Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Write to Jeremy Hunt urgently on Brent library closures

Brent SOS Libraries has asked supporters to write to Jeremy Hunt calling for him to use his powers to order a public inquiry into the Brent Library closures. Letters should be sent urgently (address below) as he is likely to reach his decision in early September. Follow this LINK for details and letter writing ideas.

This is the letter I have sent:
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to express my deep concern about the potentially devastating impact on children of Brent’s libraries strategy, which involves the closure of half of its libraries. I urge you to use your powers under the Museum and Libraries Act 1964 [s10(1)(b)] to ascertain whether its closure plans will mean it no longer meets its s7 duties to provide a comprehensive and efficient service to local people.

I am a retired primary headteacher  and Chair of Governors at two local primary schools so I have a particular interest in how these changes will impact on children. I outline below some factors that I think make a public inquiry vital.

Schools in the borough face a formidable challenge in educating their pupils due to Brent’s high levels of child poverty, high pupil mobility and high numbers of children at the beginning stages of learning English. I know from experience that many pupils have few if any books in their homes. Headteachers and teachers need every weapon in their armoury in tackling these issues and easily accessible, local libraries are absolutely essential. Older primary school children are able to go to local libraries independently and this is important when they have a single parent at home with young children or parents who work long hours and are unable to take them to the library.

Children also use these local libraries to attend homework clubs or access the internet for school work when they do not have a computer at home. I visited Neasden Library which is the nearest library to one of my schools on a Friday after school to find it buzzing with a homework club in session, children working on computers and others choosing reading books. The pupil School Council has told me how much they will be affected by the library’s closure. Other libraries will be too far away for them to travel to alone. Removal of these facilities will increase inequality in the borough.

Schools arrange regular class visits to their local library which gets children new to the country familiar with the public library system and encourages the habit of regular reading. These visits will no longer be possible if the nearest library is no longer a walkable distance. During the holiday I met an eight year old child from one of my schools at the local library who was going their every day to borrow books as part of the summer holiday Reading Challenge. Closure of libraries will mean that this extremely worthwhile nationwide programme is not accessible to some of our children.

In the light of the above I ask that in any inquiry you should decide whether:

  1. The Council has properly considered the impact on children of its plans and whether these will impact disproportionately on those from particular backgrounds or from specific geographic locations.
  2. The  Council has adequately assessed the potential impact of loss of access to books and IT equipment on educational achievement and cultural enrichment of young people.
  3. The Council has assessed the potential negative impact on GSCE and A Level grades caused by  loss of quiet study facilities for older children  for research, study  and revision. Many come from over-crowded homes or temporary accommodation where it is hard to study. 

Brent schools have done a tremendous job in improving educational outcomes which are now often above national averages. The closure of local libraries will undermine these efforts.

Yours sincerely,
Martin Francis
Write your letters to:

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP

Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics Media and Sport
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
London SW1Y 5DH

huntj@parliament.ukor e-mail  

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