Subject: School fundamentals
Year Group: All
Synopsis: OFSTED visits are always on a school’s mind, especially now that many are getting their first visit for several years in the post-pandemic catch-up, writes Laura Bennett, Tower Hamlets SLS.
Tower Hamlets SLS
Whilst libraries are not officially part of an OFSTED inspection, I would argue that at the very least a SLS subscription can boost a school’s teaching and can increase their chance of being graded Outstanding that’s because libraries can:
1. Boost the visibility of children’s reading and of a school’s reading culture
The biggie – the library is the one place in the school which is not a formal room for learning. This gives what it does a certain gravitas for children, by impressing upon them that reading is so important it requires its own specialist room. It is the ideal place to practice book talk and explore new genres and voices than might otherwise just be squeezed into classroom timetables. It’s the place for children to explore their own interests or discover new ones. It’s the perfect place to display children’s own personal recommendations of books to read, peer to peer, all of which is what OFSTED is looking for when they talk about a “reading culture”.
2. Encourage reading across genres and formats
Another huge area and a large part of what OFSTED looks for when scrutinising a school’s approach to English. If the school is lucky enough to have a librarian, that person can have huge influence on expanding children’s approaches to literature or exposing them to new and exciting texts. This in turn broadens their vocabulary and language skills, which is also on the list for OFSTED inspectors as well as the new Reading Framework.
Every librarian has stories about that one child who loved dinosaurs and would read nothing else, until they suddenly discovered the world of adventure through the Dinosaur Cove series, or the reader who suddenly gets massively into the Aztec civilisation because they were reading Rick Riordan (for his Percy Jackson novels) and simply looked further along the History shelves past ‘Ancient Greeks’ to ‘Aztecs’.
3. Supporting teaching and learning in the classroom
The best school libraries will be a direct link between the classrooms and reading for pleasure. Texts teachers use will come from the library so children can explore these in more detail later, and teachers will work closely with librarians to keep their subject knowledge up to date and to make sure they’re using the best texts to suit their teaching.
4. Data gathering for targeted use
Everyone always thinks of Book Bands and Reading Reward schemes to assess how children are doing with their reading, but the library can add a more nuanced take on what children are like as readers. The data a library system can gather is a powerful thing. Given the chance, what does this reluctant reader read? Do they borrow books that are appropriate to their reading level, or are they attempting more difficult books simply because the topic interests them? Does this child, who hates reading and can only be coerced into reading in class with a lot of effort, actually take out dozens of books per term in a format that’s not covered in class (eg, Dog Man by Dav Pilkey)? Which children borrow no books and should therefore be included in a reluctant readers programme to boost their interest in reading? How do our SEND children access books when given free reign? For the creative school, library data can be a powerful indicator of what needs to be done for which child and how they can demonstrate to OFSTED that the school knows the children as readers.
5. Working with parents
Both the Reading Framework and OFSTED’s guides state the importance of involving parents in their children’s learning. The library is ideally placed to do this. For example libraries can be used for:
- Parent and child reading breakfasts
- Having parent drop-ins after school
- Demonstrating how to read with your child
- Putting book talk into practice
These are just a handful of activities a library and librarian can run to build links with the parent community and help them build their child’s practice of and love of reading.
If your school has a library or even a librarian, it is absolutely worth exploring how your library can help you reach Outstanding. The good news is that having a library means that your school probably already has extremely useful data and eye-catching displays to hand (and has done all along).