Unequal futures? An imbalance of opportunities in school library provision.

Unequal futures: an imbalance of opportunities but an insight into school library provision

SLS UKAdvice

Subject: Literacy

Topic: Great School Libraries research

Year Group: KS1 and KS2

Synopsis: Guest article from Alison Tarrant, Co-Chair, Great School Libraries campaign, highlighting some of the key takeaways from the new Great School Libraries research.

Alison Tarrant
Great School Libraries campaign

Librarian’s view:

Across the UK the new research from Great School Libraries shows school libraries working across departments, co-teaching, inspiring reading and delivering media and information literacy, but this isn’t a universal tale and it is causing, re-enforcing and contributing to an imbalance of opportunities for children across the UK.

As we move towards an ideas-based economy, it is even more crucial that our young people are equipped with the skills they need to be critical thinkers and self-directed and empathetic human beings;  surely then, this transformative role of the school library is one which we should be promoting and supporting, pedagogically, ideologically and financially.

In these exciting times of change and transformation, school libraries have an increasingly relevant and crucial role to play as we equip our young people with the experiences, skills and ideas they need to play an active role in democratic conversation and our society as a whole.  

Primary Schools

We found that 1 in 7 primary schools have no school library, but it’s not just about provision – it’s about the quality of the provision. Unfortunately, two thirds have no budget for their school library. 40% agree reading is restricted due to limited resourcing, and media and information literacy skills are only delivered in 3% of primary schools across the UK.

Secondary Schools

There were strong signs of leadership in school libraries – staff being recognised as Heads of Department and being line managed by Senior leaders or the Headteacher – and working across multiple subject departments, and with different specialist leads. 

However, it seems there has been a significant drop in secondary schools with a school library – by approximately 10% since 2019. Additionally, stock levels have fallen since the 2019 survey. 

15% had no budget for the school library, and two thirds had the same as previous years or less – both providing less spending power. Added to that, nearly a quarter had no budget to staff the school library. 

Schools without libraries

85% of the schools without a school library space said it was due to space. Budget restrictions were mentioned by one in five as a reason they didn’t have a school library. These schools are supplementing the schools reading resources by utilising their local School Libraries service (a third) and a quarter relied on their local public library.

Why is this important?

There is no denying that their role in developing reading for pleasure and providing a safe space for children is crucial, however this is to ignore the arguably more fundamental position of the school library as the hub of learning, inquiry and intellectual curiosity. 

Special session: Get Ready to Vote 

Points to think about when voting: 

  • Did the cover catch your eye? 
  • What do you think of the characters, were they credible
    (Note: You don’t have to like them) 
  • Did you like the writing style? 
  • Was it funny or thought provoking? 
  • Did the story have an interesting plot? 
  • Did it have an exciting start, did it make you want to keep on reading? 
  • Where there any twists along the way? 
  • Did it have a happy or shocking ending? 


1. Ensure every school has a library with a librarian

2. Encourage school leadership to make the best use of their library

3. Embed school libraries into the inspection frameworks for schools and make it a part of the annual reporting system


1. Continue to provide guidance and resources to schools on embedding libraries into the Curriculum

2. Build relationships with Governments to highlight the impact of great School Libraries

3. Ensure that governments maintain up-to-date qualitative and quantitative data on school library provision


1. If you are already a school library champion, engage with sector bodies to develop a vision for the future.

2. If you have a school library, engage with the librarian to discover how they can further enhance your school’s educational offer.

3. If you don’t have a school library or library staff, actively support the sector bodies in their work to ensure all pupils can benefit.

Read the full report:


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