‘Chronic’ lack of investment in UK primary school libraries revealed

There is a “chronic” lack of investment in primary school libraries in the UK, according to a new study.

The report revealed that teachers are often forced to buy reading materials for children with their own money. However, an alliance between the National Literacy Trust (NLT) and Penguin Random House UK (PRH) has made a pledge to transform 1,000 school libraries, with organisers calling on the government, businesses and charities to back their efforts.

The Future of Primary School Libraries report also revealed that four out of 10 have no dedicated library budget. But despite schools not being statutorily required to have a library on their premises, some respondents to the study said they were relying on donations from families or buying books from charity shops to stock their shelves.

According to the NLT, one in eight primary schools in England do not have a library, with the proportion climbing to one in four in schools with a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals. The NLT said that this is a sign of the “widening literacy attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers”, which has been exacerbated by the disruption of Covid-19.

Authors, including children’s laureate Cressida Cowell is among those who has long protested about the lack if support.

Cowell, writing in April to Boris Johnson asked him to dedicate £100m a year to revitalising “deteriorating” primary school libraries across the country.

Jonathan Douglas NLT chief executive, said: "One in 11 children on free school meals don’t own a single book of their own. With the latest research … it paints a very concerning picture of how these children and young people are able to access new books and unlock a lifetime of potential through reading. Together, we are committed to changing this."

Pledging support for the initiative Alison Tarrant, chief executive of the School Library Association, said that school libraries are in desperate need of funding.

“Primary school libraries are essential to children’s literacy and learning and yet the recent research continues to highlight disparity across the UK, impacting the development of reading and writing skills, wellbeing as well as overall academic attainment,” she said.

Last week’s budget from chancellor Rishi Sunak promised large sums to “renovate, restore and revive” public libraries but none of that money will be allocated to schools.

A Department for Education representative said: “Individual schools will decide how best to provide and maintain access to books for their pupils. To support schools in making sure children get the education they deserve, we are providing an additional £4.7bn in school funding by 2024-25, investment that will support teachers and resources such as library provision.”

Report findings at a glance:

  • There is no government requirement for schools to have a library

  • A quarter of disadvantaged primary schools in England do not have a library

  • 40% of primary schools reported having no dedicated school library budget

  • For the 1 in 11 children growing up without any books at home, school is often the first opportunity for children to discover the magic of reading

  • Due to small budgets, some teachers buy books from charity shops out of their own pocket

  • COVID-19 has affected the most disadvantaged pupils’ access to books

  • Many existing school libraries lack quality inclusive and representative books

  • Reading for pleasure is proven to positively impact young people’s mental wellbeing and academic attainment