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One in eight schools has no library provision

19th Oct 19

While nine in ten schools in England have a designated library space, that falls to 67% in Wales and 57% in Northern Ireland, according to research commissioned by the Great School Libraries (GSL) Campaign.

Academies (92%) and independent schools (97%) are both significantly more likely to report having a designated library space on-site than average (87%). Meanwhile, controlled schools in Northern Ireland (51%) and community schools in Wales (76%) are significantly less likely to.

1 in 8 schools (13%) do not have access to a designated school library area at all on-site although 41% of these schools had this provision in place previously. The most common reason for losing this provision is the lack of available space (77%).

Having a library is also partly dependent on local socio-economic norms; schools with a higher proportion of children on free school meals are more than twice as likely not to have access to a designated library space. Children in secondary schools (96%) are also more likely than primary schools (85%) to have a designated school library area on-site.

On average, primary schools have less than half the physical stock of secondary schools (4,707 compared with 11,629). Secondary school are also more likely to refresh their stock on a termly or more regular basis than primary schools are. Primaries are also far less likely to have a library budget than secondaries - 34% compared with 88% - and have seen what budget they have decline by a greater amount. In addition, nearly half of primary schools say that they have no digital devices in their library (45%) while this is true for just 3% of secondary schools.

Independent schools (83%) are twice as likely as non-independents (42%) to have a designated library budget. Special schools in particular are unlikely to have this in place (23%). Further to this, independent schools report adding to their library stock far more frequently than other school types. Nearly half of independents report doing so on a weekly or more frequent basis compared to just 8% of non-independent schools.

Library space tends to be used flexibly by schools with 84% indicating that they use the library space for other purposes, such as a classroom or meeting space.

Only half of the schools reported having a designated member of library staff (54%) and of these, 72% report that their designated member of library staff has received some form
of qualification or training relevant to librarianship (72%). Library staff undertake a variety of other duties in the school, including conducting regular timetabled library lessons and having a teaching role (both 38%).

The status of the main member of library staff appears to differ by school type. In independent schools, the main member of library staff is more than twice as likely to have head of department status than in non-independent schools (37% compared with 15%).

The research has also found that employment terms for librarians and library staff fall below national standards, with low pay and little investment in professional development and training.

The research comes after a prolonged period of closures for public libraries across England, Scotland and Wales, with nearly 500 public libraries closed between 2010 and April 2019. Unless their school has library space, thousands of children will be unable to access books for free outside of their homes.

Commenting on the publication of the research, Nick Poole, chief executive of the professional librarians' group, CILIP, said, "We welcome this landmark report as the first comprehensive picture of the state of play in our school libraries. On the one hand, it is a testament to the head teachers, teachers, governors and librarians that value and promote the importance of school libraries for learners and their school. On the other hand, the research paints a picture of inequality of access and opportunity and insecure employment that we cannot accept. The findings highlight the urgency of securing national School Library Strategies and investment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, drawing on the example of Scotland."

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