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One in seven state primary schools do not have a designated library space

15 Nov 2022


One in seven state primary schools does not have a designated library space and over three-quarters of a million children in the UK do not have access to books that we know enable better educational outcomes and greater well-being, according to the largest ever survey of the state of primary school libraries [1], commissioned by the Primary School Library Alliance [2] and published today (Tuesday, 15th November 2022).

In addition, the Moving Together Towards a Library in Every Primary School [3] report found that significantly fewer primary schools located in the North of England currently have library spaces or access to books. 18% and 16% of state primary schools in the North East and North West respectively do not have libraries, versus 6% in the South East of England – so around triple the number. This is important because the North East and North West also have the lowest levels of children achieving expected levels in reading at Key Stage One and Two and beyond. For the UK nations, more state primary schools in Northern Ireland (41%) said they don’t have a dedicated school library area, followed by Scotland (25%) and Wales (23%).

Founded in November 2021 by the National Literacy Trust and Penguin Random House UK, the Alliance works with its flagship partners to address the chronic lack of investment in primary school libraries and bring together relevant parties to help solve this urgent issue. The Alliance aims to transform 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025. Flagship partners include publishing house Puffin Books, digital bank Chase, Oxford University Press, the Marcus Rashford Book Club, and additionally there are 26 supporting organisations. In its first twelve months, the Alliance has involved 334 schools in its programmes to transform school reading spaces in underserved communities in the UK, including donating 165,840 books. Primary School Library Alliance - Working Together report Nov 2022

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The Primary School Library Alliance believes that by bringing together expertise and resources from partners across a number of sectors it can more effectively support children’s educational outcomes, and ensure the wider emotional and economic benefits of reading for pleasure [4] can be felt by all children. The Primary School Library Alliance is calling on the government to signal its commitment to this target by supporting the development of primary school libraries in the following ways:

  1. The Secretary of State for Education publicly acknowledging the positive role that primary school libraries can play in boosting literacy and endorse the aims and approach of the Primary School Library Alliance.
  2. The Department for Education committing to ensuring that every primary school has a library by 2025 and publish an action plan setting out how it will work in partnership with others to achieve this goal.
  3. The Department for Education working with the Primary School Library Alliance to agree upon a sustainable, long-term funding model. For example, the introduction of a government matched funding programme, in which the government pays a proportion of the total costs, could help to leverage further private sector investment and secure high- quality resources.

“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. Whilst 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.”

Jonathan Douglas CBE, National Literacy Trust CEO

“At Penguin we believe that every child should have the right to read and access books, as well as the space and time to read for pleasure. Children are shaped intellectually and emotionally by the books they read, and by stories they see themselves in and can be inspired by. Libraries and reading spaces in primary schools are essential for this, which is why we continue to invest in and support our partners through the Primary School Library Alliance. After just a year of the Alliance we are already seeing the value of this type of public/private partnership model for achieving positive change, and see great opportunity to scale this for further success.”

Rebecca Sinclair, Chief Brand Officer at Penguin Random House UK

“As the Children’s Laureate, I included a child’s right to access new books in schools and libraries in my Children’s Charter, and the fact that hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are being denied that right is devastating. How can a child learn to read for the joy of it if their parents cannot afford books, and their primary school does not have a library? It’s a social mobility time bomb. Libraries transform school life far beyond the library doors. They boost attainment, ambition, and attention in the classroom; and improve well-being, alongside increased empathy, confidence and self-worth. Libraries are a space that nothing else can replicate, and the results are clear: they are an intervention that works. We must work together to change this story and put a library and a librarian in every school.”

Cressida Cowell MBE, children’s author and National Literacy Trust Ambassador
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