Why Cilip’s ‘kite mark’ will crash and burn

Another day another CILIP survey. It seems they spend more money on surveys that are aimed at leading the questionee than actually doing anything of any worth.
Anyway, today’s survey was around Cilip’s ‘groundbreaking’ idea of introducing a ‘Kitemark’ for schools to aim towards to show that they value their school library.
This is clearly part of the CILIP strategy to reinvigorate support in school libraries or something rather?!? Yet to anyone that actually knows the education sector it is actually another example of how out of touch they are with this particular sector and how they are scrambling around for ‘any old idea’ rather than doing something that might have value and worth.
I have a number of issues with the idea of a ‘Kitemark’ of such but I will name below the ones I feel most important here. With my concerns I’m not just talking from a school Librarian’s perspective but also a member of the senior leadership team and a school leader.
1. ‘Kitemarks’ are so last season. 

Around 5-10 years ago the idea of Kitemarks were quite big in schools and schools collected them to look pretty in their foyers and on their headed letter paper to outsiders. Heads of departments or those staff wishing to make a step up into middle leadership took them on as projects to show that they had the ability to organise whole school priorities. We pretty much had one of these marks for everything. The problem is now they actually mean very little and lost a lot of favour with schools mainly due to the fact they never made a difference to anything (see point 2). In fact the take up of these marks in recent years has dropped so dramatically, especially with their being so many bigger priorities in schools, that some of the bigger ‘marks’ no longer exist. Case in point the Governor mark which filled a number of Ofsted priorities no longer exists and this was one mark that actually showed some value!! 

So with CILIP thinking that this is going to solve all the problems of school libraries is really showing more about their lack of understanding of the sector (and more worryingly SLG’s if they have been involved in this) rather than a proactive statement for improvement.
2. They have no lasting impact. Due to the fact that schools took these marks on to fill an area highlighted by SIPs or Ofsted as weaknesses or areas of development or taken on by wannabe middle leaders they were only ever short term projects. The international schools award, which many schools went for, had a very wide remit where realistically you just had to put together a couple of things that may have some international link with some school maybe in Kenya to be awarded it. But it never had to have any legacy, anything that made any true difference or added value. Many schools who had been told to broaden their community cohesion or their widen their students understanding of different cultures took this, and a hat full of other ones, to prove that actually they were. However, they were only one off projects and once completed made no difference to the fundamentals of a school or more importantly of students’ learning and their thoughts and opinions. If you asked a student about a schools international award they’d probably tell you about a letter they wrote to school in Africa but not why or how it’s widened their horizons on a daily basis.

So with a school library the exact same would occur. It would only ever be a short term thing, if any schools actually took it on in the first place, and certainly not anything that would have any long lasting impact on the school or in particular the school library or librarian.

3. You can’t pigeon hole success. The thing about school libraries, which is known to those of us that visit them across the width and breadth of the country, is that there is no formula for a successful school library. What makes one school library a success won’t necessarily make another one. The only common factor is that each school library that is successful is reflective and in touch with the specific needs of their individual school and their intake and even this means that processes and projects change as often as the intake does. Therefore, in creating a mark for school libraries who is to say what the criteria is going to be? How can you come up with a set of criteria when realistically one doesn’t and cannot exist. You would have to make your points so generic that by their very nature they become open to all sorts of interpretations that they blend into a mess of meaningless words. 

In trying to create a mark all you would end up succeeding in is foisting someone else’s opinions on what a school library should be and alienating all the school libraries and librarians that do things differently or outside the norm so they fit into the needs of their school and their students. What you could end up doing is rewarding the basic and ignoring the truly innovative successful ones.

4. Only those schools who already support their library will do it.

What is the hook for a school taking on the mark? Surely the point is to change those schools’ perceptions of a school library and librarian where one or both doesn’t exist. If we want to get those schools who don’t invest in their libraries to see the positive impact that a library has then a mark like this is certainly not the way. The only schools that will take them on will be ones that already back their library and already value their librarian. Someone who doesn’t isn’t suddenly going to change their minds about their school’s values and ethos just because some Kitemark exists! So if that’s the case then why bother spending time, moment and resources that will look lovely but have no impact on changing anything. 

5. I don’t think the CILIP guidelines or SLG represent or understand all school libraries. Now I may be a little contraversial here however I do not think that the CILIP guidelines, which the Kitemark will be based upon, by any stretch of the imagination reflect successful school libraries that exist in schools now. They are incredibly dry Andis my opinion give a view of libraries that is stuck in the past. Having visited thousands of libraries across the country and world these guidelines in no way reflect all the excellent practise that exist in some schools and importantly it is these schools that are doing things differently, outside the box, that make them a success. They are ripping up the old models of school libraries and listening instead to what their schools and students need and they are adapting their spaces, their practice and their own mindsets to be the place their school needs them to be. No where is this reflected in a document that is going to purportedly be the basis for this excellence in school libraries, this Kitemark.

Worryingly I’d even go as far to say that I do not feel that the organisations that ‘speak’ for school libraries understand what actually makes a successful one. I have very little faith in them providing a picture of everyone to work towards and more than this I fear that if the people involved with CILIP get the opportunity to create any kind of guidelines then school libraries are doomed.

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5 Comments

  1. Warwickshire Schools Library Service has already devised a School Library Award, created at the request of some Warwickshire schools. It is optional and some of the other Schools Library Services have bought into it, including myself. Currently there are two levels of award with outstanding libraries receiving a gold award.

    I have found it quite useful to go through the process with a couple of Redbridge Secondary Schools. It was a two way discussion at a visit to the library and highlighted the library’s strengths and weaknesses. As a tool it does give the librarian evidence and leverage to take to SMTwhen fighting for more budget, support etc as well as showing the Headteacher what a good job the librarian is doing. At the end of the process the library is presented with a framed certificate and I write to the Head.

  2. As the scheme hasn’t even been designed yet I’m not sure this level of criticism is entirely warranted. What would be very useful, given your extensive experience and visits to thousands of libraries, would be an alternative scheme that *would* engage the leadership of schools who currently do not value their libraries, or are having to cut them due to financial restraints. Can you outline the approach you think would work, where evidence from librarians has not? I’m sure a complementary scheme would be beneficial to, and appreciated by the profession. How do we make sure the libraries that are successful are appreciated by leadership as well as pupils and their families? Many thanks Adam.

    • Hi Emma, I suppose that’s the good thing about blogs in that you can give your personal opinion on things. Criticism would come from many many years of nothing being done and perhaps the things that should be being done not included in anyone’s thinking.
      To be fair I think if we got a number of decent librarians and leaders together we could do something however I pay my fees to CILIP, and have done for many many years for them to do exactly this. Why should I do it when we have a supposed professional body whose role is just that?

  3. I am interested by your comments, given that a number of us in Lancashire have been looking at some way of benchmarking, and speaking with one voice, so that, at a time when school libraries are under threat for many and various reasons, our value and worth are understood and heard. Many of the traditional links between schools have been loosened because of academies, free schools, mergers, and so on: my personal view is that this is an opportunity to find a different way to work together and articulate a common set of values. If you think a kitemark is not the way forward, then let’s just call it something else. Be part of the consultation. Fragmentation, opposition, and insider politics will not cut it now: we have neither time nor leisure when school library budgets are inoperably small, or non-existent, where one member of staff runs the library, and where that staff member doesn’t have a library qualification (they don’t need one to do an excellent job, as I expect you’ve discovered, but having a common code of ethics, standards, and skills, helps). What we CAN do is act collegiately, agree shared standards (I disagree that this can’t be done – we can measure impact), and produce the kind of leverage we need to fight what we’re up against. I will work with Cilip and have the conversation. We cannot dismiss the kitemark project out of hand when the opportunity is there to be consulted, add our ideas, and take the huge step of at last acting together, regardless of background, and speak with one voice about school libraries.

    • I completely agree that we need to try and be one voice and that there are many opportunities that actually exist for us to try and do something. We talk too much about the ‘fight’ about blaming others for our position whereas our time would be better spend trying to find a positive, and opportunity to make our mark.
      You’re also spot on about those working so hard with such quality even if they don’t have some sort of ‘library qualification’.
      We can also certainly prove impact too I’ve worked extremely hard on showing he way forward on this but the point is it can be done.
      However the idea of a Kitemark is not the right one. It does not meet any of the criteria that we need and those who are planning it see it as a way to congratulate those libraries doing good work however we already have this through the SLA and it will do nothing to stop the ‘rot’ as it won’t change the opinions of those who do not have a library or close it.
      We shouldn’t follow an idea just because especially if it is the wrong idea. We are better than that and deserve better than that too.

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