Read all about it: low standard of libraries is damaging learning, says chief inspector

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The standard of libraries in many primary and secondary schools is so poor that pupils' education is being damaged, David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, has warned.

The standard of libraries in many primary and secondary schools is so poor that pupils' education is being damaged, David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, has warned.

Last week, his annual report warned that bad behaviour was becoming an increasing problem in schools and his latest comments round off a series of negative reports on the state of the education system.

Mr Bell said lack of space had forced many schools to have their "library" in an entrance hall or corridor, making it impossible for children to use it properly to help with their schoolwork. Many schools also use their libraries as part-time classrooms or study areas, depriving children of access to its books.

Inspectors said lack of funds meant many school libraries were unable to deliver the wide range of up-to-date books needed to support children's learning across the curriculum.

Mr Bell said many school libraries were failing to make a significant difference to pupils' learning."Under-funded, poorly stocked and unattractive libraries do not support pupils' study and lack the potential to encourage them to read more for pleasure," he said. "Reading is the cornerstone of learning but children need books to read. The school library is often a primary source of reading material for youngsters, as well as a vital learning resource, so it is essential that these problems are addressed."

Although many secondary schools have improved their library provision over the past few years, they were still found unsatisfactory in many primaries and secondaries. In these, the ability of pupils to use the library to aid their academic work was hampered because the school lacked the wide range of books needed to support the whole curriculum.

But inspectors also found schools had neglected their libraries over many years and there were other issues which should be easy for schools to resolve. Library areas were often drab and unattractive rooms which did not encourage pupils to visit. Books and other resources were often poorly organised, so children found it difficult to find what they needed. Teachers were sometimes to blame for failing to set children tasks which involved them using a library for independent research. The most effective school libraries were the ones which were well-managed and highly valued by the whole school community.

The best libraries often remain open and supervised for large parts of the school week, enabling pupils to visit for independent reading or research outside lessons. Most school libraries were staffed by keen librarians, some of whom are well qualified. Mr Bell called on schools and especially English departments to make better use of librarians' skills and involve them more directly in improving pupils' literacy. Although librarians often had a better knowledge of contemporary writing for children than teachers, they were rarely encouraged to use that knowledge to support and advise pupils.

Ofsted inspectors are not required to make judgements on libraries. But they do consider how libraries meet the needs of the curriculum and affect learning.

Last month, Mr Bell expressed concern about the number of independent Muslim schools failing to prepare their pupils as good citizens.

A lesson in how to get books off the shelf

STOW HEATH junior school in Wolverhampton has transformed its library after concern was expressed that, although its shelves were full of books, children were not reading them.

Over three years, the school has transformed a drab cloakroom into a bright, spacious library with soft chairs and colourful books. And the children are reading more and choosing a wider range of reading.

The library has been singled out for special praise by Ofsted inspectors. Jean Edge, the headteacher, made it her mission to improve the library since becoming acting head in 2002. "I was determined we had to move to improve the amount of reading," she said. "We are also bucking the trend and managing to get boys to be keen readers of fiction. The inspectors were particularly impressed with the highly developed research skills of children as young as eight, skills you learn by being comfortable with using a library."

Sarah Cassidy