One of the very best things for me about being an author is watching the faces of children during a visit to a school and seeing them thinking and imagining and becoming excited.
‘Could I be an author?’
‘I want to read that book. Now.’
‘You’ve given me an idea for a story.’
‘I’m going to the library. The books are free – he said so.’
My message is simple and clear: ‘Be a reader.’ And increasingly I talk about how it will not only help you do better at school but beyond that: it will open up opportunity.
There is a growing body of hard, clear research evidence that reading for pleasure is tied to academic success, personal fulfilment, a richer understanding of people and the world, and the likelihood of better mental health. And of course it stimulates imagination, creativity, empathy, understanding.
But school author/illustrator visits are not cheap. There’s the basic cost plus travel expenses (and maybe even accommodation): a lump of money to be found at a time of education cuts, austerity, even staff losses. So, do children have to miss out? Do we allow the gap to grow between wealthy independent schools and state schools in impoverished communities? Or can we be canny and seek out a pocket of cash of somewhere?
I recently posted a series of questions on social media platforms asking educators for their top ways to fund author visits in schools. So, here we are – with quotes from teachers, heads, librarians, learning mentors, assistants, authors and more. Thank you to everyone who contributed.
1. The PTA / Friends of the School group / Governors
- The PTA may be stretched in many directions but do the key people know the significance of authors visits?
- Set out some key facts in writing or make a presentation to them (including some research evidence, such as found here).
- Use quotes from useful documents such as the Society of Authors’ survey into school visits: https://www.societyofauthors.org/SOA/MediaLibrary/SOAWebsite/Documents-for-download/School-visits-survey-results.pdf?ext=.pdf
- Thoughts from schools:
- “Our PTA is paying for one this year. Bingo night will raise the money.”
- “I have to jump through numerous hoops and make presentations about their impact to governors, PTA, etc. Recording the children talking about how much they enjoy them and how much they inspire their reading is a good way of doing this. An 8yo talking about how thrilled they were when an author or poet came to the school can have a big impact on the people who need convincing.”
- “Author visits are a hugely inspiring way to engage kids & staff with reading. Long lasting effects too! Our PTA contributes.”
2. Organisations which may offer help
- SLS, if you still have one.
- Work with your local public library: they may not be able to help directly but someone there may have useful contacts.
- Your local independent bookshop may arrange visits. No harm in asking!
- Get to know the organisers of local book/literature festivals. Some of these, such as Cheltenham, have established schools’ programmes but some of the smaller ones may be able to help arrange a subsidised author visit.
- Make contact with key people from organisations such as the National Literacy Trust, The Reading Agency and Beanstalk.
- FCBG is run by people who love children’s books and some of their regional groups help to raise money for author visits.
- Thoughts from schools:
- “For Y8 I am *given* an author through a books and authors event organised by our local public libraries so the author only costs us £40 – I think the author is paid their full amount though – just not from us.”
- “Also try collaborating with your local public library as they will probably have links which can help you (we were paired up with a local-ish author for a workshop at our local library a few months ago. It was great!)”
- “Join a group like FCBG which groups many local schools and organises the author visit with you and other schools so as to lessen the cost.”
- “@readingagency gives you the chance for your school to win author visits – we had Peter Bunzl come to us, just sign up to their Chatterbooks newsletter to find out more.”
3. Grants and awards
- Try national charitable organisations which work on a local basis: Rotary Club, Soroptimists, Round Table, Ladies Circle, Lions etc.
- Town, District or Parish Councils sometimes have pots of money which can be accessed. Again, it’s worth making contacts and spreading the word.
- Some supermarkets and large companies have funding schemes, e.g. Tesco.
- Research or ask around about local small charitable trusts or local educational foundations which make grants. I worked with a primary school which was given several thousand pounds by one of these bodies.
- Ask parents if they have suggestions for other organisations that offer grants/awards.
- Thoughts from schools:
- “I have funded mine with grants from One Stop Carriers for Causes, Tesco Bags of Help, our local Rotary Group and Town Council. All easy to apply for.”
- “My School applied for a grant from the Ernest Cook Trust which secured money for termly Patron of Reading visits over 2 years.”
- “Parish Councils, or a local charity or business with ties to the school may be willing to help with funding – you can but ask.”
4. Using Pupil Premium money
- PPG money is provided by government for ‘raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils’. What better way to do this than to invest in someone who can inspire a young person to become a reader? Children who read for pleasure raise their own attainment through ongoing immersion in written language and the absorption of ideas, insight, facts and challenging content.
- Obviously, PPG money is for pupil premium students so visiting authors will need to focus on them through special workshops or group presentations in the first instance, but the day can include assembly-style talks to year groups as well.
- Disadvantaged pupils can particularly benefit from spending time with inspiring authors/illustrators who can help them to see a purpose for reading and writing.
- Thoughts from schools:
- “I apply for PPG (pupil premium) money. The author gives a whole year presentation to all of Year 7 (300 Children). Then leads two workshops with PPG only children.”
- “We take great pride in the additional curriculum opportunities we offer our pupil premium children including author visits.”
- A lot of schools who responded to my mini-survey listed ways that they carry out fundraising to enable author visits to take place – some of these are below.
- It’s my personal opinion that schools should not have to undertake fundraising activities to pay for author visits. Teachers, librarians and other educators are already overworked and pressurised by all kinds of expectations and yet there is also an excellent tradition of fundraising in schools (for charities in particular) which involve children in learning to be proactive and understand the value of helping others and giving time, money etc.
- By involving families and pupils in fundraising for author visits, a school is making a clear statement that ‘we value this activity so much that we are willing to do something special to make it happen.’ Having said this, it helps greatly if the PTA can take on the role of organising the fundraising!
- Thoughts from schools (many of these are from librarians):
- “I use money from my budget, topped up with cake sales, hot chocolate stands and Christmas Fayre where we make and sell library-type things.”
- “Author visits are a hugely inspiring way to engage kids & staff with reading. Long lasting effects too! Our PTA contributes, we have book fairs and ask parents to contribute £1 or £2, which from a year group of 90 goes a long way!”
- “Mainly second hand book sales … and I make bookmarks of all kinds to sell for 20p a time.”
- “Our PTA has a quiz night with raffle.”
6. Other ideas
- Some schools save money by using fairly local authors, cutting down on travel expenses. Some authors also offer a discount for local schools (I charge £50 less for Gloucestershire schools).
- One way to find local authors is through Contact an Author – click on advanced search and you can specify the distance for your search as well as other factors. Or ask Authors Aloud. Authors Aloud also organise a number of tours for well-known authors on behalf of publishers. Schools interested in this can sign up to show interest via the Tours tab on their website.
- You can also try contacting publishers to see if they have an author who is doing a publicity tour.
- Larger local businesses may be willing to sponsor an event in return for some press publicity. Again, no harm in asking.
- A good way to cut the cost of an author visit (especially an author who has some distance to travel) is to use cluster or MAT sharing. Neighbouring schools can either get together or book the author on consecutive days or use two half-days. Some authors offer a discount for this.
- Secondaries may be willing to work with feeder primaries. I have been involved in a few of these events where Y5 and Y6 enjoy an author presentation in the local high school.
- Some independent schools are willing to subsidise nearby state schools for visits e.g. offering half a day with the author they have booked. Private schools have charitable status after all!
- Thoughts from schools (and authors):
- “We invite local primary schools who can’t afford visits to come along & our local secondary school where appropriate.”
- “You could also try buddying up with other local schools and ‘share’ a visit. Secondary schs could invite y6 from nearby primary etc.”
- “I’ve done a number of events for clusters of primary schools and they’ve worked very well. If I know that three or four schools will book me in rapid succession and I can sell books, it makes offering discounts easier.”
- “Publishers organise tours for their lead titles, and will shoulder costs (travel and accommodation). To get on their lists, cultivate relationships (social media is a good place to start) with local indie bookshops, book publicists and publishers (the publicists usually run the Twitter accounts).”
If anyone has any further ideas for ways to fund school author visits then please add them via the comments section below.