CE Blog 2019_9 : Storm on the horizon?

16 August 2019 Share

School finances have been hit multiple times with a pensions increase, an unfunded pay rise for teachers and increased uncertainty as a new Education Secretary joins the cabinet. These are all going to lead to changes and increased insecurity all round – and when added to a certa

This month's CE blog is a little late - apologies - but offers some tips and guidance for what to do if you're concerned about the future of your library. 

Is there a storm on the horizon?

I know many will be wishing for a quiet and peaceful August (despite the weather), and it’s not that I’m trying to ruin this, but September tends to be a demanding month, so I wanted to put this out there for people to ruminate on.

I think there may be a storm on the horizon – there are more than a few signs that are indicating that things may be about to get increasingly difficult for those of us in the school library sector.

School finances have been hit multiple times with a pensions increase, an unfunded pay rise for teachers and increased uncertainty as a new Education Secretary joins the cabinet. These are all going to lead to changes and increased insecurity all round – and when added to a certain amount of anxiety about the new Ofsted Framework times in schools are not looking smooth.

I really feel for those Heads and Governors who are in tricky situations – yet another round of incredibly tough decisions may have to be made, and some school library staff will feel insecure in their roles.  Logically, we will know these decisions are not being made lightly; in some schools there is little to go around – and in others preventative decisions may be being looked at. Even in schools where the school library staff feel secure change can happen very quickly, so it helps to always be aware of these issues.

So, if things are difficult, how do you protect your library?

1. Annual report – I can’t overstate how important this is. I know that school libraries have benefitted in some ways from not being part of the ‘accountability driven’ part of education. However, if you’re not accountable, in some ways you’re not responsible either, and that undermines school libraries and their staff. In our current education system for the majority of school libraries if you’re not accountable you’re not being seen. What we do from day to day is so varied – equal parts science and magic – that we should expect to have to explain it for those who are not part of it every day to understand the impact. Heads, governors and HR are not a part of it, and they are the ones we need to have understand the role. An annual report is a chance to reflect on what you’ve done, why you did it and what you accomplished. Here’s my top tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to say you tried something and it didn’t work – just explain what you learnt, and what you’d do differently.
  • Make sure it relates to the school development plan/Ofsted aims/current objectives of the school.
  • Place a few questions throughout you can pick up in your next meeting with your line manager/chat with the head or governor

2. Weed – this may seem illogical: money is tight = get rid of books, but first impressions are absolutely essential, and if your school is in a situation with a high staff turnover you need to be able to make an instant impression – and having books from the 70s is not going to win them over. The fewer new books you buy, the more you need them to stand out, and pupils are more likely to borrow if they can see books they want – display is essential. Here’s my top weeding tips:

  • Don’t feel like it has to be a huge job – do a section at a time each half term on a rolling basis. Pupils and staff will get used to it! (If you do have funds or think this is important but don’t have the time you can ask for funds to do this – there are some great companies out there who’ll do it for you).
  • Ask a critical friend to come and have a look – sometimes it’s hard to see it from a fresh perspective when we’re in it every day. This can mean we accumulate and make excuses; so distance can be useful.
  • Don’t just focus on the topics that are more likely to need weeding (science and computers) – the humanities need some attention too; context is everything. Pay attention to the careers section too!
  • If you have rare/donations/useful books you can’t/don’t want to get rid of consider a separate section or an archives section – this will increase usability for pupils, and show that you’re aware there’s a different purpose for these.

3. Welcome new teachers – even if you can’t do welcome bags for everyone (a great Lucas Maxwell idea) do something to show new teachers you are there to help.

  • A resources list for their next topic
  • A list of the best book and digital reviews from The School Librarian
  • Offer them training on the LMS/other school technology/programmes. You’re a font of knowledge – share it!

4. Prepare for Ofsted/ISI – if you know your time is coming keep a running report of the main sections of the Ofsted/ISI reports and send it to your line manager/Head/ Chair of Governors (or even better your link Governor) and the main people you work with. Our work is so broad even the teachers we work with most closely will only have a snapshot. When that call comes, the inspectors should not have to come to the library to see or hear about what you’ve been doing – make sure the people they are going to talk to are informed enough to advocate for you.

  • Talking points – do them every half term and send them to all the relevant people
  • Attend one of the SLA training days: ‘Preparing for Inspection’ – it’s newly updated and will help you get ahead of the game.
5. Ask your SLT what the school’s main foci are for the year ahead and see how you can help. Sometimes a small tweak is all it takes, sometimes you may want to try something bigger, but make sure the effort and results are measured. You need to be able to show the intent and impact.

If you’re running a book group change the target audience (from PP to EAL for example) and make sure it’s accessible for the new audience.

  • If literacy is a focus use your LMS to measure the average reading age of the books being borrowed – this needn’t be all the time, but a snapshot over a few weeks can give a picture. Over the course of the year this can help show progress.
  • Reach out to local newspapers with events and good news – they can be really great advocates for both you and the school. Write a press release that isn’t more than a page long – and send photos if you can.

If the situation does occur and conversations start to happen, don’t take it personally. Find out the situation of the school, and work as a team where you can – this may mean changing your ‘red lines’. Try and be open and positive – things are more likely to be hidden where a negative reaction is expected, and if a negative reaction is needed make sure it’s backed up with evidence and impact, not just emotion.

 If you would like some support call the SLA or your local SLS as soon as possible – we can’t get involved in HR disputes (only a union can; and they can only help when it's a new dispute- which is why everyone should be a member of a union), but where the conversation is about use of space, or future developments we can help.

In response to times like this it can be tempting to batten down the hatches but we need to be more open. It can be easy to become more tribal and for the atmosphere to become more divisive, but we need to be more accepting, more encouraging and more open about both our successes and our struggles. We are one team, with teachers and all support staff, and it can be difficult to remember this when we feel like what we do isn’t understood, which is why doing the reports and getting out of the library is so important. And if you need any support, to vent or find a constructive path forwards do get in touch – we are here to help.

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