Lancaster’s Hierarchy of Reading #1

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I’ve been doing a lot of research recently into reading, brain functions concerning reading, how we learn to read and how initial reading takes place.

All of this has led me to try and create a better understanding about we can help young people to become readers.

From this research the more I’ve read the more questions I end up with but also the more research I read the more I begin to believe that reading and learning to read is so much bigger than the pupil and teacher format that we have always felt existed to perfect the art of reading.

I am currently working on mapping the reading brain and understanding what a young person needs to be successful in reading. This, I hope will go some way to making it explicit about how an individual can become a reader if they are not already one and what aspects make up a successful reader.

This article however focuses more on another question I have been asking myself recently, “What conditions are needed for a young person to succeed at reading.”

This question has haunted my dreams for a while now. The more research I do, the more work I do with young people and their reading the more I begin to realise this is a massively difficult question to answer. Not only is it a question that requires a lot of thought and has so many different, difficult facets to it but it is also a question made so much more difficult by the fact that a young person who is a competent reader isn’t always a successful reader and a weak reader isn’t always an unsuccessful reader.

What I mean is that a young person who has all the characteristics of someone we would classify as being a good reader isn’t always a reader of pleasure and gain. Sometimes they are turned off from reading, sometimes their attitude (something I’ve spoken about here before) isn’t positive towards reading, sometimes there are so many other things that take up their lives they have no time for reading etc etc the list could go on.

But then you need to also factor in the weaker reader what is it they they also need to help them to achieve reading success ? And finally is there a way to be able to show all this in a visual format to help others create the right conditions to be a success?

The more I thought about it the more I was reminded of my days studying education many years ago and Abraham Maslow. Maslow always crops up in education with his hierarchy of needs. It’s hard to believe anyone working in education isn’t familiar with it as it’s implications for learning are massive.

Maslow posits that there needs to be a number of processes happening in a particular order for a person to reach self actualisation. For instance a person needs to be watered, fed etc before they can start worrying about being safe and then they need a sense of belonging before they can think about their own self esteem. If all this is in place then they become self actualised which the point where they are able to learn, be productive etc to the best of their ability.

However, and this is the important part for my own needs, is that at any moment a person may be pulled back down to a lower level if something happens to negate that level.

Now this is exactly the type of thing that my research has pointed towards with reading. There are a number of ‘levels’ that you need to work through and needs to be in place for a young person to be a ‘self-actualised’ reader as Maslow would describe it.

What I’ve therefore put together is a version of Maslow’s hierarchy in terms of reading. The hierarchy confirms the process and the conditions needed for a young person to be successful at reading.

The levels start with non-cognitive skills that play and ever increasingly important role in our understanding of learning. Attitudes etc towards a desired outcome seems the most sensible place to start and the area that needs to be worked on first before anything can be achieved. Maslow had his physiological needs here and the similarities between the two are obviously there.

Next is the awareness section. An ability for a young person to be aware of the opportunities that exist for reading. It is this level that demands engagement, participation and effort. A desire to be involved in the act of reading and to take the opportunities that exist.

After this is Motivation and Mastery. Once a young person has the right attitude, is engaged in reading support needs to be given to motivate them, to improve their self-efficacy and to give them mastery of the act of reading.

After this is the the social responsibility that society has around reading. It is the accumulation of all the preceding levels where a culture of reading allows a sense of belonging to something bigger, a sense of connection and an understanding that reading can mean so much more.

Levels 2,3 and 4 for me highlight the social requirements needed in regards to reading. They are my vision for the route to successful reading being bigger than the individual and the smaller, teacher-student model of learning/being successful at reading.

The final level is of course the one we aim to get all our students to as often as possible. It’s worth noting that at any time any one of these levels may see a break down which will result in a young person regressing in their reading. This, I feel is vital.

In my research I’ve also spent a lot of time reading about Alan McLean and his 3 A’s of motivation ones way to excellence. McLean posits that affiliation, agency and autonomy are the framework for creating this excellence. Affiliation is about a sense of belonging, agency which is about self-belief and efficacy and finally autonomy which he describes as gold dust being about determination to achieve and succeed. These seem to fit nicely within this model adding to it a deeper understanding in terms of creating a model which integrates excellence within it.

Having a visual representation of this, seeing what conditions are needed to achieve success in reading is therefore our own gold dust. Knowing this means that we can go a large way to helping to create the correct conditions as often as possible so our young people can as greater success in reading as possible.

I intent to look in greater detail the finer points within this model as I try to further define what and how schools can improve the things they do to achieve success in reading of their students.

How a library can succeed with Ofsted

In my previous, and much viewed post about Ofsted and the school library I laid out my beliefs about what a library should do when Ofsted call and the types of things Ofsted will be looking for. You can read this here.

Unfortunately, even with the added focus being placed on literacy and reading in schools and many many reports mentioning both of these Ofsted still seem at a loss to be able to actually quantify what they should see concerning reading and especially reading for pleasure.

They clearly point that a lack of literacy is affecting the work place and can give numerous examples where literacy in areas such as road signs and the greengrocers apostrophe are showing a serious lack of literacy in the work place.

Important as this as, and on the correct path, but when it comes to reading and especially reading for pleasure they still seem at a loss.

There are numerous reports from this country, including from the National Literacy Trust, and across the Atlantic that highlight the importance of young people choosing to read for pleasure. It is the greatest marker on future success, even more important than socio-economic, gender or age.

These reports also include in them a short description as to what reading for pleasure actually means. Even by simply looking on the internet or doing any kind of search it is easy to see the commonly accepted definition of reading for pleasure.

It is simply being able to read what you want when you want in whatever way you want to do it. It seems simple really but unfortunately Ofsted seem to link pleasure reading with direct improvement in reading. Yes, if you read for pleasure you will improve and yes if you read books at the right level then you will also improve but the two do not and should not go together.

There are certainly a number of issues that I have with this. But I also believe that if you can show that what you are doing is working then there is no argument to be had. For instance I’m more concerned with the non cognitive role in reading and how this needs to be engaged before a young person can even think about progressing in reading. These attitudes need to be met before a young person can achieve the ability of reading improvement. It’s an ongoing thought process that needs to be worked on all the time especially as it means that even if you succeed in developing the non cognitive initial push into reading that a student may still slip back down and need help again. In fact the model of reading shows that this will be an inevitability.

But outside of reading for pleasure what else should an Ofsted inspector be looking for? How can we define what it is we do beyond our four walls and the impact that we have across the school? Ultimately what are the guidelines for a school library to be a success with Ofsted?

When it comes to looking at how you can assess a library through an Ofsted inspection I feel a library should not need to be visited to see the impact that it has. If a library is doing a good job it will be seen in every classroom and every corridor. To this effect I have created my own version of the grade descriptors of what an inspector should look for in a school library.

They are still are in draft format and I’d like to spend a bit more time working on them but ultimately the bones are there.

See what you think and whether you agree of not.

Supplementary subject-specific guidance for the library

The danger of reading ages

In a previous post about Reading Ages I highlighted the many problems associated with them. You can find this post here.

Reading Ages (RA) should always be taken with a pinch of salt and only ever used as a marker to show whether there is a particular problem. RAs are not a diagnosis. The diagnosis is arrived at by drilling down and analysing the results of a RA test and understanding why an RA comes up short of chronological age.

Data and schools goes hand in hand and with schools trying desperately to show the link between reading and its impact on learning many schools are looking at ways of being able to show this (my book Mapping and Tracking shows a way this can done).

Reading has always been a difficult one to prove. How can you categorically show that reading for pleasure has an immediate impact on learning? We know it’s true because we see it everyday but how can you judge this and show it?

Due to this there is a danger of trying to force data to play to your own tune. Many people have looked into and tried to force a link between RAs and National Curriculum Levels (NC levels). On the surface this looks like a relatively good idea. If you can say that a student is reading at a certain age and this relates to a certain curriculum level then you can judge the student and put the right things in place for them?

This however is very very wrong.

You should never try to do this and I would encourage anyone thinking along these lines to abandon any attempt to do so

Realistically there is no correlation between the two and neither really should you try and force one. Due to how a reading age is created there is no way to be able to link the two. A student may have a lower reading to chronological age for all sorts of reasons. It could be down to word recognition, comprehension, speed, accuracy, ability to decode common and uncommon words. Therefore a student may have a reading that is 3 years below because they take longer to process words. This means that their comprehension is in line and their decoding skills are in line but they are just a little slow.

So, if you were then to say a reading age of 8 is equivalent to a 3b there is no way it can work as that student’s ability is really more in line with their chronological age. This is the same for a dyslexic reader whose decoding skills let them down yet their comprehension is absolutely fine. Reading ages should never be taken as more than a guide to show there might be something wrong.

If you’re testing students you need to analyse their reading ages and understand what it really means. It’s the standardised score that really counts and where this sits in the bell curve. If they are between 85-115 then they are at the right level for their age.

Knowing the reason behind the RA is massive as it can then lead you to be able to make an impact in the students literacy in all their subjects. For instance if you know that a student has a low RA to CA because they have trouble with comprehension then you can be sure that this issue is going to manifest itself in all the student’s subjects. If the teacher is unaware of this and the strategies they might employ to help the student (directed questions, bullet pointing etc) then the student will struggle to learn and make the expected progress.

However if this knowledge about the student is shared as well as strategies with teachers, support staff and parents then you can use this understanding to make a truly significant impact.

This is the approach we have taken in our school to great effect. Utilising this understanding and introducing Access to Literacy Provision Maps for our weaker students.

Back to RA:

The other issue is that although there is guidance as to what NC levels students should be at at different ages students don’t learn at the same rate. The final problem is if this were at all possible is that levels are being scrapped so the data would be useless anyway!

What I have done instead is create my own version of APP for reading. Students read with a buddy or a trained LSA, they then mark them down on the ARP sheet as to where they are and what they are capable of doing. This then shows if a student is in line with their chronological age.

If they are not then this is highlighted in our tracking sheets and either picked up for intervention by the library, SEN or English dept.

This is a much better way, rather than trying to force data to fit your own requirements as it is more about the individual child and what they are capable beyond a test.

Remember a test only gives you information to a certain point, the rest needs to be figured out from analysing and working with the student.

Assessing Reading Progress

Marginal Library Gains – Engagement

Marginal Library Gains

The aggregation of marginal gains is a phrase coined by the successful Olympic and Team Sky racing principle Dave Brailsford. The term itself relates to being able to break something down in its composite being and try to improve everything by 1%.

The theory itself is so successful due to its flexibility to be able to put in any situation and circumstance. Educators are using the theory in the classroom to enhance student’s work and a leading example is Alex Quigley whose article in the Guardian below highlights why it works for him.

‘One simple, but highly effective, lesson learnt from the Olympics has been taken from the story of the brilliantly successful cycling team, and their visionary coach, Dave Brailsford. Brailsford believes that by breaking down and identifying every tiny aspect of an athlete’s performance and then making just a 1% improvement in each area the athlete’s overall performance can be significantly enhanced. His concept of ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’ has been making transformative ripples in classrooms and ever since the cycling team came to prominence a few years ago, but after London 2012 that concept has been taken up with renewed vigour.

Now, most tasks undertaken by students have a complex range of skills: from making an original shop front in design technology and learning a field sport in PE to writing a newspaper article in English. All these complex tasks have a multitude of marginal processes and skills for success. Unsurprisingly, not all students have the colossal will power and skill of Sir Chris Hoy (nor the Herculean thighs, thank god!) and therefore they need a little help in breaking down the complexity of the task, making clear the manageable steps to success.
Alex Quigley, An unexpected Olympic legacy: how to make marginal gains with your students, Guardian, 22 November 2012

So if this model is so flexible and can be used in the business world the classroom and just about anywhere how can we think about using it in a school library and what would our marginal gains look like?

This is an area that I have been focusing on for the last couple of years, thinking about what makes a successful school library and how it can be broken down in smaller parts so that we can improve each bit by that 1%.

I’ve come up with a series of things that I think we should be looking at and areas where we can make improvements and change our ways of thinking/operating to have as big an impact as possible.

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Engagement

In libraries and in particular school libraries we run a large number of events, promotions and reader development activities to engage as many people into reading as possible. We organise surveys and polls to try and find out what we might be able to do better and how we might be able to engage with those that are unengaged.

However, Self-Selection theory tells us that this is an extremely difficult feat to achieve especially if we are only thinking in the confines of our libraries own four walls.

Dr Dewey (aptly named in this situation) describes self-selection within polls as follows.

Polls are an example of self-selection. People select themselves for the poll by deciding to take part. Such a poll would be biased toward people with strong opinions, and the opinions may differ depending on the program or the network. A phone-in poll conducted by the BBC produces a very different series of results from one on Channel 5. If the target population is ‘all voters’ the results of neither poll can be considered representative.

Self-selection does not necessarily mean that people volunteer to be part of groups such as with the poll example. Neither does it imply that they ‘decided’ to be in a group. A self-selected group is simply a naturally occurring group.

Dewey goes on to explain that the following are examples of self-selecting groups.

16 year olds
People who buy coca-cola
Left-handed people
Redheads

In terms of a library the self-selecting feature is library users. Now, we can make an assumption that those students that use the library are most likely already readers. Although this doesn’t account for 100% of the time, those students that use the library most frequently would fall into that category.

the library

In the picture (fig 1) above you can see that in a school the majority of the library will be taken up with students we would consider being readers and those that we would consider to be non-readers would frequent the library only a small amount of time (or only a small amount of non-readers would use the library space). It is also worth noting that there would also be students in this model that we would classify as good readers that don’t use the space (or only use it a small amount of the time).

We can surmise from this then that anything we do inside the library, any promotions, events reader development activities are only going to be seen by those students that already use the library, are already readers and so will not do much towards creating new readers. Self-selection will tell us that this is also the case when we undertake polls and surveys.

Too many times have I seen school librarians bemoan the fact that the only students that fill in the surveys comment that they don’t use its facilities because it doesn’t have what they want yet what they want is in the library but because they don’t use it they don’t know. Self-selection will tell us that it is only a certain type of student that will fill out the survey in the first place and will most likely be those people that have a strong feeling either way. Therefore you will get a completely polarised view.

Biasing context and demand characteristics also show that young people will be influenced when doing a survey or taking a poll, depending on where it is they are undertaking it, the reason why they are doing and who they are taking it for. Therefore if they already have a negative view of the library, the librarian or reading they are more likely to answer negatively in the survey. The opposite of this is also true with those students already positive toward the library answering favourably towards it.

However if you undertook the survey by selecting a number of people to complete it, a varied cross section across the school then you would be most likely to achieve the goal of getting the best response from all students. If you then also made sure that the students were undertaking this survey outside of the library and did not know that it specifically generated by the library then you are more likely to receive a truer reflection of your resources/work etc. This could be achieved by creating a survey that has a number of elements to it and one of these being the library. For instance you might do a survey on resources across the school, in the classrooms, lunchtime resources etc and also include a section on the library.

For me this would be the 1% gain when specifically looking at undertaking polls to gain information for improvement.

This however, doesn’t satisfy the 1% gain for engagement though. To do so you have to think a little bigger than inside of the walls of the library. Of course it is important to make sure that you are promoting reading inside the library, running events etc but you also need to think about this in environments where you can engage non-readers. Those students that don’t come to the library.

Fig 2 below shows that this is possible. The commonality between all students is the fact that they are in school. The library is just one facet of a school’s physical space and one where we have seen not all students go. However if you see the school as a whole then you suddenly have access to the students whether they are readers or non-readers.

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This is a really important thing to remember. You have access to all students in the school you just need to utilise this. By displaying reading around the school, in every corridor and classroom and through every member of staff then you will have more chance of being able to engage more young people into reading.

 

Selective Exposure Theory

 By utilising this 1% gain by showing reading outside of the library you are also able to combat another problem that school libraries have. Young people that dislike reading (for whatever reason) will be influenced to think like this for a number of different reasons.

Selective exposure theory describes one of these reasons being that individuals tend to favour information that only goes so far as reinforcing their own pre-existing beliefs whilst avoiding information that is contradictory to these pre-existing beliefs. The implications for this in reading is simply that if you belief reading to be difficult, not fun etc then you will only take in information that supports this theory. Confirmation bias goes one step further and states that even if you do come across information that is contradictory to your beliefs then it will only go as far as strengthening those original beliefs and not changing your views.

The illusion of asymmetric insight also allows us more information on how groups form and how there can dissonance between them. The misconception is that you celebrate diversity and respect others’ points of view where in reality we are naturally driven to form groups and believe others are wrong just because they are others.

This in terms of schools is all too visible on a day-to-day basis. Students naturally split themselves into groups with students very rarely moving between them. You could have the geeks, the sporty types, those students that are different, the weaker ability students etc the list just goes on.

In 1954 psychologist Muzafer Sherif created two tribes of youngsters that nearly ended up killing each other. Part of Sherif’s belief was based around the illusion of asymmetric insight and that the two groups, because they were in two different groups would act in certain ways against each other. From their observations the team noticed that although they rarely came into contact most conversations were around how dumb and uncouth the other group were. The scientists noted that each group needed the other to be inferior to themselves.

This, on a lot smaller and less physically dangerous degree, can be seen between the groups of readers and non-readers in a school. More often than not those students that dislike reading will rubbish those that do it. Call them names, geeks etc and try to make them seem inferior to their own groups. These actions just perpetuate these beliefs and ways of thinking.

When you then bring into this an understanding of impression management theory you begin to see why this happens.

Sherif made the conclusion that the behaviour of his group’s subjects is bubbling under the surface of everyone’s lives. Although this may not be as visible and vicious as his experiments groups’ we are all contemplating our own place in society, our allegiances and our opponents. You would view yourself as part of some groups and not others. Impression management theory explains that you present to your peers the person you wish to be. It is the theory that we wear many masks for different situations and why we feel uncomfortable when these situations intertwine, i.e. work and home, old school friends and new work colleagues.

Going back to our most primal instincts we realise that banishment equates to death so we pick up social cues to help us form an understanding of groups. We work hard to feel included so we are not left out, not invited to the party etc. Impression management states that we are always thinking about our appearance to others even when no one else is around us. This all fits in with the young people in our schools and their behaviour when it comes to reading. There are usually very divided and formed groups, those that do and those that don’t.

Those non-readers want to conform to their group’s ideals and so they behave in this way. But what comes first the display of behaviour or the belief? As a professional do you feel compelled to wear a suit, or after putting on a suit do you behave in a more professional manner? Studies would point to it being the latter and so when we think of it in terms of reading it becomes:

Are you a part of this social group because you’re a non-reader or are you a non-reader because of the social group you chose to align with?

If the studies point to it being the latter then this must also mean that there potentially could be something we can do to overcome this.

the library 3

In fig 3 we can see how beliefs are formed. As it is the action that comes first before the belief becomes fully realised it means that we should be thinking about how we can affect the action to change the belief.

Knowing what we know about why people choose to act in a certain way (so they are not ostracised from a group) and knowing that actions come before the belief we can surmise that if we placed a non-reader or a small number of non-readers in a group of readers then engaged them into reading in some way, for instance an author event. The majority of the room would act positively towards what was happening. If you had mixed the non-reading students up with those positive readers so they weren’t allowed to form a sub group then you could go some way to having the non-readers change their behaviour.

Yes, this might not work in just a one-off setting but creating readers can never be done with one off events. It needs to have a systematic approach where you are continually creating opportunities. In this way, for me, the marginal gain would be to think about how you organise any reader development events such as author visits. Are you always inviting those students that already enjoy reading? Do you choose groups that are full with students that do not enjoy reading? Do you know the students that do and do not enjoy reading? By including some students that you know do not enjoy reading and mix them with a group where the majority of students do enjoy reading then can you help turn their actions and therefore behaviours and beliefs towards a more positive view of reading?

Ultimately the question is why do you do the reading promotion you do and who do you do it for? By using a 1% gain in knowing this and trying to change it can you make an impact on turning the tipping point of readers in your school?

Improving Reading in secondary schools #3

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In this series of posts we’ve been looking at my model for achieving reading for pleasure in a secondary school and all the facets that go with it.

So far we’ve looked at an overview of the model as well as looking at, what I believe is the most undervalued, yet vitally important area, attitude.

This post focuses on the multifaceted area of opportunity. Multifaceted in that by rights you can create a whole model based around the different types of opportunity that need to exist in school. For me, I think I would break this down into opportunities to access reading inside the classroom & outside of the classroom, opportunities to see the importance of reading and finally opportunities for the wider community through the wider community.

Opportunities in the classroom
You may not think at first glance that reading for pleasure can be seen in the classroom. This is in fact the first mistake that many school librarians make. Especially those that say they have a whole school reading ethos but really only have a good library within its own four walls (I would suggest that if a library is only good in its own space and room then it is not a good library). Reading in the classroom is actually vitally important to help promote reading for pleasure. Subject teachers are some of the most passionate people about their subjects, masters of their area and spent the day enthusing and engaging young minds to develop a love of their subject. This ability, if harnessed, can be used to engage a youngster into reading just as readily as it is to engage them into a subject.

A student who is passionate about geography will go out of their way to find more information about the subject as it gives them pleasure. They may watch certain programmes on television, visit certain places in their spare time, take an interest in geographical occurrences whilst on holiday, but if engaged in the right way they also may decide to read more about the subject. To pick up non fiction books to find out more.

Part of a teachers job is to hook the students into learning and this hook might just equally apply when it comes to enthusing students to want to read more about the subject. Yes, it may also be about reading to gain information but it is undertaken as an act of pleasure.

What we need to do is help the teachers with knowledge and expertise to arm them with the ability to do this. Do you provide teachers with fiction and non fiction books related to what they are studying, encouraging them to read them so they can then encourage the students to read them? Do you show parents what books might link into each topic for further, in-depth reading? How do you support the teachers to engage a passion for reading in each subject equal to the passion of learning for each subject?

Outside the classroom

Is reading visible in every area of your school? Can you see that the school values reading from walking its corridors? If I walked into your school how would I know that you promoted reading?

If you can’t see this from walking down any corridor in the school and can’t hear it when you talk to the students about reading then sadly you don’t have a reading culture in your school.

You need to think about how you provide these opportunities so students see reading at every turn. Do you take opportunities for the students to see this at break and lunchtimes and in their other social times? Reading shouldn’t be for special occasions it should be an all the time thing.

Alongside this it’s also seeing positive reading role models across the school. Do students see/hear staff and all types of staff valuing books and reading and if you do is a token gesture or is it truly reflective of the ethos you provide in the school?

The Wider Community

If students only spend 15%of their time in school and we want them to have a consistent diet of seeing reading as important then we need to think about how we provide opportunities through the wider community.

The questions you need to think about are how you engage your parents into the ethos of reading. How they promote reading to their kids? Is it a forced activity or a celebrated enjoyed time? Do you provide training and knowledge to your parents so that they see and know how they should/could go about it? Are parents the positive reading role models to their children and are they seen in school to also value this?

Do you work with your local primary schools to provide opportunities to younger children about this? Are you creating readers before they come to your school, are you helping them make the decision on which school to choose through the opportunities you provide them to become readers?

Transition is such an important stage that is easily forgotten or lacks emphasis. Do you focus just in the summer term or is transition and reading opportunities available throughout the year, providing that wide diet of opportunities that breeds that consistency?

If you do all this how about the wider community? Is reading seen as important at every turn in the local area? Is it focused on in the local paper, on the local radio, in the town in shops and the like. How do you provide the community with the ability to show this and believe in this?

If reading is visible everywhere and all the time think about the benefit of this to all the students in your school and beyond this. If everyone sees reading as important and the opportunities exist for them to see this and to do it then the knock on effect is improved literacy for everyone. If everyone’s literacy is improved we then breed a generation of young people who know no different.

Yes this is obviously the ultimate goal and probably the hardest thing to achieve but because it’s hard does that mean we shouldn’t do it?

Opportunity for me is not just about creating opportunities to read but importantly opportunities to see reading. To see it as important, vital and a natural thing that you just do.

What Ofsted really want from a school library

I’ve read quite a lot recently from school librarians trying to get themselves noticed by commenting on what they think Ofsted inspectors want to see from a school library.

Some of it is a little laughable but unfortunately most of it is also quite naive, and doesn’t do much for showing the actual benefit of a school library or librarian.

Most seem to be so eager for an inspector to come and visit the library (the complete opposite from most other places in a school) that it seems with a small hint of menace they state you should make sure they leave with something. This is sometimes done in what I can only describe as a passive aggressive, quasi desperate state where the ultimate goal is to receive some sort of recognition rather than actually show what benefit you have to the school. The types of things that seem to be thrust in the confused inspectors face seem to range from borrower statistics to lists of authors that visited the school and from 20 page reports on hot air to pictures of students carefully posed to seem to be enjoying reading.

I’m pretty certain that most inspectors exit, with the Librarian’s desperate need for them to leave with something, having done nothing to improve the value they place in school libraries. In fact it probably only goes to emphasise the point that they already thought. Nice, but what’s their point?

The real key to what Ofsted want to see from a school library is not really much of a surprise. Especially when you think about it. No, what they want, what they really want to see is exactly the same of every other department in school. What are you doing to improve the students’ ability in your area, and what is the impact of this?

That’s really what they want. But what, for a library does that actually mean?

For a library to know this you need to think about the roles of a library and I have gone some way below to breaking this down. (Order is not by priority)

1. Providing resources to enhance the learning in and out of the classroom (books, websites other relevant resources which could include technology)
2. Providing knowledge to enhance teaching (information literacy skills for staff)
3. Providing knowledge to enhance learning (information literacy skills for students)
4. Teaching the weakest readers to read and improving reading of all students
5. Engaging the school into a love of reading (the whole community)

None of these can really be seen through a piece of paper or even a 20 page report.

Where these things are seen are in the classrooms, through the teaching, in discussions with the students and teachers and the senior leadership team, through parental and governor feedback. If the impact of a library can only be seen by walking into the physical space of a library then there simply is no impact.

No, what Ofsted want to leave a library with is not a piece of paper but an understanding as to the strategic overview that the library plays in creating the enhancement of learning that they have witnessed walking around the school and going into classrooms and what they have heard through conversations with students and staff.

So next time an inspector calls don’t thrust something into their hands, enlighten them and give them an understanding and a meaning behind what they are seeing in school and what is going on concerning what you do.