Government: no plans to make school libraries statutory

The government has said it has no plans to make school libraries a statutory requirement, despite a petition in favour of the move gathering more than 5,700 signatories.

The petition, run by Campaign for the Book organiser Alan Gibbons, asked the government "to accept in principle that it will make school libraries, run by properly qualified staff, statutory and to prepare the necessary legislation in consultation with the appropriate professional associations and trade unions".

But a letter from Leona Smith in the department's public communications unit in response said there were "no plans" to change the current system.

"I agree that libraries are a key resource for pupils and teachers and that librarians can provide valuable support in sourcing information and teaching resources and can help children learn about information retrieval." she wrote.

"They support the National Curriculum by providing books and ICT equipment and, at their best, they are a valuable asset to teachers and a source of enjoyment and learning for children and young people.

"However, it is the government’s policy to put as much money as possible directly into schools’ budgets, allowing schools to target resources appropriately and to make their own choices about their school library provision and book resourcing... We remain of the view that it is for head teachers to choose how to spend funds delegated to them and the Department would not wish to constrain that freedom."

Gibbons has already responded, agreeing that "there has to be the freedom to make local decisions", but adding: "Government can however set out specific principles and guidance and insist on minimum standards. If this is not done with sufficient rigour, government is in danger of abdicating its responsibilities.

"In many areas of the curriculum the government intervenes strongly. Curiously, it does not consider reading and information retrieval an area that needs similar strong direction. We think this is wrong."

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) has also called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to demand that school libraries with qualified librarians should be made a statutory duty. CILIP president Biddy Fisher has written open letter to Brown stating: "Good school libraries and their librarians are an integral part of the teaching and learning process. Just as it is a statutory duty to employ qualified teachers and deliver the National Curriculum, so it should be a statutory duty to provide school libraries with qualified librarians as an essential part of every child’s entitlement to a decent education."

In his response, Gibbons highlighted a decline in reading for pleasure and the drop in the UK's position in international reading comparison tables, Gibbons said: "There is no room for complacency. In this context it is just not good enough for government to describe the situation as it exists. It is time it took action to improve things."