Rajan: We need books to stoke the fires of imagination

Freeview from the editors at i

Share

A gloriously uplifting tale has crossed my desk, and there's so much guff and depressing nonsense in the news just now that I thought it only decent and proper to report it. At St Cuthbert and St Matthias Church of England Primary School in Earls Court, West London, yesterday afternoon, Lady Borwick, deputy mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, opened a new library. It was the culmination of an inspirational campaign by school governors.

Despite its location and denomination, the school's intake is more than 70 per cent Muslim, with a large chunk of Buddhists, Hindus and Catholics thrown in. About 80 per cent of pupils have English as their second language; at least 26 languages are spoken across the school (Arabic mainly); and more than half the 220 or so pupils are on free school meals. They have had 20 volunteer readers for five years, but because so many parents do not speak English well, the governors decided they needed a library.

So they started fundraising – selling cakes and running stalls at a fair, lobbying the council for a double-size portable cabin, squeezing contacts for funds – some Eton old boys gave £1,000; two private trust funds gave £2,000 each – and running up and down mountains for sponsorship. Best of all, the librarian at St Paul's prep school, Colet Court, arranged for some of her pupils to deliver new books.

The significance of efforts such as these can hardly be overstated. A perfect sentence or memorised poem is a friend for life; and just think what fires will blaze in the imaginations of these inner-city kids now they have a library. What an unspeakably delicious prospect.

In his seminal 1957 book The Uses of Literacy, the socialist Richard Hoggart polemicised on the value to poor children of reading. His case grows stronger by the day. When you know that 80 per cent of prisoners have writing skills at or below that of the average 11-year-old, or that the Prison Reform Trust reckons 48 per cent of inmates are at or below Level 1 in reading, you realise what a literacy revolution could do for social mobility. Two final thoughts. First, could there be any better location than St Cuthbert and St Matthias for Liz Truss, the new Education Minister with responsibility for early years, to make her first official visit? And second, shortly after Woolwich Polytechnic bought 600 copies of this newspaper every week for its children to read, they scored record results. If we want to boost literacy, we should flood the classrooms of Britain with copies of i. Now that really would be education, education, education.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone