There is a “chronic” lack of investment in primary school libraries in the UK, with teachers often forced to buy reading materials for children with their own money, according to a new study. But an alliance between the National Literacy Trust (NLT) and Penguin Random House UK (PRH) is setting out to transform 1,000 school libraries, with organisers calling on the government, businesses and charities to back their efforts.
Schools are not statutorily required to have a library on their premises, and the report, The Future of Primary School Libraries, reveals that four out of 10 have no dedicated library budget. Some respondents to the study said they were relying on donations from families or buying books from charity shops to stock their shelves. “Most teachers spend their own money adding to these resources, owing to lack of school funding,” said one. The lack has long been protested by authors, with current children’s laureate Cressida Cowell writing in April to Boris Johnson asking him to dedicate £100m a year to revitalising “deteriorating” primary school libraries across the country.
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.
The literacy charity has teamed up with PRH to call for large-scale public and private funding in order to equip 1,000 primary school libraries with training, new books and resources by 2025, supporting 500,000 pupils over the next four years. The alliance is already backed by Arts Council England, which has awarded more than £900,000 through its National Lottery Project Grant programme to expand the World of Stories project, run by PRH and the NLT. PRH is investing more than £1m in additional support, and retail bank Chase has also pledged its support. World of Stories has already worked with 225 primary school libraries over the last three years.
“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,” said NLT chief executive Jonathan Douglas.
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.