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New investment into the World of Stories programme will target seven areas highlighted as Arts Council England priority places.

pupil sat in a primary school library

500 primary schools in disadvantaged communities are set to have their libraries developed through an Arts Council England (ACE) funded programme.

ACE’s £901,117 investment is its first towards the World of Stories programme, co-developed by the National Literacy Trust (NLT) and publishing company Penguin Random House (PRH), who have invested an additional £1m.

Since 2017, World of Stories has developed libraries in 225 primary schools. This latest investment will fund the programme until 2024 and is expected to impact 125,000 children.


ACE Director of Libraries Sue Williamson says the programme will target areas of the country the funder recently designated as priority places for further investment.

“We know that reading has so many benefits for children, and this funding is a vital step in ensuring that no child has to miss out on the inspiring, educational, enthralling power of literature.”

Schools located in the Black Country, East London, Blackpool, Essex, Swindon or Redcar and Cleveland, with a higher than average percentage of pupils receiving free schools meals, are eligible to apply to the programme.

According to a new report by the NLT and PRH, 40% of primary schools have no dedicated library budget. 1 in 8 primary schools in England have no library, a figure that jumps to 1 in 4 amongst schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals.

NLT Chief Executive Jonathan Douglas says the pandemic has hit schools without libraries the hardest.

A recently published Department for Education report estimates Covid-related school closures caused primary school pupils to experience learning loss equivalent to three months of reading progress.

Creating collections

World of Stories will provide selected schools with 500 free books and a wide selection of audiobooks, alongside business support to help build links with local public libraries.

Seven independent publishers have joined the programme, including publishers of books from underrepresented authors and illustrators Knights Of and Barrington Stoke, publishers of books aimed at reluctant, struggling and dyslexic readers.

PRH Social Impact Director Sienna Parker says the programme will help to bridge the resource deficit in disadvantaged schools. 

“Books offer inspiration, escape, and the ability to step into someone else’s shoes. Research has shown that children who read for pleasure have better life chances in the future, get better grades, and report higher levels of wellbeing.

“Yet so many children are missing out on the joy of reading because our schools simply don’t have the resources they need.”

New alliance

World of Stories is a flagship programme of the newly formed Primary Schools Library Alliance, a partnership between the NLT and PRH.

The alliance hopes to provide resources to 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025, giving over half a million children better access to the benefits of reading.

It is now calling for large-scale public and private funding to reach its targets.

Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy Christian Wakeford says he welcomes the news that businesses and charities will be supporting primary school pupils’ access to books.

Earlier this year, the UK’s Children’s Laureates co-signed a letter to Boris Johnson calling for a £100m investment into restoring neglected school libraries.

Last week’s budget promised to “renovate, restore and revive” public libraries but outlined no specific investment into school libraries.