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Citation for Helen Roberts

HELEN ROBERTS

  • Lea Valley High School, Enfield
    Nominated by Juan Fernandez, Assistant Principal

Lea Valley High School, built in 2005, is the reincarnation of a 1960’s school which occupied the same site. The catchment area is very mixed and 60 languages are spoken in the school. The library, on the first floor, is a striking architectural feature of the new building, with its long curved window cantilevered out over the main entrance. This immediately makes a big statement about the value of the library to the school.

Having previously worked in public libraries in South Africa, Helen came to Lea Valley in 2004, to a library that was unused and unappreciated. The turnaround that she has achieved in a short time has led to the school agreeing to appoint a full-time assistant. This is huge testimony not only to the school’s vision for its library but also to Helen’s ability to put that vision into effect.

Helen is the only non-teacher on the Enrichment team and has the role of “whole school enrichment”, embracing life skills, careers, Gifted and Talented, etc. She is involved in the work experience programme, arranging and following up placements for all Y11 students. She is also the school’s Careers Co-ordinator. The Careers link is particularly exciting and illustrates Helen’s flexibility of approach and determination to drive the library on. She soon realised that the only reason students had for entering the library was to obtain careers information. So this became the foundation for library development. Helen undertook careers training, and introduced Careers months for each year group in turn, using this as an opportunity to promote the library generally, and to encourage students to borrow books for home reading. Students began constructively using the library for the first time and borrowing rates shot up. She then revived a failed literacy project, Renaissance Reading. This is now making a big difference to literacy, has strengthened links with teachers and mentors, and has put the library in the mainstream of reading development. A Homework Club was also developed and quickly became popular. GCSE A-C grades have improved from 19% to 31% in a year and literacy levels are rising, and the school is now attracting students from all over Enfield and beyond. The library’s part in this transformation has been vital.

Helen and the school management recognise there is still a long way to go. The new library occupies a large space and more stock is needed for the still half-empty shelves. An assistant will free up Helen’s time to be a library manager, to implement new projects to develop stock and its promotion and usage, to expand library skills induction, and to develop links with feeder primaries. Helen’s skill and authority when working with individuals and class groups has given her the respect of the students. We observed her confidently leading Y7 English and Science library lessons and a Y9 Careers lesson, in command of the class and of her material. In all cases the students were keen and involved. Helen has entered Lea Valley into the Kids Lit Quiz for the last three years and in 2006 two teams entered. This is a richly rewarding experience which raises self-esteem and the library is instrumental in that.

The library at Lea Valley High School is very much “work in progress”. Both Helen and the school management see it very much as a One Stop Shop. The Principal describes Helen as “inspirational” and the ideal person to continue the development. In her opinion ”another year of solid work will get the library where we want it to be”. And it won’t stop there.