‘Extreme anger’ over library cuts

15th December 2017 at 00:00
Plans emerge two months after promise of protection

A council is planning to axe all school librarians and another is proposing to halve the number in secondary schools – only two months after campaigners hailed a landmark policy that promised unprecedented protection for school libraries.

The Scottish School Library Alliance said it was “extremely angry and disappointed” about the plans, while well-known authors have warned that such cuts will lead to falls in attainment and literacy.

The moves also call into question how much the Scottish government’s support for a service counts when councils are desperate to find ways to balance their books.

The proposed cuts appear in public consultations on budget plans in South Ayrshire and Moray councils. South Ayrshire proposes removing all school librarians and school library assistants – a spokesman said there were currently three librarians and seven assistants – as part of broader plans to save nearly £2 million over two years by reducing school support staff.

Moray’s plans would result in four secondary school librarians being reduced to two, as part of an attempt to cut £378,000 over two years from schools’ devolved budgets.

The announcement on 28 September that Scotland would have the UK’s first national school libraries strategy, enshrining minimum standards, was greeted enthusiastically by Save Scotland’s School Libraries campaigners, who had fought against cuts for six years. The Scottish government also announced £1 million funding to improve school libraries over three years.

After hearing news of the South Ayrshire and Moray proposals, however, a spokesman for the Scottish School Library Alliance said: “We are extremely angry and disappointed that two local councils have put forward proposals that are completely out of step with the national strategy for school libraries, which was launched by cabinet secretary for education John Swinney only two months ago.”

He added that, at the strategy’s launch, Mr Swinney described school libraries as playing “a vital role in supporting literacy and improving attainment”. The spokesman said the South Ayrshire and Moray proposals would have “an enormous impact on young people who have no say in how these decisions are made”.

James Robertson, the Scottish novelist best known for The Testament of Gideon Mack, has worked with many schools and was “dismayed” by the proposals.

“If this is about saving money, then I have to ask, how much and to what purpose, if the net effect is to damage young people’s education?” he said. “If it is solely about money, then the cabinet secretary for education needs to discuss, urgently, with all councils how to prevent such cuts going ahead – indeed, how to increase levels of library service provision in all our schools.”

Mr Robertson added that once such library posts have gone, “it is very unlikely that they will be brought back”.

‘Literacy at risk’

Matthew Fitt, a teacher and author whose Scots language translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published last month, said: “Cuts in the school library service today will result in cuts in literacy rates and attainment tomorrow. Pupils whose parents can afford to buy books will suffer less. Those pupils whose way into reading is through their school library will, as usual, suffer all the more.”

David Barnett, president of School Leaders Scotland, is headteacher at Elgin Academy in Moray, whose librarian, Sheilagh Noonan, was on the final shortlist of three for this year’s UK and Ireland School Librarian of the Year award. “A good librarian can add a huge amount to a school – and can really assist in improving literacy and promoting a love of reading. The knock-on that can have across the school is immense,” he said.

Mr Barnett described Elgin Academy’s library as “the beating heart of the school – there’s always something happening there”. Not having a librarian, or only having one for half a week, would have “a significant impact” on young pupils, he said, adding that school libraries had a “direct impact” on attainment.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “As our National Libraries Strategy underlines, school libraries play a vital role in developing literacy, supporting attainment and encouraging people of all ages to develop and maintain a love of reading.”

He added: “It is the responsibility of local authorities to determine the requirements for their school libraries, including the recruitment and deployment of school library staff, taking into account local needs.”

The spokesman also said that, as part of the strategy, every child in Scotland will receive a library membership.

South Ayrshire Council chief executive Eileen Howat said it had to plug a £17 million funding gap in 2018-19 and that it was “getting harder and harder to balance the amount of money we have to spend against the money we need to deliver council services”.

Last month, Tes reported on a campaign in England to save school libraries, backed by big literary names such as Philip Pullman, Francesca Simon and Malorie Blackman (“Top children’s authors demand Justine Greening step in to save school libraries”, 23 November). In a letter to education secretary Justine Greening, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) said England should follow the Scottish government’s example in seeking to use school libraries to improve educational outcomes.


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