GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Comhairle Choitcheann Teagaisg na h-Alba

School libraries: tackling the attainment gap

Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland

The most recent figures on literacy, published in December 2018 by the Scottish Government, showed that 70% of P7 pupils in Scotland were meeting the expected standard.

That means 30% are not.  This number rises to over 40% in Scotland’s most deprived areas, underlining what we already know about how poverty affects educational attainment.

It’s well-established that an attainment gap exists between the most deprived and the least deprived areas of the country.  There is also widespread recognition in Scotland of the need to improve literacy and learning and to help children and young people achieve their full potential.

There are a range of measures in place to improve literacy and tackle the poverty-related attainment gap, being rolled-out across the country at local and national government levels and by a range of supporting bodies.

This month (September), we mark one year since the launch of Scotland’s national school library strategy, Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schools.  It’s the first strategy of its kind in the UK and is further demonstration of Scotland’s commitment to improving literacy, attainment and closing the gap.

The library sector in Scotland has a crucial role to play in improving the health and wellbeing of the population through equal access to services, information and resources.

Specifically, school libraries and school librarians can make an impact at an early age and transform the learning journey of children and young people, setting them on a positive path that will help them achieve their full potential.

The school library strategy aims to achieve a vision where every child and young person in Scotland, regardless of where they live or level of education, has access to a vibrant school library service. 

When it was launched, our hope was that it would promote a shared understanding of the intrinsic value of a strong school library service and decision-makers would make effective choices and positively support development of the service.

Twelve months later, it is highly encouraging to see a high level of engagement with the education sector and school library community.

Through the School Library Improvement Fund (SLIF), set-up to support implementation of the strategy, school libraries have received £550,000 to deliver creative and innovative projects, and a further £450,000 funding round is currently open for bids.  Interestingly, around £200,000 has been awarded to projects focused on health and wellbeing, demonstrating how school libraries are perceived to be nurturing spaces for pupils. 

The range of projects that are benefiting from financial support also highlights the importance of different types of literacy; information, digital and health literacy are as valuable as reading, writing and numeracy in a modern world.

In a highly significant move, influenced by the school library strategy, Education Scotland has added school libraries to the formal school inspection process. 

Sustainable and impactful changes like this will help ensure school library provision continues to improve and all children and young people have access to an excellent service.

We know that models of provision vary between local authorities and rightly so.  Services should be tailored to local community needs.  Where consistency is needed most is equality of access.

There is a strong commitment to the role of libraries and librarians in Scotland, providing the foundations for a positive future for the school library sector and the contribution it makes to providing children with an equal start in life and supporting young people in their lifelong learning.

About the author

Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland, is a member of the implementation group for the school library strategy.

This opinion piece first appeared in The Herald  on 6 September 2019.