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Kevin Sheehan

Kevin Sheehan with pupils from Offerton School, Stockport.
Kevin Sheehan with pupils from
Offerton School, Stockport

Kevin Sheehan
Learning Centre Manager, Offerton School, Stockport

Kevin’s survival kit not only includes enthusiasm, common sense and creativity, but also an eight-slice toaster. His first job every morning is making toast for the dozen pupils who are waiting outside the Learning Centre at 7.20am when he arrives. He admits that if he could not be a librarian, he would like to run a tea shop.

This breakfast club is the first of many extra-curricular groups packed into the Learning Centre, from the Film Club to Kevin’s own favourite, the Lego Club (the school’s on-site police officers donated a Lego police station). Other highlights include a monthly Manga Café and weekly Wii Wednesday (there is a Wii console in the library). Kevin likes the students to think of the Learning Centre as "a sanctuary, not a classroom".

He has recently refurbished it with money from the school’s business and enterprise fund (the 11-16 school has had business and enterprise specialist status since 2006), and created a reading room separated from the rest of the space by glass bricks. This is shoeless area where pupils and staff can relax and have a quiet space to read.

Kevin was not initially a keen reader as a child, until he discovered Enid Blyton at the age of nine, and recognises that he has to work to get pupils into the Learning Centre "Many of our students are not big readers. Some would even say that they hate books and reading. Libraries are about a lot more than books. You need to run a variety of activities which will engage with a good cross-section of students, that are loosely linked around books and reading without pushing it too much in their faces. Give them a bit of what they want and some new opportunities."

So besides Roald Dahl Day (celebrations stretched over a week rather than a day), Kevin’s last year has included Doctor Who Week (when Offerton was visited by Doctor Who characters and pupils knitted Doctor Who scarves and built K9 robots) and Wags and Chavs Week to coincide with the World Cup (in which Kevin strutted his stuff on the catwalk).

His rewards come from students like Liam, one of his team of pupil Learning Centre assistants, who acts as his ICT technician every morning, break, lunch and after school, "Not just helping me with setting up equipment, but also students who may need help on the computers", and who also helped set up the Lego Club. Another pupil helps him with the film club and two more do counter duties.

A higher than average proportion of students at Offerton are eligible for free school meals and the percentage with special educational needs and/or disabilities is also higher than average. The roll has fallen from 1200 to 800, with a resulting fall in the library budget.

Kevin works intensively with the Learn Smart group of 15 students with very low literacy levels, who have all made tangible improvements as a result.

He runs a four-week induction programme for Year 7s, teaches information literacy skills throughout the school, mainly through English classes, and has dedicated information literacy lessons with Year 8 which he aims to make fun with activities such as murder mysteries with the clues in the library catalogue. Kevin enjoys giving pupils transferable skills "while at the same time giving them a fantastic experience", and has just started a part-time MA in information literacy at Sheffield University.

Kevin had not been a high achiever at school, but decided that he wanted to be a qualified librarian after his first job with public libraries in the London borough of Havering. He continues to work with public libraries to run transition sessions and promotes the learning centre to parents, staff and public libraries through an e-newsletter.

To attain his goal, he completed an Access to Higher Education course before a BA in information and library management at Manchester Metropolitan University. He reached chartered status last year. Before Offerton he taught information literacy at a sixth form college, but finds the 11-16 age group suits him best. "I miss their chatter in the holidays."

For more information about Offerton School see: www.offerton.stockport.sch.uk