IFLA SL Newsletter

– a commentsblog

Creating Life-long Learners: one school’s use of IL in England

Anne-Marie Tarter, School Librarian
Ripon Grammar School
Ripon, North Yorkshire

In England there is at present no statutory requirement for schools to have a qualified librarian or even a library. While there are some very exciting developments in information literacy (IL)  happening in  schools, these are due to the work of individual librarians rather than any national educational imperative.  For although there are elements of IL embedded in the English National Curriculum, there is no official recognition of IL as a unique set of skills to be developed in any systematic way.  However, this may be about to change.

Earlier this year the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) published a document entitled ‘Good School Libraries making a difference to learning’ in which they identified factors that were evident in schools whose libraries were making a positive impact on   teaching and learning. Their conclusions were based on OFSTED’s inspection of thirty-two schools during the academic year 2004-05. One of the major conclusions of the OFSTED report was the importance of a coherent programme of IL skills development in the most effective schools:
The quality of pupils’ information literacy skills [in many of the schools visited] was often unsatisfactory.  Many pupils struggled to locate and to make use of information. The most effective schools had put in place systematic programmes for teaching these skills.[1]

The report goes onto to add that the most beneficial IL programmes were those that attempted to develop the skills in a variety of curricular contexts and progressively over time.   This official recognition of the value of IL skills development in individual schools by OFSTED may lead eventually to a more national acceptance of IL as part of the curriculum.

For the past sixteen years I have been the librarian at Ripon Grammar School, a co-educational, academically selective state school  with 820 pupils aged 11-18 and located in rural North Yorkshire.  In that time I have put in place a programme of IL development that is delivered to all pupils aged 11-14 via a wide range of curricular subjects.  I started simply  with one project for Year 7 pupils (aged 11-12) in which the pupils researched the earth’s place in the Solar System as part of the Physics curriculum. The Head of Physics was so impressed by the ways in which the project enhanced the pupils’ learning that she asked me to help the department to develop further research projects  for Years 8 and 9.  Other departments showed interest and gradually I built up a programme of 12 separate projects for all pupils aged 11-14.  These are delivered as part of the schemes of work of the Physics, Chemistry, Geography, ICT and English departments.  The structure of the research followed the PLUS model developed by James Herring[2].

This year for the first time I experimented with using IL in a cross-curricular context in which Year 8 pupils (aged 12-13) used their IL skills and their subject knowledge from   different areas of the curriculum to solve a practical problem.  Several departments, including Physics, Mathematics, Design Technology, ICT, and Economics, came together under my leadership to design a project that required the pupils to design and build a model of a new footbridge to cross a local river.  The pupils were taken off their normal timetable for 3 days and worked in small companies of ten pupils each. Each company had to research, design, build, and market their bridge to a team of civil engineers from the firm of Mouchel-Parkman.  The adults acted only as supervisors and were not allowed to contribute in any way.  The engagement and enthusiasm of the pupils for the project was outstanding; all twelve teams completed the work to a very high standard. They showed both the staff and themselves that they have the learning skills to solve real problems, and the ability to work as a team to develop something new.


One of my concerns has been  that our pupils’ IL skills were not continuing to develop once they moved into Key Stage 4 (aged 14-16). During these years pupils are preparing for their GCSE examinations (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and staff are reluctant to ‘sacrifice time’ for project work. However, in the past several years two teachers have adapted the PLUS model as a method of teaching pupils to revise.  I have worked with them to create an electronic revision planning sheet  based on IL skills that pupils can download at home to help them to organise their revision. The response from the pupils to this work has been very positive.

Once students enter 6th form at age 16 they are expected to have the ability to work with  new information in quite sophisticated ways and to be able to be more independent in their learning.  At the start of their two-year course all of the 6th form students are given a series of  refresher sessions on IL, with a particular focus on using online resources and external information providers more effectively.  One of the greatest indicators of how well our IL programme develops our pupils’ independent learning skills is the ease with which most of them tackle these new challenges in 6th form.  Staff notice a huge difference between our existing pupils and those pupils who join the school in the 6th form in terms of their confidence in attempting independent work. 

Partly due to the success of the IL programme delivered to the younger pupils, this year the school has added the subject of Critical Thinking to the 6th form curriculum.  I have been asked to help to deliver this course as it is seen as a natural extension of the IL work that I already do with the younger pupils.  This is a very exciting addition to the programme of the IL skills opportunities already in place, and will ensure that our students leave the school more fully prepared to be life-long learners.


[1]  Office for Standards in Education,  Good School Libraries making a difference to learning.  (www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/index.cfm?fuseaction=pubs.displayfile&id=4170&type=pdf  last accessed 2 September 2006).

[2]  James Herring,  The PLUS  Method,   ( http://farrer.csu.edu.au/PLUS/  last accessed 2 September 2006).


January 14, 2007 - Posted by | 4. Issue 43, 5. Theme 43: Information Literacy, U.K.

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