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.


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