NEARLY 100,000 children across Scotland do not have access to a library at their primary school - despite a four-year-old Scottish Government move to ensure that they do to help improve literacy and boost attainment.

The largest ever survey of the state of primary school libraries, commissioned by the Primary School Library Alliance has revealed that 25% of Scots state primary schools do not have a dedicated library area.

It has raised concerns that too many children do not have access to books that experts say will enable better educational outcomes, improve literacy and provide greater well-being.

It comes as concerns have been raised over plans to remove school librarian posts in East Renfrewshire and North Lanarkshire and cut the number in Inverclyde as councils look to cut costs.

Literacy rates in primary schools in Scotland have, meanwhile, plummeted during the coronavirus lockdown.

Data from 2020/21 66.9% of primary pupils hit the expected level, compared with 72.3% in 2018-19; 71.4% in 2017-18 and 69.2% in 2016-17.

Analysis also shows that, in literacy, attainment fell for both the primary pupils in the most and least deprived areas. However, the performance of those in the most deprived areas was hit harder.

In literacy, 80.7% of primary pupils in the most affluent areas were at or above the expected standard in 2020-21, compared to 56% of those from the poorest backgrounds.

And the poverty-related attainment gap for literacy widened compared to 2018-19 by 4 percentage points, going from 20.7 percentage points to 24.7 in 2020-21 - the biggest gap recorded to date.

Concerns about children's access to books in Scotland has emerged four years after the Scottish Government adopted a "vision for school libraries" described then as the "first of its kind in the UK" to ensure "every child" in Scotland had access to a "dynamic school library."

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It was the key element of a five year drive concluding next year that the Scottish Government said would "support the improvement of literacy and numeracy, boost attainment across the curriculum and enable opportunities for family learning".

Launching the strategy, deputy first minister John Swinney, said: “School libraries have a vital part to play, throughout the learner journey from 3-18. They support literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing, improving attainment across the Curriculum.

“This strategy seeks to make libraries the vibrant hub and epicentre of our schools, promoting an appreciation of literature, an understanding of information literacy and a place of contact, friendship, dialogue and reassurance."

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), the leading body representing the sector, said it was "concerned" about the development.

It is also "very troubled" by plans to remove all secondary school librarian posts in East Renfrewshire and North Lanarkshire and cut the number in Inverclyde "potentially creating a postcode lottery of provision and causing long term damage to young people's education for relatively small savings".

"We urge councils to think again and the Scottish Government to consider intervening before it is too late, and an entire essential profession is wiped out in some areas," said a CILIP head Sean McNamara.

"We were concerned to hear that a quarter of primary schools do not have a dedicated library area in Scotland as access to reading materials supports learning and reading for pleasure and improves literacy rates. We encourage all local authorities to take steps to ensure young people can access a designated library space in addition to a well funded public library in their local area."

In East Renfrewshire, where seven years ago, the council scrapped a plan to use pupils to help run on-site libraries at Scotland's top-performing secondary schools there are proposals to remove funding for "school-based librarian staff" as it faces a funding shortfall of more than £30m in the next three years.

CILIP has told the council that it would "have a very serious negative impact on the quality of learning and teaching, attainment, achievement, wellbeing, pupil support [and] equity".

It has told the council: "An extensive, growing body of evidence highlights the contribution of school librarians to improved exam scores and achievement, and their role in creating a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment where all pupils have equal and equitable access to curriculum related learning resources."

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Award-winning Scottish TV screenwriter, novelist and crime-writer Peter May has hit out at the plan, which is out for a consultation which ends next month, saying saying it was a "threat to the future education of our kids".

He said: "My old school, Eastwood, will be affected. I benefited enormously from having a vibrant and well-managed school library and am horrified by this!

"It was my school librarian that got me reading Don Quixote, showing me a more modern translation, after I’d been put off by an old, unreadable one."

In 2015, the council had proposed the idea of involving senior-year pupils in certain duties, while aiming to make all librarians in its seven secondary schools part-time to save £131,000.

The council later confirmed it would still be saving the money, and would be cutting librarian staffing from seven full time posts to four but the pupil involvement plan was scrapped.

East Renfrewshire Council said that the option was to remove 3.5 librarian posts to save £164,000.

In Inverclyde, which is tackling a £20m budget shortfall over three years, CILIP has raised concerns the council proposed to cut the number of school librarian posts and feared they would be replaced with lower graded library assistant posts. The group said it will "de-professionalise the service you offer and directly affect the quality of education available".

There was also a proposal to close Greenock Central Library, wkth the loss of just eight jobs to save £208,000 which it said would be "deeply damaging to the local community".

The council says no final decision has been made and that a review of library services aims to save £114,000 - with 2.5 jobs lost.

In North Lanarkshire, school librarians are being axed from all 23 of the local authority's secondary schools in a budget-saving measure.

Nearly 40,000 have signed an online petition against the decision, including award-winning local author Damian Barr and the professional association for Scottish librarians has written to councillors asking that they “urgently reverse” the decision, saying it will “severely damage the quality of education” offered to pupils.

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Council officials say the 17 impacted staff members are being offered redeployment or voluntary redundancy, and that the cost-cutting plans – confirmed in the final days of the academic year – were originally agreed in the authority’s 2020 budget.

The council have confirmed the posts have already been deleted, with some already taking voluntary redundancy, some being redeployed and some still in post while they consider their options.

Founded in November 2021 by the National Literacy Trust and Penguin Random House UK, the Primary School Alliance works with its flagship partners to address chronic lack of investment in primary school libraries and bring together relevant parties to help solve this urgent issue.

The Alliance is hoping to transform 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025.

Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the National Literacy Trust said the numbers of children that do not have access to a library in their primary school was "devastating" saying that it known that reading for pleasure play "such valuable roles in academic performance, well-being and their chances of being successful in life".

In its first twelve months, the Alliance has involved 334 schools in its programmes to transform school reading spaces in underserved communities in the UK, including donating 165,840 books.

Through its Chase Rewarding Futures initiative, the Alliance has already worked with 21 schools in Dundee to transform their libraries and reading spaces.

The library transformations include new furniture making the spaces welcoming and comfortable, a bespoke mural to inspire imagination and creativity, plus each library has benefitted from 400 new books, e-readers and audio books so children can access stories in a way that’s right for them.

The Alliance research involved recruiting research agency BMG to conduct the biggest ever survey on this issue in the UK. Overall, 3,752 or almost 1 in 5 of all state primary schools across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales answered a range of school library-related questions between July 2022 and September 2022.

An East Renfrewshire Council spokesperson said: "Like all councils we are facing unprecedented financial challenges in the years ahead. It is expected we will have a £30m budget gap over the next 3 years and a range of difficult decisions will need to be made, including considering cutting services and jobs. All savings proposals put forward at this stage are options, and councillors will not set the final budget until 1 March 2023."