At present, we are developing ways in which the Reading Cloud platform can provide an opportunity for Book Award teacher judges to share their experiences and the ways in which they have used the shortlisted books to a much wider audience.
I am a retired primary headteacher – my current work as a volunteer with UKLA started at Frederick Bird Primary School in Coventry, where we were lucky enough to be teacher judges for the UKLA Book Awards. It brought about a transformation – an already skilled and dedicated staff team were given the opportunity to read, discuss, share, love and disagree about a set of remarkable, high quality, recently published children’s books. It’s the best possible CPD, creating “teachers who read and readers who teach”.
What makes your book awards different to other children’s book awards?
The difference is that this award is the only national children’s book award judged entirely by teachers. It gives teachers the opportunity to assess the impact of the longlisted books in a range of different classroom contexts; as part of their readaloud programme, as shared and individual reads as part of their Reading for Pleasure provision, as a stimulus for wider curriculum use and to provoke a more extended creative response. The books which are chosen as shortlists by our teacher judges are successful because they work in the context of the classroom.
It has been an absolute joy to work with teams of teacher judges from all over the UK. I love the fact that each year we recruit a different set of teacher judges from the area where we will be holding the UKLA International Conference. This has meant that the Book Awards team has been able to work with teachers from all over the UK, including importantly, Scotland and Wales, where the curriculum organisation is different. At the same time, we have both trainee teachers, working with their tutors, and UKLA teachers from anywhere in the UK, who are able to take part in the Book Awards as shadowers and share their views.
Can you tell us more about your Literacy School of the Year award celebrating excellence in schools?
This award was introduced in 2011 and since then, despite a short break because of the Covid pandemic, there have been winning schools drawn from all over the UK. There are a challenging set of criteria which are designed to demonstrate a “whole school” approach to developing the highest standards in literacy education. Schools are asked to submit their entries, endorsed by a mentor, by the end of the spring term and all of the submissions are reviewed by the UKLA’s Awards Committee. The shortlisted schools are placed on the UKLA’s Roll of Honour and visited by two adjudicators, both of whom have, as headteachers, won the award. The UKLA have always seen these visits as a celebration of the very best which schools can achieve in terms of their literacy work within school and with their wider community. When we schedule visits to schools, we ask the headteachers and their staff to show us how they meet the award’s criteria; we are there to observe and celebrate the work, not as inspectors.
Visiting schools identified by professional experts as the best in the country is, as you can imagine, a joyful process. It is a privilege to be able to see the work, commitment, enthusiasm, dedication and imagination displayed by schools and the UKLA believes that it is part of our mission to celebrate this work. We have found schools which have won the award where pupils have written song lyrics based on their study of The Tempest, set to music commissioned by the school; where improving children’s literacy is seen both as a deliberate anti-poverty strategy and a way to work in real partnership with families; schools where the curriculum is structured around the immersive study of high quality children’s literature; schools where, most importantly, teachers are readers and are able to share their excitement and commitment with their children. We look for schools where, of course, standards are high and progress is rising, but importantly, where there is obvious buy-in from the whole staff.
What is the most rewarding thing for you as Awards Chair?
The UKLA Awards cover a very wide range of topics and disciplines, and I love the diversity and richness of submissions. The entries for our Academic Book Award provide a global perspective on literacy development alongside the books more sharply focused on both contemporary research and classroom practice in the UK. We have been delighted by entries from individual teachers and their classes for the Our Class Loves This Book award, which invites a creative response to one of our shortlisted texts from the previous year. Entries for the Diversity and Inclusion award ensure that, as an Association, we celebrate the best in current practice and research which supports inclusion. What has been so rewarding over the past couple of years is the ways in which award winners are supporting the whole programme. For example, Farrah Serroukh, who was a past winner of the Diversity and Inclusion award, has provided a CPD session each year for our Book Award teacher judges on her Reflecting Realities reports for CLPE; Abbeywood School, a secondary SEMH school, who were one of the Our Class Loves This Book award winners this year, will be providing a workshop at UKLA’s National Conference in the spring. These are just a few examples of how UKLA members are able to support each other by sharing outstanding practice.
How does the UKLA works in partnership with Reading Cloud?
Reading Cloud have been a very generous sponsor of our Book Awards for several years, as well as supporting the development of library management software in some of our Literacy Schools of the Year. At present, we are developing ways in which the Reading Cloud platform can provide an opportunity for Book Award teacher judges to share their experiences and the ways in which they have used the shortlisted books to a much wider audience. I was delighted, during school closures because of Covid, to be able to take part in some Reading Cloud webinars around Reading for Pleasure, when access to physical libraries was so restricted.
How important do you think a good school library is in any school wishing to improve literacy?
The development and use of the school library is one of our key criteria for our Literacy School of the Year award. The importance is twofold, I think. School libraries really need the support of a librarian who can ensure that the library is a welcoming, up-to-date, inspiring hub for all learning and enjoyment. In the best run school libraries, students have the opportunity to influence the books which are chosen, to ensure that the library can reflect their enthusiasms and reading preferences, as well as to entice them to try books which they might not have encountered before. Secondly, the library can open its doors to the community as a whole – a social space for reading at breaks and lunchtimes, and a place where parents and children can choose books together at the end of the day.
Have you read anything recently that really inspired you?
I am in the very fortunate position of being able to read the very best of children’s literature through the Book Awards – but I try very hard not to pick a favourite so that I don’t influence the outcome of the final panel. Our recently published longlists for the 2024 UKLA Book Awards are packed with inspiration.
Can you share an unusual fact about yourself?
I fill any spare time I have with sewing – I’m in love with my overlocker!