Librarian/Associate Assistant Headteacher
Monk’s Walk School, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
Adam Lancaster may well be the first school librarian to be appointed associate assistant headteacher, without being a trained teacher.
He took up his additional post at Monk’s Walk in September 2012 when the former 11-18 specialist science college achieved academy status.
The appointment is in recognition of his work in improving literacy throughout the school and the wider community. His new role underlines the responsibilities he already has related to teaching and learning, including study support and information literacy, which is integrated in teacher performance targets at Monk’s Walk.
In addition, he is a school governor and was a member of the panel appointing the new headteacher. No surprise then that library is firmly at the heart of school life and there are two applicants for every pupil librarian post, even though Adam has appointed 60 this year.
Adam’s career started with a BA in English and Educational Studies at De Montfort University, after which he resolved not to become a teacher. “I don’t like the education system as it applies in the classroom: teachers are too constrained. I thought I would have more freedom if I found another way to work in education.”
Chartered librarianship training with CILIP and a post with Hertfordshire’s School Library Service followed before his first school librarian role in a Borehamwood secondary, and finally the move to Monk’s Walk four years ago as full-time librarian supported by a full-time assistant.
Since the SLS closed in March 2012, the Monk’s Walk library has set about filling the vacuum by offering free continuing professional development not only to the school’s 20 feeder primaries but also for secondary schools across Hertfordshire. This builds on Adam’s personal work as a consultant for schools and publishers besides his experience in the SLS.
It all benefits Monk’s Walk, he says, “Because I get to visit so many other schools and choose which elements of their good practice we can use.” He has chaired the Federation of Children’s Book Groups in alternate years since 2008, which means access to a wide network of schools, publishers and reading supporters. His FCBG work has inspired the initiative closest to his heart: the creation of a reading community that reaches beyond the school, partly based on the Illustr8tor collaborative online visual literacy project which Adam devised and the Federation supports.
The Monk’s Walk library has a reading collection for parents and Adam and his assistant Fran support parents to create a reading climate at home. This means events and regular sessions before and after school and at weekends. “We are working to create a literacy-rich community which takes time and will benefit the school for generations to come. It’s best to do things regularly on a small scale rather than a big effort once a year. Although we are not far from London there is not easy access to book events and activities for most people. Our local bookshop has closed in the past year and parents need to go somewhere for advice both related to our pupils and younger siblings. The families we work with vary a lot from those who are very keen for their children to make progress to those who are not confident with reading themselves. It’s exciting work because the effect is potentially massive.”
Adam supports this public face of the library with a monthly book choice interview on BBC local radio, a fortnightly Twitter discussion about books and reading and his blog about reader development, The Book Guy.
As a primary school pupil in Hertford, he clearly remembers being won over to reading by the Sandford football series by Rob Childs. “I found those books at the right time and moved on to Jules Verne. Otherwise I would have found something else to do. Introducing children to books is all about catching the moment. All our Year 7s have a term of Enjoying Reading classes in the library. We tell them they don’t have to read in the library – the lessons are for making book trailers and doing fun stuff – but we want them to read everywhere else they can.”
The Enjoying Reading sessions help Adam to identify pupils who will benefit from a 10-week literacy intervention programme which uses Kindles, iPads and iPods to increase opportunities to read and has been shown to raise reading age by a minimum of 18 months. This is just a small part of a whole tracking program run through the library highlighting students with weak literacy skills and running specific intervention schemes, many of which are Adam’s own creation.
In his teaching and learning role, he has contributed to Monk’s Walk’s imminent and decision to scrap homework (“75 per cent of our detentions were related to pupils not doing homework”) in favour of preparation for lessons “which is where information literacy is crucial”.
The father of a two-year-old and married to a primary teacher, 29-year-old Adam describes himself as “terminally busy – but I like being busy.” He is grateful for the support of the school’s head and teaching staff. “But we have to earn that support by showing the value in what we do. If you have something good going on anywhere in a school, it will be seen and it will have an impact. But you’ve got to keep at it.”
Read the full transcript of Adam Lancaster's acceptance speech at the SLYA Award Ceremony, October 2012.
"I suppose I should really speak from the heart as that's why I'm in this job, certainly not for the money but definitely for the passion!"