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Tracey Needham

Tracey Needham
Higher level Teaching Assistant with Management Responsibilities
Sacred Heart RC Primary School, Barrow–in-Furness

Tracey NeedhamTracey Needham’s library is like a theatre with Tracey as production designer, stage manager, director and promoter.  Sacred Heart’s 200 pupils are the actors and the audience who flock to Tracey’s events, with a supporting cast of toys and creatures.

First, there’s the half-termly competitions in which every entrant gets a prize (the winner gets a bigger prize). The last competition had a World Cup theme (Tracey is a qualified Football Association referee) and attracted 70 entries: a lot of prizes to source. “I keep my eye out for books and craft supplies in remainder shops,” says Tracey. “We’ve also received 100 books from the Booktrust Read for My School promotion: it all helps.”

Tracey is a higher level teaching assistant with management responsibility for the library and reading promotion, and for monitoring and evaluating reading throughout the school.

In the two and a half years since the Sacred Heart library has had a designated space, Tracey’s promotional work has resulted in an increase in loans of 75 per cent in the last school year, 2013-14, and 111 per cent in 2012-13. Last term [July 2014], OFSTED inspectors praised “the well-stocked and exciting library” and the pupils’ enthusiasm for reading and quoted one pupil who said, “Reading a good book is like dreaming. It takes you into new and fantastic worlds.” Ofsted also noted that the emphasis on reading has also helped pupils’ writing.

The school has 35 per cent of pupils receiving free school meals and many do not have easy access to books at home.

Tracey says: “The challenge is to keep reading fresh, focus on the pleasure it brings and share the excitement that I get from it. I have great support from the headteacher and senior leadership team. They are happy for me to try out any crazy idea I come up with.

“I often introduce a craft element to the competitions: for the World Cup theme, the children all made maracas. Every Friday we have a library lunch for mixed year groups, which usually combine reading with a craft activity. The crafts will often draw in the shyer children and the less confident readers. I’ve always loved crafts, knitting and sewing and ideas come to me all the time.

“For one session I collected old comics from secondhand shops and we compared them to contemporary comics and made comic strips. We did a Where’s Wally? session and made magnetic bookmarks. To celebrate 25 years of Elmer in September 2014, everyone will make an Elmer out of a milk carton. It’s all very informal and the reading happens alongside the activity.

Tracey Needham Bookworms ClassThe library spills into every classroom where book boxes are changed regularly book boards promote the current class novel (each class ends the school day with a reading-aloud session). As a Year 5 and 6 teaching assistant, Tracey is always alert to potential novels to share. “I’ve picked out Skyhawk by Gill Lewis and The Furthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks: one more recent novel and one you don’t see so much now. It helps if I bring in the book before we start reading it so that the children see me reading it in advance and enjoying it.”

Tracey’s next step is a virtual library that children can access independently. They can already choose to read some titles on the class sets of iPads.

She teaches weekly library skills sessions for Key Stage 2, collaborating with class teachers to research skills into pupils’ homework projects, and teaches Key Stage 1 alongside the class teacher.

Tracey’s connection with the school started as a parent volunteer when her daughter was a pupil, and she was first employed as a teaching assistant 16 years ago. Now her daughter is 23 and working in further education learning support, and Tracey has acquired qualifications to degree level (Professional Studies in Education, accredited by Lancaster University and taught one day a week in Barrow). She is now looking into the SLA’s distance learning qualification.

Growing up in Barrow, she had wanted to be a teacher “but coming from a working-class background we were not pushed in that direction at school – it was expected that you would work in the shipyards”. Tracey did office work for a local hospital and electrical company before forming her connection with Sacred Heart.

“Everything fell into place when I had my daughter. I had always loved reading but through going into school I saw the importance of sharing it with children. As my daughter got older we were reading and studying together. I like to keep learning something new.”

Tracey has just half a day a week to spend on her library role. “I do spend a lot more time than that, although I can also ask for more time if I am planning a special event. I never stop thinking about it: there are always more ideas.”