When is reading for pleasure not reading for pleasure?

This is an interesting question and one that requires a little background.

Over the recent weeks I’ve read some rather disturbing articles about reading for pleasure and how to judge the success of reading for pleasure in a school. As many will know I have revolutionised the idea of showing impact in school libraries and especially the impact of reading, so although it is a self-recommendation that I am a specialist in this area, it comes from a strong proven track record endorsed by Ofsted and many authorities.

Reading for pleasure is a catch all phrase and very much a buzz word at the moment yet some people in the school library world seem to be making it a very murky one indeed. Reading for pleasure should be as easy as it sounds. It is the practice of reading for pleasure, for enjoyment, for satisfaction. To read for pleasure there must be only one ulterior motive. To enjoy.

So, how comes when we talk about young people reading for pleasure does it now become acceptable to not allow this to happen. How have we managed to get so caught up in the idea of impact and evidence that we have dirtied what reading for pleasure is. When I created my highly successful tracking programme the whole idea was to break down any barrier that a child had that stopped them from accessing books. Tracking allowed me to work out this problem and intervention gave me the solution. Further tracking of this success then allowed me the impact. This further tracking looked at attitudes and soft data and cross referenced this to hard data thus giving me my impact. The goal is to create a reader. A reader of pleasure.

Others, it seems, have tried to jump on this bandwagon, trying to show and create their own watered down , misinterpreted version of this and taken the only thing that is holy and sacred and scarred it. They have attempted to show impact by trying to track the goal and not the journey taken. They have made reading for pleasure take on the burden of extra motives. No longer is it to simply enjoy but it is now to create book reports, to answer quizzes, to create fancy trailers etc etc. Reading for pleasure, when it is done like this is impure and sullied and it is through a complete lack of understanding of the delicate nature of what reading for pleasure actually is that it occurs.

The attempt to prove reading for pleasure by undertaking tasks shatters the visible foundations and transforms it into something else. As a profession we need to be more protective of reading for pleasure. We see the daily onslaught that it faces from so many external factors that it is our job to hold this delicate thing precious and to not do anything to dissipate the wisp of smoke that it is. By all means encourage young people to show their enjoyment of books and what they have read in as many ways as you want, but do not make it part of the process. Do not make it an expectation. Do not destroy what it takes so long to create in a careless manner. The ones most likely to want to tell you in these varied ways as possible are the good readers, the successful ones. But these are not the ones we should concern the majority of our time with. It is the weaker, the hard to engage, the ‘refusers’ that we need to lead towards the discovery of reading for pleasure. They are the ones that already have negative views around reading. The ones that have only ever seen reading as a forced activity and here you have further exasperating this by forcing them to read a book that they are then going to have to create, write, talk about after the fact.

Please, for the sake of young people, have a little more respect .



A Letter to Headteachers

Dear Headteacher,

I’m writing to you in the hope that you are a reasonable person who has become a headteacher with the view to providing young people with the best education they can possibly receive. I write in the hope that you are also, in your leadership, geared towards the continued progress of all young people in your care as I hope to offer you a deal that will not only help you to achieve this but to give you, your school and students so much more.

As you know the education landscape in the past few years has seen some of its biggest changes since the Education Act of 1944 especially in such a short period of time. We have seen the introduction of ‘free schools,’ academies (select and forced) the scrapping of the EMA and introduction of Pupil Premium funding, the eradication of levelling (for God knows what) a new SEND  framework, a curriculum change of all key stages as well as a restructure of the GCSE grading system. We have also seen the government and Ofsted place greater focus on certain areas such as literacy, numeracy and independent learning.

As you will know many schools have faced downgrading from previous ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ positions with the goalposts having been shuffled to make the higher recognition harder. You will also have noticed that many schools that are in the Requires Improvement category to have on their front pages statements that read ‘This school is not yet good because; students do not read widely enough’ or variations on the type.

I’m sure you also know that one of the key questions asked in school inspections nowadays is around how a school teaches its weakest readers. I do not need to tell you one of their success criteria is actually listening to young people read. There have also been numerous publications, that I know you are familiar with, that talk about the importance of literacy and especially reading in schools, reports such as Moving English Forward (2012), Getting Them Reading Early (2014), Reading Writing and Communication (2011) to name but a few.

So I know that you understand the importance of reading and literacy, know that you realise how much of an issue it is for everyone that we get it right. So my offer to you, my promise; is one of help and hope. I offer to you a solution, a way to make things work in your school, a way to succeed in literacy, reading and so much more.

This solution is a simple one and you may already have part of it in your school – all the better if you do. The solution is a library. Now stay with me, don’t stop reading just because you think I’m wrong, I know you’re sensible and pray you’ll bear with me.

To start off with you may not be familiar with the idea of a library in your school. You may know it by another name, a Learning Resource Centre or some other spurious title, however I can promise you that under it all these are all still libraries. You may have had a bad experience in another school of a library or you may believe the stereotype of a library (yet baulk at the stereotypes others have of teachers). But, I can promise you, if you support it, believe in it and work with it a library can be your solution, your saviour.

A library in your school can offer you a way to engage your students into reading, reading for pleasure importantly. It can be the place where learning is centred and can provide a way to work with your weakest students. It has the potential to work with your SEND department and offer specialist reading help for your weakest readers.

When it comes to learning a library can also work with all your teachers to improve the quality of teaching and learning in your school by offering support in resources and knowledge. It can guide your students to become independent learners in arming them with the skills to find and assimilate information into knowledge. The educational benefits of a library are massive but if you needed even more reasons to have one think about the types of students that use this place as a safe haven, the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural aspects that are so difficult to put into curriculum time are fulfilled through a school library and we haven’t even started to think about the parental engagement or transition work that can easily be undertaken by a library that lives in non-contact time.

But for this to work, for your library to improve all these aspects of your school it requires just one thing from you. Support. The support to make it work, to open the doors and allow the library to fulfil its potential in your school. It needs this small thing to make a big difference, but I promise if you do it your school and importantly your students will feel the benefit in so many ways.

So I hope that you are a sensible person looking at ways to improve outcomes for all your students and teachers and hope that you take this offer with arms wide open.

Your sincerely

Adam Lancaster

A Joint Responsibility – School Libraries

School Libraries, when they are successful are vital to a school. Yet so many schools across the country do not have a library or have a library and do not use it/support it successfully. There are many debates on who should manage a school library from professional to non-professional but this debate is not for this article (however in a previous post I have spoken about this here).

As much as I feel that there is a problem with the management of schools not recognising the importance of a school library I think there also needs to be a certain amount of joint responsibility about the success or lack of a school library.

It’s very easy to blame the establishment and leadership teams for not supporting the library and arguing towards making school libraries statutory in schools or stop schools from achieving ‘outstanding’ if they fail to have a library in place, however this can only ever be a long term goal, if it is even achievable and not a short term one. This is especially the case when we see in Ofsted’s latest report Better Inspection for All, 2015 that they won’t even extend this compliment to a music department in a school!

In between this happening (or not as the case will most likely be) what are we to do? Not try because ‘it doesn’t matter anyway we’re not statutory!’ Or do we actually realise that the success of a school library is about a joint responsibility that even though it may feel like we are not getting anywhere we need to keep doing all we can to make sure we keep up out end of the bargain.

If we as school librarians are not part of the solution then we are part of the problem. We need to be doing all we can to show the worth that we have in schools. To show our school leaders that there is a point to a school library, that we have a worth and what that worth actually is. However for this to happen we actually need to achieve something in our schools and to do this we need to be clear on what a school library actually is. How can we expect others, outside of the profession, to understand what we do if we are not clear and vocal on this enough? How can we expect to see a library and a librarian in every school when we don’t even call ourselves by these titles or name the place we work in as so. For schools that have been forced to change their names I would suggest that this is the result of our profession not being clearly defined on who we are and what we do and for those that choose to change their titles themselves I would ask why and suggest that it is decisions like this that further undermines our cause.

What we need to do as a profession of school librarians is decide upon who we are and what our roles and benefits are in schools and not just tell people this but show them. Ok so every school is different and roles will change slightly depending on locality, type of school etc but we can still formulate a vision of our key values and define our stance within schools. This surely has to be the way forward, to be clear on who we are and what we do and to communicate this clearly to all.

And then, only then can we start to expect the school to do their bit to. To keep up the other side of the bargain. When we show what we are capable of and instil that trust in us then we can make the expectations on our schools to do their bit on this joint responsibility.

Once they know our worth and see how clear our message is it is then down to the schools to back us, to give us the opportunity to show what can be achieved with a school library and a school librarian. But their expectations of us will be high. We have put ourselves on pedestals so as a profession we also need to have a joint responsibility to keep up our end of the solution. For if we can’t do this, if not all of us believe in this, stand by this, then we cannot hope to change people’s opinions of us.

As much as the success of school libraries is a joint responsibility across the school it is also one across our profession that we all need to buy into.

“If we build it, they will come.”


War on illiteracy?

Nicky Morgan claims that she wants to wage a war on illiteracy yet her words do not seem to echo her, or the government’s attitude with truly aiming to reduce the gap between those children that can and those that can’t.

In her statement she claims that by the end of primary school children should be able to ‘read a novel’ and ‘ be able to write a short story with accurate punctuation, spelling and grammar.’ An admirable thing to want to achieve and with an explanation of achievement being through an improvement on teaching in the classroom you’d find few that would disagree. However the thing that seems to be missing from all this is the role of enjoyment in reading.

If we persist with reading in such a taught vein then we are only ever going to continue to damage our weaker readers. Yes teaching reading is vitally important but a love of reading and wanting to read is just as, if not more important. In my previous posts about the how we read (here, here, here , here) you can see that one of the routes of successful reading lies around the conscious decision to want to read. This comes from taking reading outside of a learning environment, showing that reading is much much more than just the ability to decode.

If Nicky Morgan wants children to be able to read a novel she needs to also focus on how we can encourage them to want to read. With there being such a press on teachers’ time but also a need for reading to be promoted outside of the curriculum then who is going to do this? Surely the answer is a school library and a school librarian? Someone whose whole job is around promoting a love of reading. Someone who dedicates their time to do just what is needed.

So if this is the case then why does the government insist on cutting funding for libraries? Why do schools fail to recognise the benefit, or even essential nature of a library and a librarian?

If we want to really allow children to leave primary school with these basic skills we need to recognise the role a dedicated reading specialist plays in achieving this and make sure that these are a primary part of the learning and loving stages of reading. A failure to recognise this and do this is only at the cost of our children and their right to a love of reading.

Escape the filter bubble – consult a librarian

filter bubble


Mentioned in my post last week, here, I spoke about the information filter bubble that exist on the internet today and through social media sites.

The importance in knowing this exists, especially if you work in an education setting, is massive. The internet is fantastic, a great invention and the potential it gives for learning and teaching is massive, however both these things, learning and teaching, are not reliant upon the internet. They do not need it to be successful and they should not rely on it. In the UK there is nothing that the curriculum requires of the internet however the internet can provide a lot to enhance aspects of learning and of collaboration.

But, and this is the Kim Kardashian of buts, how many know about the information filter bubble we are being forced into? How many teachers know that the Google factor is not what they have been led to believe it is? How many students take for granted that on any search they are seeing only the information that an algorithm wants them to see? And more importantly how many people have the skills and abilities to make sure they think around this and gather news and information from a range of sources to step outside the filter bubble?

We need to have a healthy diet of all types of information. We need to see things that make us uncomfortable in the news as well as things that confirm our beliefs. We need information desserts as much as information vegetables, however we need someone to enable us and to guide us to make sure we don’t end up with just information junk food.

Seeking information from a range of sources is how a student can get a fully formed understanding of a subject and therefore can begin to turn this into knowledge. However with an over insistence on Google our young people are being led to information that only goes about confirming their own biases, almost a never ending self fulfilling information retrieval prophecy.

In my last post I spoke about the librarian in school being the person with the ability to do this role and to help guide youngsters outside of the information bubble. Maybe I spoke imprecisely about the librarian being a filter themselves. Yes my main attack is on the filtering job that the internet does that places us in this information bubble but when I speak of a librarian as a filter I mean them to be the person who filters out the non needed informtation, the irrelevant stuff, but leaves a bigger picture of the subject being searched for. The Information dessert and vegetable of the required subject.

What schools need to do is think about how their students access information. They need to embed in their teaching policies, the accessibility polices and their SMSC policies the right for students to have access to a range of sources from all different viewpoints. If they do not do this and continue to leave information searching and retrieval to chance then we will be at risk of growing our young to be shut off from the ‘bigger picture’ and only believing in the picture that is being created for them.

Information literacy may not be the most interesting of subjects and at the top of most schools’ agendas yet it is in my respect one of the most important issues of our generation. How can we make sure schools do all they can to allow young people to be able to step out of their isolated information filter bubble?

The first step in my mind has to be the empowerment and trust in the school librarian as a curriculum leader to pursue in schools a balanced and thoughtfully analysed approach to information retrieval. For them to teach and further empower the classroom teacher tying their teaching and the children’s learning into thoughtful information retrieval, importantly not as a an add-on but as a fundamental part of learning. If this can be achieved in schools then we can give our students the opportunity they deserve to become fully rounded individuals instead of only believing in the information they have been forced to see as the truth.

By this can only happen if we position in schools someone who has this knowledge, ability and responsibility.

Someone like a librarian maybe?