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The SLA blog contains news about the SLA and topical information of general interest to our members. The blog has been running since 2004. An RSS 2.0 feed and information about how to subscribe to the blog are available.

Tracey Needham:

Tracey Needham
Higher level Teaching Assistant with Management Responsibilities
Sacred Heart RC Primary School, Barrow–in-Furness

Tracey Needham’s library is like a theatre with Tracey as production designer, stage manager, director and promoter.  Sacred Heart’s 200 pupils are the actors and the audience who flock to Tracey’s events, with a supporting cast of toys and creatures.

First, there’s the half-termly competitions in which every entrant gets a prize (the winner gets a bigger prize). The last competition had a World Cup theme (Tracey is a qualified Football Association referee) and attracted 70 entries: a lot of prizes to source. “I keep my eye out for books and craft supplies in remainder shops,” says Tracey. “We’ve also received 100 books from the Booktrust Read for My School promotion: it all helps.”

Tracey is a higher level teaching assistant with management responsibility for the library and reading promotion, and for monitoring and evaluating reading throughout the school.

In the two and a half years since the Sacred Heart library has had a designated space, Tracey’s promotional work has resulted in an increase in loans of 75 per cent in the last school year, 2013-14, and 111 per cent in 2012-13. Last term [July 2014], OFSTED inspectors praised “the well-stocked and exciting library” and the pupils’ enthusiasm for reading and quoted one pupil who said, “Reading a good book is like dreaming. It takes you into new and fantastic worlds.” Ofsted also noted that the emphasis on reading has also helped pupils’ writing.

The school has 35 per cent of pupils receiving free school meals and many do not have easy access to books at home.

Tracey says: “The challenge is to keep reading fresh, focus on the pleasure it brings and share the excitement that I get from it. I have great support from the headteacher and senior leadership team. They are happy for me to try out any crazy idea I come up with.

“I often introduce a craft element to the competitions: for the World Cup theme, the children all made maracas. Every Friday we have a library lunch for mixed year groups, which usually combine reading with a craft activity. The crafts will often draw in the shyer children and the less confident readers. I’ve always loved crafts, knitting and sewing and ideas come to me all the time.

“For one session I collected old comics from secondhand shops and we compared them to contemporary comics and made comic strips. We did a Where’s Wally? session and made magnetic bookmarks. To celebrate 25 years of Elmer in September 2014, everyone will make an Elmer out of a milk carton. It’s all very informal and the reading happens alongside the activity.

The library spills into every classroom where book boxes are changed regularly book boards promote the current class novel (each class ends the school day with a reading-aloud session). As a Year 5 and 6 teaching assistant, Tracey is always alert to potential novels to share. “I’ve picked out Skyhawk by Gill Lewis and The Furthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks: one more recent novel and one you don’t see so much now. It helps if I bring in the book before we start reading it so that the children see me reading it in advance and enjoying it.”

Tracey’s next step is a virtual library that children can access independently. They can already choose to read some titles on the class sets of iPads.

She teaches weekly library skills sessions for Key Stage 2, collaborating with class teachers to research skills into pupils’ homework projects, and teaches Key Stage 1 alongside the class teacher.

Tracey’s connection with the school started as a parent volunteer when her daughter was a pupil, and she was first employed as a teaching assistant 16 years ago. Now her daughter is 23 and working in further education learning support, and Tracey has acquired qualifications to degree level (Professional Studies in Education, accredited by Lancaster University and taught one day a week in Barrow). She is now looking into the SLA’s distance learning qualification.

Growing up in Barrow, she had wanted to be a teacher “but coming from a working-class background we were not pushed in that direction at school – it was expected that you would work in the shipyards”. Tracey did office work for a local hospital and electrical company before forming her connection with Sacred Heart.

“Everything fell into place when I had my daughter. I had always loved reading but through going into school I saw the importance of sharing it with children. As my daughter got older we were reading and studying together. I like to keep learning something new.”

Tracey has just half a day a week to spend on her library role. “I do spend a lot more time than that, although I can also ask for more time if I am planning a special event. I never stop thinking about it: there are always more ideas.”

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National Poetry Day 2014

Poetry SocThursday 2nd October is National Poetry Day - are you planning something for your library?  There are several events happening you may find helpful.

National Poetry Day Live - A celebration of poetry exploring the theme ‘Remember’, curated by a group of young poetry producers aged 18 to 25 as part of London Literature Festival. Presented by Southbank Centre and the Poetry Society. The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall, London.  1pm – 6pm Free.  School groups are welcome. If you are bringing your class and would like to plan your day out at Southbank Centre please email:

SLAMbassadors UK, the national youth slam for 12-18 year olds has now been running for over a decade  – that’s more than ten years of exhilarating live events, showcasing of new talent, professional development for contestants, and the involvement of participants across a wide spectrum of faiths, backgrounds and abilities. We continue to aim to involve as many young people as possible in reading, writing, and performing poetry.  Slam is the competitive art of performance poetry before a loud and lively audience. Young people across the UK are invited to enter the Championship by filming themselves performing a poem or rap piece and uploading it to the SlamCam YouTube channel.  Find out more, and look at the resources available on the website.

Win tickets to see Alan Bennett in performance for National Poetry Day: Reading Agency competition launches.  On National Poetry Day (2 October), Alan Bennett will present his anthology of verse, Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin, accompanied by his own enlivening commentary at the National Theatre in central London.  National charity The Reading Agency is thrilled to be partnering with publisher Profile to offer a pair of tickets to the sold-out event.

To enter the competition to win the tickets, poetry fans are being asked to name their favourite poem, and give a short commentary about the poem to be in with a chance. For inspiration, entrants can read what Alan Bennett had to say about the poem MCMXIV (1964) by Phillip Larkin.  To competition entry form can be found online at: -- the closing date is 26 September.

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Second profile of SLYA finalists: Liz Millett Profile

Liz Millett
Weatherfield Academy, Dunstable, Bedfordshire

 With 112 pupils at Weatherfield Academy, Liz can pursue each child's increased reading enjoyment and attainment. 'I know every one of them and their likes and dislikes.'

Weatherfield pupils are aged seven to nineteen and all have moderate learning difficulties plus a wide range of additional needs. A third are living in residential care and two-thirds have deprived backgrounds. Liz's library and its  3,000 books are their reading lifeline and she is committed to sourcing the titles that will fire a spark in each individual.

Pupils' range of special needs, she explains, mean that 'you don't always see progress from year to year. Children come in with lower than average levels and they might stay there. My aim is to increase their pleasure from reading whatever level they are at, to make sure they are not frightened by books or put off them, so they they will come to see reading as something they will always have for themselves.'

'You have to make the time to chat to each child in a relaxed way. If  you can tap into something they are already interested in, your're halfway there. One of my students , a 13-year-old girl, improved her reading levels by 23 months in a year. Once I realised that she loved horses I found her collection of horse and pony books and she just ate them up. At the moment I know that one little boy is obsessed with lorries so I pick books out for him.

Plus I'm always watching for current trends with wide appeal. Christmas annuals go down a storm and I look for fun and eye-catching fiction, like Horrid Henry. My next goal is to develop the young adult section. I've been looking at the Badger and Barrington Stoke ranges. I love books, so that aspect of the job is a real pleasure.

Children who have read the number of books set by Liz are rewarded with a certificate, presented at the school's celebration assembly every Friday with an end of term Library Trophy  for the most enthusiastic reader.  She set up this system to increase reading motivation by making reading a cause for public appreciation. 'We award a few certificates every week and most children will get at least one over the year.'

Liz has built a relationship with Weatherfield's local public library and is working towards pupils taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge. 'Just taking children to a library is important. For most of them it's the first time they have been to one.'

Work with parents is one of Liz's ongoing goals but progress can be slow. 'Some of our parents face reading challenges of their own: some are our past pupils. If they are struggling with reading themselves it's hard for them to help their children. Our pupils live up to 20 miles from the school and it can be hard for some parents to come in. We're promoting an online facility for children and parents to choose books together at home.'

Liz favours building personal connections with parents in the same way as with children, slowly and organically. 'I give out my email address when I meet parents at parents' evening and encourage  them to contact me. It can be a long haul, you have to have patience.'

Liz has been at Weatherfield for 14 years, having been drawn to working in schools by volunteering in her own children's primary school

Previously she had worked in telesales for a paper merchant.

'I went into my children's lower school to listen to children read and was increasingly asked to work with children with special needs. I realised that I enjoyed working with children with special needs, and when a job came up at Weatherfield I jumped at the chance. I worked closely with the head of English and we developed the library from a few shelves in a study area. Since then there have been two more heads of English and each time I have been given more control.'

Five years ago Liz took on the job of creating the current library in a former classroom. While she would love to find more room for soft seating and toys, she has a whiteboards and speakers to make use of a wide range of resources for literacy lessons and runs a weekly lunchtime library club. The library is also the base for the school's volunteer reading mentors (each children keeps the same adult mentor throughout their career at Weatherfield), with the mentors' progress tracking folders available for consultation.

Meanwhile the school's topic-based creative curriculum up to Year 9 (last term the topics were 'Sport and Life' and 'Health and Fitness') means Liz has a vital role influenced throughout the school, helping subject departments find appropriate resources, while she teaches five 45-minute lessons a week in the library which also has termly displays to reinforce the topic. she ensures that each pupil develops information literacy skills to the best of their ability, with colour-coded shelving alongside the simple Dewey  system so that pupils can find their books independently.

Most of the time she is in the classroom as a teaching assistant. She is happy working in a school that has the motto: 'To become the best person you can be' and is passionate about their mission statement: 'To work together to place the young person at the centre of all we strive for by developing confidence, independence and lifelong learning. She says : 'I've been given more and more responsibility over the years and I'm always busy but the difference you make to individuals makes it worthwhile.'

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Reading Guide - Apple and Rain

Bloomsbury have made availabe a teachers’ guide for Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan. If easier, it’s available to download from the Bloomsbury website.

Apple and Rain Teachers' Guide

PDF file, 0 

Requires Adobe Reader


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School library research discussion list

A new discussion list for librarians, teachers, researchers, LIS students or anyone interested in research into school libraries. The aim is to share information about planned, ongoing or completed research; discuss methodologies; support collaborative research projects etc.

To join the list, send an email to
Subject: BLANK
Or go to:

Plus, for anyone in the Manchester area, Sarah McNicol is also planning to organise regular meetings open to anyone interested in research into school libraries. The first one will be on Tuesday 16th September, 4.00-6.00pm at MMU (central Manchester) Here’s a link to reserve a place:
It’s a pretty open agenda: an opportunity to share research you’ve heard/read about; discuss research you might be planning yourself (and get help with any questions you might have);  plus she's hoping to be able to organise some collaborative research projects.

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Job Vacancies: THE PIGGOTT SCHOOL - Librarian


Required October 2014

Salary Grade 6, £22,443 - £25,727 FTE

£20,127– £23,073

37.5 hours per week  - 8.00 a.m. – 16.00 p.m. Term time only to include INSET days plus 1 week in the Summer Holiday

We are looking for a dynamic and forward thinking qualified librarian to develop library provision across our Primary and Secondary sites.  Our library is a valued resource and we wish to recruit a specialist who will be able to develop it further and support students to develop as enthusiastic, independent and effective learners and readers. 

For further information please see the job description and person specification on our website.

To apply please complete a support staff application form which can be found on the website at and e-mail to:


This school is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people and expects all staff and volunteers to share this commitment. All posts are subject to Satisfactory Disclosure Clearance.

Closing date:  11.00 am Monday 22 September

Interview date:  Monday 29 September


A Church of England Academy



Tel: 0118 940 2357

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Information Book Award Voting Deadline approaching

Information Book Award

Don't get left out!  The Information Book Award voting for the 2014 prizes is only open for a few more days - register your votes here . Which is your favourite?  There are some fantastic titles to choose from -

Under 7s

  • Questions and Answers About Your Body: Lift the Flap by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. Usborne Publishing 9781409562108
  • The Story of Stars by Neal Layton. Hodder 9781444901122
  • What’s it like to be a Bee by Jinny Johnson. Franklin Watts 9781445121888


  • The Book of Languages: Talk Your Way Around the World by Mick Webb, illustrated by Glen McBeth. Franklin Watts 9781445116266
  • Bugs by George McGavin, illustrated by Jim Kay. Walker Books 9781406328738
  • Get into Art: Animals by Susie Brooks. Kingfisher 9780753435762
  • The Secrets of Stonehenge by Mick Manning and Brita GranstrÓ§m. Frances Lincoln 9781847803467


  • How to Draw Like a Fashion Designer by Dennis Nothdruft and Celia Joicey. Thames & Hudson 9780500650189
  • Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly, illustrated by Rosy Salaman. Jessica Kingsley Publishers 9781849053419
  • Weird Sea Creatures by Erich Hoyt. Firefly Books 9781770851917

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A Children's Illustrator Calendar for 2015

A message from Anne Marley: Following on from the terrific success of the Peter’s Friends Calendar last year, Peter Sheldon (ex Peters Bookselling Service and Hon YLG member!) has persuaded his illustrator friends to provide illustrations for another calendar for this year. So again, he will be producing a quality, spiral bound, A4 seasonal calendar, with original illustrations from the likes of Michael Foreman,  Pat Hutchins, Ruth Brown, Tony Ross, Colin McNaughton, and Chris Riddell. Last year we raised £232 for Cancer Research in memory of Linda Banner.

There will be a charge of £6.95 per copy including p&p, and distribution will take place by the end of November. If you would like to order a copy/copies (perfect for Christmas Presents ! ), then please contact Anne Marley by 18th October deadline with your requirements . You need to email: Please either send a cheque with your order (payable to E.A. Marley) to 8 Bolderwood Close, Bishopstoke, Eastleigh SO50 8PG   or use BACS: Account no:40214168 Sort code: 30-99-71 and put your surname as the Reference, plus ‘Cal’. You will also have to email me with your name and address and how many calendars you would like to buy. I cannot accept any orders without payment attached this year, sorry.

We have linked with the ‘Make a Wish’ Foundation this year to donate any profits to their charity. ‘Make a Wish’  is a registered charity granting wishes of children and young people aged between 3 and 17 living with life threatening illnesses.

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