Budget leaves schools struggling to buy books, warn librarians

Budget leaves schools struggling to buy books, warn librarians

School librarians have reacted with dismay to the Budget news that schools are to receive a one-off payment of £400m, telling The Bookseller that schools will continue to struggle to buy books for their pupils.

Earlier this week Chancellor Philip Hammond said schools would receive £400m for “little extras” in this autumn’s budget and Barbara Band, currently chair of the School Library Association (SLA) Central & East Berkshire branch and former CILIP president, said his comment was condescending.

“Schools don’t want a ‘bonus’ – they need guaranteed regular funding. Things like books and stationery, and even toilet rolls, are not ‘little extras’ – they are essential,” she said. “Schools are being forced, due to financial circumstances, to close their libraries. Coupled with this we have a public library system under assault – resulting in many children having no access to books. You cannot read without books, you cannot achieve good GCSE grades without reading, you cannot gain employment, understand written instructions, pass a driving test, without being able to read. Reading underpins everything else … and yet we are removing the very things needed for reading. Access to a well-stocked school library with the skills and expertise of a professional librarian should be the right of every child – not a postcode lottery.”

Alison Tarrant, director of the Schools Library Association (SLA), said use of the words ‘little extras’ was political and designed to send a message that the government believes schools have the necessary funding, despite the fact that they are struggling to buy everything that they need.

“Until there is a real change in the way school funding works and accountability when it is floundered some schools will always be left making impossible choices,” she said.

“For school libraries this means less funding (where budgets currently exist), less hours, less training and less chance of securing back up funding from PTAs [Parent and Teacher Associations] as they are asked to supplement main school budgets. The cost of this is passed onto this generation - children who don’t read widely, who don’t know how to learn independently, who don’t know how to research or identify bias or fake news. That’s a hefty price to pay, and  the current trend of making teachers responsible for all of this isn't good enough. Teachers and pupils deserve more. They deserve adequately funded schools - not just ‘off the cuff’ additions for ‘little extras’.”

Caroline Wood, a school librarian from Lancashire, said the £400m won’t reach as far as libraries because “there are too many competing priorities” such as paying staff and supporting children with special educational needs.

Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, and Tarrant both said they hoped the government would look at budgets for schools in the next spending review.

“All children should have a great school library that has an extensive range of books and resources, expert staff and an inspiring space,” said Poole. “Every child deserved significantly extra from the Chancellor in the Budget as schools in England continue to experience real-term budget reductions. The next Spending Review is an ideal opportunity to put this right and invest in the next generation by developing their skills and creating new opportunities.”

Tarrant said: “I saw Philip Hammond on BBC Breakfast saying he completely understands the challenges faced by schools, and I hope this is the case - I hope in the next budget he and his colleagues completely re-think the funding formula and fund schools - as well as early years and colleges- properly.”