School libraries threatened with closure as budgets slashed, survey finds

A teaching union has called for Ofsted to inspect school library provision to ensure resources are available.

More than a fifth of education staff say their school library budget has been significantly cut in the past six years, according to a new survey.

A poll by the ATL teaching union has found that some schools are getting rid of libraries, staff and books as budgets are slashed – while others are attempting to close them.

The survey of 485 ATL members, conducted last month, reveals that 22 per cent of staff say their school library budget has been cut by at least 40 per cent since 2010. Meanwhile, 21 per cent say the budget does not allow their library to encourage pupils to read for enjoyment.

Two-fifths of staff say their library does not have enough space for the number of students who want to use it. One teacher in a Cornwall primary school said the library has become “a wall of shelves in a corridor with two chairs”.

Another primary teacher in Surrey said books were put into the skip as they had a library which was “poorly used and unstaffed”.

She added: “Now the best books have been moved to a new room – called the learning resource centre – but essentially it’s an ancillary classroom. The bookshelves aren’t maintained, so few people use it as a library.”

The findings come just months after schools minister Nick Gibb made a speech outlining his support for schools encouraging reading for pleasure, saying it was more important than social class in determining a child’s academic success.

At the ATL conference today, delegates carried a motion that called school inspections to include comments on the quality of library services and access to them.

Cathy Tattersfield, an ATL branch secretary and executive member, said: “Ofsted does not currently inspect the library provision in a school. It would be more likely to be protected if it was part of an inspection regime.

“If the school library mattered in today’s accountability culture. If you could fail an Ofsted because of your library provision, libraries would not be at risk.”

More than 80 per cent of staff said the library is important to their school, with 94 per cent saying school libraries have a positive impact on teaching and learning.

And yet, almost a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents said library staff hours have been cut since 2010, and 11 per cent said library staff had been made redundant.

A teacher in a primary school in the West Midlands said: “The new head has decided a library is no longer needed so is planning to get rid of it as all reading can be done on iPads.”.

Today members also agreed to organise a campaign against this “unhappy trend” of school libraries being closed – and called on the education secretary to ensure that the Department for Education has a lead for libraries to support the work of schools.

Ms Tattersfield stressed that the picture across the country was “patchy”, adding that “it seems to be feast or famine”.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, stressed that the “alarming stories” of schools cutting library hours and staff, or turning their libraries into classrooms and binning their books were “particularly worrying because reading for pleasure develops children’s literacy, educational attainment and ultimately their chances in life.”

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