Sunday, 8 February 2015


Time for an inspection! Image taken by thom
I have worked in school and college libraries since 2003 and during this time I have worked through 6 Ofsted inspections. During these inspections I have held various roles ranging from learning resources assistant, school librarian and systems librarian. Each of these is a different rung on the ladder and has differing levels of authority, and I can see how my contribution during inspections has differed accordingly.

The most recent inspection was in November 2014. This is the very first time I’ve known Ofsted invite the library to an official, scheduled meeting. Usually, the library would submit a departmental portfolio and contribute to curriculum area portfolios by outlining the relevant learning resources available. At most, an inspector may wonder in to the library at some stage and the librarian will pounce on them in an attempt to create a good impression. Therefore, I was quite surprised to receive such an invitation (I use the term lightly – you can’t really decline to attend so perhaps ‘summoned’ would be more accurate?).  The invitation came via the deputy principal’s PA, along with an invite to a preparation meeting beforehand. 

The meeting lasted an hour and was very much a team effort with the following of us present: head of library, systems librarian (me!), director with responsibility for the library, manager of IT support and the ILT trainer. We are all under the wider departmental umbrella of ‘E-Services’, and the inspector was keen to know how we work together to support teaching and learning. We started with a tour of the library – the inspector asked questions about elements of the service she saw and elements which she didn’t see. She asked a lot about computer usage in the library and how we had adopted technology enhanced learning. There didn’t really seem to be much interest in the book side of things, despite us yelping on about initiatives such as the Six Book Challenge and graded reading materials etc. She seemed very positive and made lots of notes (which she held physically close to her chest at all times presumably to prevent peeking eyes!).  After the tour we moved into an office and discussed ILT usage. She asked how Moodle material was populated and the type of training sessions available for learners and staff. We spoke about embedding ebooks into the VLE and tailoring user education to suit assignment requirements. We peppered the meeting with anecdotes about learner engagement and breaking down barriers to learning.  Afterwards, we held an informal reflection meeting.

We all felt it went well, with some people playing a larger part than others depending on the inspector’s questions. I felt sure that this time – unlike previous inspections I’d worked through – the library would be reflected upon in the Ofsted report, otherwise what was the point of calling the meeting in the first place? I was both excited and hesitant in equal measures. Patiently we waited for the report publication after the Christmas break, only to discover that we were completely unmentioned. Any reflection – good, bad – is better than none at all. I understand Ofsted reports can’t possibly feature everything they encounter during the inspection, but I personally found this disappointing. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised though - in all the inspections I’ve worked though at various institutions, only once has the library been mentioned. I understand the reports follow a pre-defined format, but perhaps greater flexible could be allowed in order to facilitate a larger element of personalisation within the text. I may be wrong, but to my mind it seems a lot of the remarks were stock comments taken from a bank of phrases. Perhaps they could create a bank of phrases about libraries?!

In a previous inspection I’ve worked though, an inspector asked if I was a qualified teacher. I responded by saying I was not, but I was a qualified librarian; somehow I managed to hide the fact that my blood had started to boil! He didn’t ask if I was a qualified librarian and I feel this epitomises how Ofsted seems to reflect on libraries during inspections. If libraries had visible support in Ofsted reports, I am sure it would go a long way to strengthening our departmental positions within institutions. Ofsted as an ally could really consolidate the value of libraries. Until this time, I fear libraries may never fully achieve the aim of truly being at the heart of teaching and learning. The battle remains. Grrrr!

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