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Off-the-shelf solution to class sizes

Libraries are the heart of a school, not the dumping ground for surplus pupils, says Lindy Hardcastle. My husband is a school librarian, amongst other things. He has a fairly heavy teaching timetable and also manages the reprographics, school publications and audio-visual services. He happens to believe that the library should be at the heart of a school which means he was pretty upset over Easter - that's putting it mildly - when he heard a teachers' union leader suggest that if classes are too big, the surplus should be sent to the library.

My husband was appointed head of learning resources to a new school nearly 20 years ago, when overhead projectors were just superceding coloured chalk as the latest thing in educational technology. Reprographics meant a Gestetner, unreliable, illegible and indelibly purple. Happy days.

He is one of those many excellent members of the profession who believe that teachers should be learners too. Fifteen years ago he was bringing the first Sinclair ZX80 computers home from school and teaching himself programming. Long before periodicals produced computerised indexes, he spent his weekends key-wording the New Scientist. Desktop publishing and graphics opened the way to highly professional teaching resources produced in-house. In the past few years CD-Rom and computer networks have been added to the tools of his trade and Internet beckons.

For many years, this hard-working and dedicated man has worked towards achieving his vision of a fully integrated user-friendly information system. The library should be a focus; pupils and teachers alike should be able to access information on any subject from a variety of cross-referenced resources - books, videos, periodicals.

Teacher-produced worksheets and information packages, computerised indexes of all sources of information and a steadily increasing stock of CD-Rom material mean we are a million miles away from the bad old days, when the first three pupils through the door bagged the only three books on the First World War and the rest of the class had to fight over the relevant copy of the encyclopedia.

The standard of production of pupils' work has improved out of all recognition as more become computer-literate. The process of drafting, refining and redrafting coursework is accomplished comparatively painlessly. Each pupil has a personal password giving access to his or her own area, and a recent survey showed that most students use the network regularly.

Many use the library at lunchtimes and after school to do their homework. Often they have compatible systems at home and work travels to and fro on discs rather than in folders.

Even the staff are increasingly seeing that the computer network is not the enemy of the book-oriented culture of their youth, but its partner. I believe this is because, although there are separate computer rooms within the school, my husband has always seen the library as their natural home as part of the whole package of well-supported independent learning which the school fosters.

Individual departments have come to see that hoarding their own stocks of books and videos is counter-productive when the excellent security, issuing and indexing systems in the library make the materials at once more secure and more accessible to the students. The facilities are also made available to the many adults who use the college.

The long-serving library and reprographic staff are highly competent and as user-friendly as the technology. The room itself is full of plants, pictures and scholastic endeavour. Mission accomplished.

So he was deeply affected by Nigel de Gruchy's pronouncements on the subject of increasing class sizes. In fact he was sobbing and chewing the carpet.

Teachers, suggested the NASUWT leader, could refuse to teach classes over a certain size. And what would happen to the surplus pupils?

Send them to the library, of course. The traditional dumping ground for the disruptive, disaffected or just plain ineducable. So much for progress. Thanks, Nige.

Lindy Hardcastle is married to Phil Hardcastle, head of resources at Groby Community College, Leicestershire.

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