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SLYA Citation for Debbie Carr

DEBBIE CARR

  • Willows High School, Tremorfa, Cardiff
    Nominated by Karyn Chapman, LRC Manager, Bishop of Llandaff High School
Debbie Carr being presented with her Honour Certificate by SLA President Aidan Chambers
Debbie Carr being presented with her
Honour Certificate by SLA President Aidan Chambers

Willows High School is situated in a particularly disadvantaged area of east Cardiff, with many low achievers and many asylum seekers on the roll. The academic expectations of the majority of its 900 students are low – some 20-25% achieve 5 or more GCSE grades A to C. So the school ethos is built not so much around league tables as on the development of an environment which will engage the students and capture their desire to learn. Debbie’s enthusiasm, imagination and energy have created a library which perfectly fits this.

Every surface within the library has been utilised to good effect, and a vibrant, warm ambience is the happy outcome. An innovative arrangement of stock is supported by colourful promotional material, often produced by the students themselves; tempting book boxes have catchy titles; and a wide range of subject lessons and non-lesson activities aim to keep students coming back. Debbie introduced a Reading and Writing programme here long before the BBC invented RAW, and in this context we observed a Y7 group playing a noisy and very mobile game which taught study skills - a silent library this is not. Result – students want to be there. They come in droves at break, lunchtime and after school. Many sign up to become library volunteers and none are turned away.

But Debbie’s work also extends far beyond such excellent practice. She runs a popular Reading Club after school, and a thriving Homework Club which interestingly runs from 5.30 to 7.30 pm, providing a refuge for the many students for whom the library is the only place where they can do their work. She also runs a Reviewers’ Club, by which groups are taken on a range of cultural visits – theatre, concerts, exhibitions, etc – in return for reviews which go on walls and in newsletters. She organises annual visits to Stratford-on-Avon and to the Hay Literature Festival. A regular stream of authors, illustrators and poets are persuaded to come and work with groups in the library, including as many local writers and speakers as she can get. Debbie takes every opportunity to involve the library in school projects of all kinds, and has the undiluted support of teachers and managers for her efforts. An example is the paired reading scheme with staff from Legal and General, one of Cardiff’s main employers, which involves mainly Y7 and Y8 SEN students and takes place in the library. Its impact can be measured by comparing reading levels before and after.

The result of Debbie’s dynamism and boundless energy is a library that is central to the life of the school and to the lives of its students. Debbie inspires them and gives them opportunities they would probably not otherwise have. She is a door to the world – and the door is always open.