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SLYA Citation for Shona Phillips


  • Librarian, Royal Blind School, Edinburgh
    Nominated by Carrie Mannion, Depute Headteacher
Shona Phillips being presented with her Honour Certificate by Philip Reeve. Photo: Martin Salter
Shona Phillips being presented with her
Honour Certificate by Philip Reeve.
Photo: Martin Salter

The School is on two sites, with 150 students in total from Nursery to KS4. Previously students were blind or visually impaired but as more of these students are attending mainstream schools recent intakes include children with multiple needs as well. There was an HMIE inspection 2 years ago and the library was praised.

Shona qualified as a librarian 9 years ago and has worked at RBS ever since. At that time there was no library and she was involved in designing and planning it taking into account the diverse needs of the school community. It has changed considerably over the 9 years because of changes in student needs and in technology. Within the next 5 years she intends there to be an equally suitable facility at the other campus, Canaan’s Lane, as funds for this have recently been agreed by the Board.

Students can use the library before school, at break and lunchtime and for prep after school. Resources are procured to support individual students, eg print size from 25 – 36+ may be needed. A range of adaptive technology is available, including MP3 players, Braille notes, Daisies (Digital Audio Players) and one Humanware Myreader. There is Wireless internet access and most students use screen readers for the computers.

Shona’s greatest challenges have been making fiction accessible and getting students into the library to use it independently. This is becoming more difficult as students are more disabled on entry than previously. She has set up sensory storysacks/boxes, using a range of resources appropriate to the book and the students, for example containers include a cat basket, sports bag and a knitting bag. The first one was created by an S4 class who took responsibility for deciding content, budgeting and sourcing items. Other classes will do similar projects. Shona also intends to pilot Reading Champions during the summer term with a full launch in September. For this she is going to create some personal challenges, for both sites and both genders.

Regular Book Groups are held for S6s. They do developmental work, including Braille, author of the month etc. There is also a Reading Wall to encourage understanding that there is a lot of reading matter in life, not just books. Topical comments made by students are translated into Braille and large print and put up for a month. Reading groups include all ability levels and intended to give some information on modern authors, and reading for pleasure.

For 3 years Shona has been working on students’ Information Literacy skills. She runs induction sessions for P7s, and S3s are now timetabled into the library for study skills and information skills. They also go to the public library as part of a challenge. Shona adapts the programme each year to meet differing needs. This year she is also having S5s for referencing and note taking. For S3 she is developing a big project linking all skills including giving a presentation (oral or with PowerPoint). She is looking at web possibilities; podcasting is included for S5s.

The panel observed exemplary lessons on information skills with S3 and S5 students in which they were required to explore different search engines and compare the advantages of these. Students were encouraged to discuss issues such as reliability of information and plagiarism. Students were each carrying out differentiated tasks, using screen readers and Shona ensured that all were on task while giving support as required to individuals.

The panel also watched a Reading Group with a small number of students two of whom had severe needs and needed considerable support. All were clearly enjoying the experience of having a story read to them, were totally engaged and responded to the story and to questions about it.

Teachers praised Shona’s dedication to the students and rapport with them. She knows them all and is able to support their reading and study needs as well as those of the teaching staff despite the range of formats required. The panel felt that the Shona’s work was of a very high standard. She does not compromise but is truly educating and supporting readers of all abilities.