CILIP recently published a news item in their May issue of Update entitled, ‘Plea to include library provision in school ratings’. In the article it explains how the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ALT) has called upon inspectors to look at the quality of library services as part of their inspection. This motion backs up CILIP’s own view that Ofsted should update the scope of their inspections.
My personal view is in agreement with ALT and CILIP, particularly in schools and colleges delivering 16-18 provision. At Key Stage Five there is an important shift in the focus of library services. It moves away from primarily focusing on literacy development and reading for pleasure to developing information literacy skills and encouraging independent and active learning.
The 16-18 organisation in which I work receives its Ofsted inspection as part of the inspection of its associated high schools. However, the service that I provide for my students here is different to that provided for under 16s and links directly to the themes that Ofsted consider in their inspection, i.e. quality of teaching, learning and assessment and the personal development, behaviour and welfare of learners.
I deliver in-depth research skills inductions to A Level and BTEC students on information literacy. These inductions encourage students to think about how to plan a search for information, which resources might be most appropriate, how to effectively search and use online resources, including the internet (plus how to deal with the amount of information they find and refine results further) and how to judge the quality of information.
I provide and support the use of a wide range of information resources from printed books, academic and trade journals to online databases, improving digital literacy and developing students’ skills in being able to deal with information in a variety of formats.
I promote reading for pleasure through activities tied in to national initiatives such as National Poetry Day, World Book Day and World Book Night and provide and promote non-course related resources. These activities encourage further literacy development and a lifelong enjoyment of reading.
I offer the opportunity for students to volunteer as a Library Assistant helping them to develop a range of transferable skills including attention to detail, awareness of accessibility, promotion and customer service.
The majority of the learning and development linked to these services takes place outside of the classroom and, unless directly asked about the library services, a student speaking to an inspector may only focus on their experience of teaching and course-related enrichment. I believe the value of library services shouldn’t be underestimated. Being able to effectively prove our worth and impact on student outcomes can be difficult but at least being included in an Ofsted inspection would provide evidence of our influence where statistical or qualitative data might be lacking.
Furthermore it would help to identify and place emphasis on services where improvement was required. One of the significant things I became aware of when starting this post was the difference in the level of resources and services available to post-16 learners in an FE College (where I had previously worked) to those in my organisation. This was primarily due to budget and the skills and experience required of the post-holder. The choice of where a student goes to study their A Levels can make a significant difference in terms of library support. Where 16-18 provision occurs within a high school, school librarians need to provide both types of support – literacy and independent learning – in equal measure. In my experience (and I realise I’m making a sweeping generalisation here!) this isn’t always the case.
Those services that deliver fantastic provision should be recognised for their work and those that aren’t providing as much support as they could be should be identified. I feel that an excellent library service should be one that fosters student learning and development out of the classroom just as much as subject lessons do in and is just as important.