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.
She explains that the pupils' range of special needs 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 a 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 whiteboard 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 child 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 and is influential throughout the school, helping subject departments find appropriate resources. 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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