I’m now in my eighth year of working in education as an SBM, and am finding the ever-changing landscape of school funding to be a real challenge, with current funding having to stretch further than ever before.
As SBMs, we all know that when setting budgets some departments won’t fare so well, while others receive, and go on to use as many resources as the school can give them. What goes? What stays? Where does the SDP want to steer the money to?
Library budgets seem to be getting ever nearer the bottom of the pile when it comes to the divvying up. The budget continues to get shaved, and before you know it, five years have passed and the library is starting to look tatty and understocked. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, your librarian will probably have gone too.
In the absence of specific funding from central government, we’ve seen a well-documented decline in public and school libraries. This past year, for example, I had a library budget of £5,890. Sounds like a lot, but how far would it go? We had too many half-full shelves, a computer system in need of updating – and more to the point, how many new books would that money buy us? All of these issues needed sorting out, but there seemed no obvious way of doing it.
Some schools can make use of fantastic wholesalers such as Peters, who can provide nice, shiny new books that are all barcoded and dressed in protective covers. I’ve managed to use them myself in the past – who wouldn’t? – but the grass was a lot greener then.
Other schools establish links with the School Library Service – a great service that can refresh your library over the course of a year and also supply various resources for use with class topics and projects. In the years since those heady days of us being able to afford such luxuries ourselves, the School Library Service has been magnificent, performing fantastic work over all over the country.
‘Full of books’
But we needed stock of our own – 4,000 books, to be precise. With the average price of the new books we needed coming in at around £9.78, this wasn’t going to work, no matter how many times I punched the figures into the calculator.
I began wondering about what happened to old books – particularly the ones that get read once, before disappearing to a local charity shop or car boot sale. I decided to go on the hunt, and after a great deal of effort, managed to find a supplier that would sort me out with the books that I needed!
From that point on, we were away. The feeling I got from being able to walk down the school corridor and confidently announce that we would soon be ‘full of books’ was immense. I knew the importance of what we were about to do.
4,000 books later, at a rough cost of around 85p per book, the school’s book capacity is nearly full. The classrooms all have a good stock, with plenty of variety, and the library now has many copies of the Harry Potter series and Gangsta Granny, along with many Blyton favourites. We now have the freedom to use portions of our ‘book money’ for specific class sets, or those specialist books that seem to cost as much as a flight to Spain!
A self-funding supply
Starting my own business has been an entry on my personal ‘bucket list’ for years, so I decided to give it a go and thus The Book Junction was born. I made the decision early on to deal only with schools, as I wanted to get as many pre-loved books into them as possible, just as I’d done with mine – and three months on, all the effort so far has been well worth it.
Generating funds can be difficult. For many schools, the Foyle Foundation (foylefoundation.org.uk) has been a helpful source of funding. I believe that Tesco’s Community Fund has also occasionally been successful in helping to pay for the resources schools need. For more extensive projects or a full refit, it may be that the National Lottery’s Big Lottery Fund (biglotteryfund.org.uk) can help. But all of these will only lead to ‘funding spikes’ – what’s really crucial for schools is that they’re able to secure a means of generating funds on an ongoing basis.
So that’s what I intend to do. The next step for us is to organise and run a series of termly book fairs, where we’ll invite members of the local community into the school alongside the children. We’ll look to make cheaply-priced books available to parents who maybe can’t otherwise afford them, in the process hopefully tackling another social hurdle that needs to be overcome.
Pre-loved books are nice and affordable, and can give schools the opportunity to generate an ongoing and sustainable income that can subsequently be spent on their library facilities. If done right, with careful thought and sufficient enthusiasm, a school’s supply of books over time could even become self-funding. And finally, if any books should happen to go missing from your library or classroom… does it really matter? In my experience, organising a short-term ‘book amnesty’ – perhaps tied into any ‘house points’ system your school might have – usually does the trick…
Try it yourself
Phase 1 – Schools begin by ordering a Book Junction trial box containing between 90 and 110 books to see whether they’re happy with the books’ quality. This initial box will contain a selection of popular KS2 children books from authors such as JK Rowling, Michael Morpurgo, David Walliams and others.
Phase 2 – Schools can then order a pallet containing 1,000 or 2,000 books, packed into boxes of approximately 100. Each box is carefully packed and securely sealed for ease of handling, and will weigh no more than 25kg.
Phase 3 – Schools that decide to set up a Book Fair can order a mixed pallet of 2,000 books containing a mix of both children’s and adults books, or optionally a pallet containing children’s books only. The Book Junction will also provide a free banner to help publicise the Book Fair to parents and members of the local community.
Brian Herbert is a school business manager at Ferrars Junior School [email protected].