How many schools have their own libraries, and how do they fund them?

In April 2023, the Government was asked about the number of schools without libraries in England. In response, Minister, Nick Gibb said:

The Department believes that all pupils deserve to be taught a curriculum that promotes the extensive reading of books and other texts, both in and out of school. School libraries complement public libraries in allowing pupils to do this.

It is for individual schools to decide how best to provide and maintain a library service for their pupils, including whether to employ a qualified librarian.

 Many head teachers recognise the important role school libraries play in improving literacy and encouraging pupils to read for pleasure and to ensure that suitable library facilities are provided. School libraries can take many forms, with some schools preferring to make books a focus in other ways, including housing them within classrooms.

Given the autonomy granted to schools on how to provide a library service to their pupils, the Department does not collect information on the number of school libraries.

Survey data on school libraries

The Great School Libraries campaign is a joint campaign of CILIP: The Library and Information Association, and the School Library Association. In March 2023, the campaign published the results of a survey carried by research company, BMG. Key estimates included:

  • Across the UK, 14% of primary schools did not have a dedicated library area
  • The mean primary school library budget (across the UK) had decreased by 16% compared to the previous year
  • For England, access to a dedicated library area varied by region: Schools in the East, South East, London and South West were more likely to have access, whilst schools in the North West were the least likely to have this.

The report also states that access to school library facilities varies by school demographics, with children eligible for free school meals (FSM) less likely to have access to dedicated library spaces. Additionally, higher FSM rates were associated with fewer physical library resources.

Cost of living and access to books

A National Literacy Trust and Chase survey conducted between December 2022 and January 2023 looked at families’ access to books and educational resources. The resulting report estimated:

  • 20% of parents were buying fewer books for their children, increasing to 36% of those parents who were struggling financially because of rising costs
  • 41% said there was no quiet space for children to read at home
  • Nearly 30% reported borrowing more children’s books from libraries, and a quarter said they were asking their children to borrow more books from their schools’ libraries
  • 92% of parents surveyed thought it important their child had access to a good school library.

Parliamentary material


Child Literacy: Disadvantaged Areas 22 Feb 2023 | Debates | House of Commons | 728 cc120-9WH

Parliamentary Questions

School Libraries | 24 Apr 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 179899

Public Libraries | 08 Mar 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 155259

School Libraries: Finance | 03 Nov 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL2781

Further information

TES, Why I want all primary schools to have a library, 4 May 2023

National Literacy Trust, National Literacy Trust announces new primary school libraries partnership with Portal Trust, 18 April 2023

Yorkshire Post, We need to ensure children excel at literacy – Alexander Stafford MP, 27 Apr 2023

The Bookseller, More than three quarters of a million children do not have access to a library at their primary school, 15 November 2022

Guardian, Cost-of-living crisis: one in five parents spend less on books for their children, 15 November 2022

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