Schools Love Reading project gives a boost to young readers

In November 2021, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles announced a multi-million-pound investment in reading engagement… and we were about to embark on the most ambitious book-gifting project we have ever managed! The Schools Love Reading programme would provide every child in a state school in Wales with a book of their own to keep, as well as provide additional books for every school’s library. Two years, 438,245 books, 168,870 book tokens and 1,490 schools later, and the project was completed in December 2023.

Schools, food banks, publishers, bookshops and the Books Council of Wales have worked together to deliver the programme, and we would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone for their support and participation in the scheme to ensure every child was able to select and choose their own free book. We’re also delighted to share some of the findings from the evaluation report, which has shown what an important difference this scheme has made to children and young people across Wales.

The purpose of the scheme was to promote reading for pleasure among children and young people, and to ensure that readers had equal access to a diverse range of appealing and quality titles. Reading for pleasure is known to increase well-being and empathy, develop imagination, support educational attainment, and provide opportunities to explore new ideas and experiences.

The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles said: “Reading opens the door to new skills, boosts imagination and plays an important role in a child’s development. The Schools Love Reading campaign celebrates the power of reading, and supports learners, schools, parents and carers to encourage and enjoy it. We want to make sure that every child has the opportunity to reap the rewards from reading and it’s fantastic to see this campaign helping ignite a passion with high quality material.”

The programme was delivered in four stages:

  • Individual book gift to every child in state primary schools in Wales, which was delivered via a curated selection of books sent to schools, for learners to choose from.
  • £7 book token for every learner aged 11–16 in state secondary schools in Wales. Book tokens were delivered to schools, who arranged distribution to students. Some schools worked in partnership with local bookshops to arrange bookfairs or bookshop visits to help students make their purchases.
  • Every state school received a pack of 50 books celebrating diversity, to add to their school or class library.
  • 66,775 books have been distributed to foodbanks and community groups so that service users could choose books during their visits. Deliveries took place in November 2022 and again in November 2023, in time for Christmas.

Primary School book gifting – findings
There were 231 individual responses to the survey from 226 primary schools, in addition to discussion groups. In all, feedback was included from school staff, learners and parents/carers.

  • 100% of schools agreed that the books were of a high standard and quality, and most importantly, 95% said that the children liked the choice of books.

 We had a ‘book browse’ afternoon. Books were arranged with bean-bags around each display for children to move round and select a book having handled it, read the blurb, read the start etc.” – Primary school representative, survey

Many schools took the opportunity to create a special event out of the book gifting, to help the children browse the selection on offer and choose their own book to keep. One school offered a book browse afternoon, another a book picnic and some schools combined it with other activities such as St Davids Day or World Book Day.

Some of our children said this would be the first book they ever owned that they could keep and would not have to give back. It was lovely to see children carrying their books to the yard to read at break time and how proud they were to take them home and say they were ‘books to keep forever’.” – Primary school representative, survey

  • Over 95% of schools agreed that the programme had increased opportunities for learners to read for pleasure, and nearly 80% said that the books have encouraged reading at home.

Parents were very grateful for the books. Many of our children don’t have access to books at home so they were overjoyed to have a book to take home.” – Primary school representative, survey

Secondary School book tokens – findings
There were 68 individual responses to the survey from 61 secondary schools, in addition to discussion groups. In all, feedback was collected from staff, learners and parents/carers.

Older learners at secondary school level were gifted a £7 book token to enable them to choose any book either by visiting a bookshop or through shop visits to schools. We also hoped that this approach would build relationships between bookshops and schools, as well as introducing learners to their local bookshop.

  • Over 90% of respondents from secondary schools reported that learners appreciated receiving their book tokens and 88% agreed that the book tokens provided had encouraged reading at home.

I think it’s a fantastic boost to the pupils. I really enjoyed the pupils’ reaction and pleasure that choosing and ‘buying’ their own book brought. Some pupils had to be persuaded that yes it was real and yes it was actually a book all for themself.” – Secondary school representative, survey

We were especially pleased to see that all secondary school learners who participated in the evaluation felt that the programme had increased their desire to read for pleasure, and that they now read much more, having taken part in the scheme. Welsh-language books were also shown to be in demand, and learners stated that they were more likely to read Welsh books since taking part in the programme, reporting a greater interest in reading as a result of the initiative.

There were some Welsh books that needed to be fought for because loads of people wanted to read them!” Secondary school learner, discussion group

  • 95% strongly agreed or agreed that the programme increased opportunities for reading for pleasure, and 95% agreed that the programme improved access to books.

Collaboration with food banks
Three food banks took part in the survey to provide feedback, all of which found different ways to share the books with their service users, such as displays for browsing, or sharing books with local schools. Each of the food banks who responded detailed the positive outcomes of being able to provide families with a free book for their child/children.

It was lovely to see children walking away with the books like it was treasure.” – Foodbank staff/volunteer, discussion

The books were described as ‘beautiful’, ‘high quality’ and catered to all ages. The availability of bilingual books was also referenced by participants as beneficial for families.

If you’d like to know more about the Schools Love Reading programme, there’s information about the scheme here, as well as our series of ‘I Love Reading!’ blogs by Welsh celebrities including Jess Fishlock, Mel Owen, James Hook and others.