Almost 3,000 primary schools – one in seven – have no library provision

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Primary schools in the North of England are significantly more likely to have no library provision, new findings show.

Research has revealed that across the UK, one in seven state primary schools (14%) have no library provision, this equates to 2,900 schools affecting more than 750,000 pupils.

The findings have been published by the Primary School Library Alliance – a collaboration between the National Literacy Trust and publisher Penguin Random House which is lobbying government to commit to every primary school having a library by 2025.

The report, Moving together towards a library in every primary school,finds that “significantly fewer primary schools located in the north of England currently have library spaces or access to books compared to other regions, most notably in the south.

When broken down regionally, the proportion of schools that do not have a library space or access to books are:

  • North East: 18%
  • North West: 16%
  • West Midlands: 13%
  • East Midlands: 12%
  • Yorkshire & the Humber: 12%
  • South West: 9%
  • London: 8%
  • East of England: 7%
  • South East: 6%

It comes after reading levels among primary pupils suffered during the pandemic. Department for Education research earlier this year shows that the majority (76%) of teachers feel literacy learning loss will be the hardest attainment gap to close this academic year (DfE, 2022).

And DfE figures show that the North East and North West also have the lowest levels of children achieving expected levels in reading at key stage 1 and 2 (and beyond).

Furthermore, schools where more than half of the pupils are on free school meals are also more likely to have no library space or provision (10% compared to 16%). This is despite 39% of children eligible for free school meals leaving primary school unable to read at expected levels (compared with 26% of those not eligible).

The report states: One in two (48%) schools that had no dedicated library space said that their pupils’ reading is restricted by limited library resources and availability of books.”

The research is based on responses from 3,752 state UK primary schools between July and September. The respondents also reported a significant negative impact on library provision due to Covid. The report adds: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a lasting impact on how two in five (40%) state primary schools access library services, with cuts in investment and staffing decreases most impacting library provision in schools.”

The Primary School Library Alliance was formed in 2021 and aims to transform 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025. In its first 12 months, the campaign has involved 334 schools in its programmes to transform school reading spaces in underserved communities, including donating 165,840 books.

Its campaign for every primary school to have a library space or provision by 2025 includes calls for the government to work with campaigners to “agree upon a sustainable, long-term funding model”.

Jonathan Douglas, National Literacy Trust CEO, said:“It’s devastating to discover that over three-quarters of a million children don’t have access to a library in their primary school, when we know this and reading for pleasure play such valuable roles in academic performance, well-being and their chances of being successful in life.

The challenge of transforming and sustaining primary school libraries is a large-scale challenge and this report clearly sets out the gap in provision. While the multi-partner approach of the Primary School Library Alliance may help us solve almost half this unmet need, we would welcome a positive dialogue with the government about moving closer to every school having a primary school library or designated library space with diverse, modern book stock and trained, skilled staff.”

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