Slates was released on 27 April 1981. Containing six tracks and pressed onto 10" vinyl, it was eligible for neither the single nor album charts, being too long for the former and too short for the latter. However, it was included in the UK Independent Album chart, where it reached No. 3.
Slates made its first appearance on CD in 1992 on the Dojo label, where it was coupled with live album A Part of America Therein, 1981. This pairing was re-pressed with amended artwork in 1998 by Castle Music. Slates was finally given a proper remastered CD edition from the original master tapes in 2004, with seven additional tracks being added to bolster the brief running time. The first three additional tracks formed the group's fourth session for John Peel; the next two tracks were issued as a single in December 1981; and track 13 was an outtake from 1981, previously featured on a budget compilation titled The Collection (Castle, 1993).