Books denied to 600,000

Full extent of swingeing cuts to school library services revealed for the first time in TES investigation

Helen Ward

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School library services providing books to more than half a million pupils have been axed in the last year, a TES analysis has revealed.

Some of England's largest local authorities - including Kent and Birmingham - have scrapped their services as their budgets are squeezed.

The news that 600,000 children will no longer have access to the work of a school library service (SLS) has been strongly criticised by celebrated children's authors.

SLSs have been under threat for a number of years, but it is only as school and local authority funding comes under increased pressure that the axe has fallen.

Traditionally the services, provided by council officers but bought in by individual schools, supplied new books to libraries as a way of keeping their collections fresh and posters and artefacts for use as classroom resources. They also regularly organise writers' visits.

Other local authorities to have scrapped these services in the last 12 months include Gateshead, Cambridgeshire and Sutton. Greenwich, which suspended its service in 2009, confirmed this week that it will not reopen.

Celebrated authors have lined up to attack the cuts. Philip Pullman, author of the best-selling His Dark Materials trilogy, condemned the way the services are being allowed to crumble away. "It is an absolute disgrace. The Government doesn't fund schools properly so schools have to make the choice between repairing the toilet roof and having a school library service," he said.

"But I don't exonerate schools from all the blame; some schools display a philistine lack of care for their own library."

And Michael Rosen, the former children's laureate, agreed, saying: "Schools library services have been decimated. But they are central to education.

"I cannot think of anything more important in education than to fill classrooms full of books that children can browse through."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, blamed the government and squeezed budgets for the predicament of SLSs. "There are many things to spend money on and not enough money to go around because mending the toilet roof matters, ICT matters and having a strong school library service matters.

"A library has more effect on reading than a phonics check. Being able to have a wide range of books that appeal to different interests will do more to drive literacy than some of the government's strategies.

"A flaw in the government's thinking is that they think of education in terms of schools, but some services are done better at local or regional level, like music and school library services," he added.

But one headteacher in an affected area said he his school would be fine without it. Avtar Singh Mangat, head of Wilkes Green Junior in Birmingham, said that schools could provide resources without paying for a central service: "We used the service many years' back and the last time we used it was last year, but very sparingly. We are a well-resourced school. We felt we should support our curriculum from within the school."

Gill Harris, chair of the association of senior children's and education librarians (ASCEL), believes the lack of certainty is a key problem:

"Some schools will say we'll save money this year and subscribe against next year, but if they miss out a year, then the service may close down and they won't get it back again."

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