I’ve probably written this post about 5 times, trying to calm myself down a little from some of the feelings expressed in the recent Bookseller article which can be found here.
In it the article expresses opinions from different people on the case put forward for statutory school libraries. I started reading believing that I was going to be proud of the opinion put forward about school and school libraries in such an important book trade magazine. The title certainly suggest that I wouldn’t be anything other than happy with the contents. After all school libraries are important to the overall success of a school where they are run correctly and have an impact in a number of different areas.
However I was left a little astounded, verging on angry with some of the comments made. In one paragraph it clearly states that a library is not a library unless you have a qualified person in charge of it. This has to be a comment, I feel, I disagree with the most in the article. Mainly because I feel it is just plain wrong. The premise is the fact that if a library has a qualified librarian then it will be a success. Yet in my experience (having been a school advisor for many years and working in a large number of schools across the country) some qualified school librarians are doing an appalling job whilst other ‘non-qualified’ staff are having more impact with reading and literacy through the school library than you could imagine. I myself have no formal library qualifications, I have degrees in English and in Education, yet the work we achieve in our school has been judged to be at the highest level. You can read more on my thoughts of the qualified situation here. Had the comment been about having a knowledgeable member of staff in charge of the library I would have wholeheartedly agreed but this I feel gives the wrong impression.
The second point I was stuck and worried on is the insistence of a school library being subject to an Ofsted inspection. I completely agree that a library should be seen as part of the fabric of promoting literacy and especially reading in a school but what worries me is how an inspection would be carried out by an inspection team and who would write the guidance and grade descriptors for doing so. This is by far the biggest worry I have. The point about a successful school library is that it is reflective of the needs of the school and the students. There are no standard ways of doing things that make a success. This is exactly the same reason why Ofsted look for no specific style of teaching just that it is right and has an impact. Am I suddenly going to be dictated to as to how I should organise my shelves, what books I should stock, how I interact with teaching and learning in the school?
I can soundly speak from experience, having had Ofsted in on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, that the process they are working on at the moment with regard to reading and literacy is spot on. Part of the requirements the lead inspector gave us the afternoon before the visit was a specific meeting with the literacy coordinator (me) and that he wanted to listen to 4 of our weaker students read and visit areas we had identified as promoting reading.
During the inspection our school library was visited regularly as the school has highlighted it as an area of promoting literacy. The library also has an impact in the classroom, providing knowledge of weaker readers to teachers and strategies to use to help them. Inspectors were then seeing the impact the library was having in the classroom and on teacher pedagogy, another reason why inspectors came to find out more. Students and teachers commented to inspectors on the use of the library, how it promoted reading and literacy and so again inspectors visited to find out more. Reading can be seen clearly in our corridors and from the moment you walk into the school. Again, we were visited with inspectors wanting to find out more. The library and reading is seen far beyond the four walls of the physical space and this is the point.
In my meeting with the inspector we spent an hour talking about the work the library does (an extra half an hour on whole school literacy was covered too). The inspector fed back to the headteacher how he had been ‘blown away’ by this work and commented to me how astounded he was at the comprehensive nature of the work we achieve around reading improvement and reading for pleasure. We spoke about information literacy, independence and he was keenly interested in the way we organise our non-fiction books. (3 collections. 1. book boxes that go to depts when they start a new topic. 2. a facts for fun collection – pleasure non-fiction and 3. books organised by subject they are studied in (history, science, geography etc) and sub-divided into year group and then again into term studied: autumn; spring; summer). When he questioned students about this structure they waxed lyrical about how easy it was to find the right book they needed and how it had made them more likely to use the resources in the first place. The impact, the inspector could see, was clear and this was what he was looking for.
I was delighted by his interest in literacy and reading, the way he worked with the students he listen to read and his knowledge of what good reading and literacy can look like in a school. He was extremely knowledgeable on what to look for but was also looking at what worked best for the school and our students.
Now maybe it’s the editing of the article rather than the actual comments that make it comes across as not the positive one I was hoping for. But I do certainly feel that there is an agenda that I’m not entirely happy with as it could have potentially disastrous implications for many schools. For me it’s not about inspecting a library but an inspection team looking at how the school promotes reading engagement, improvement and pleasure through the whole school and the role the school library plays within this. This is much more useful and actually something many inspection teams are doing and it is already clearly having a positive effect. If you read Ofsted reports many schools who are not yet good have on their front page of their report it is because ‘pupils do not read frequently or widely enough’.