One of the first things I did as a new headteacher when I joined the Wroxham School was to create a library. The previous leadership team had decided that books should be divided into year group collections and put in the classrooms. Consequently, children were denied access to reading material outside the “expected” age range.
The only space available for the library was in the main thoroughfare. We set about fundraising for shelving and a new carpet, and retrieved books from all over the building in order to place the new library at the very heart of the school.
I have never regretted this. Anyone walking around our school will see the library and the lovely books on offer, many times a day. We have a group of parents and Year 6 library monitors who look after the area and ensure that all the books are checked in and out, and correctly shelved. There are chairs, cushions and book boxes surrounded by attractive displays. Expert librarians visit to ensure our collection is up to date and the best we can afford.
All day, the library is used by pupils choosing books for study or pleasure. Post-it notes are available for book requests and a postbox is used to send letters to anyone in the school.
There have also been times in the history of the library when the downright quirky has come into play. One weekend, we were alerted to a post-war motorbike and sidecar available to buy online. Thinking that these would be an amazing addition to our playground, we bought them. However, when they arrived, they were immaculate and – to the pupils’ delight – we decided to place them, Wallace and Gromit-style, in the library, as a place to sit and read. This started a trend of innovative purchases. When Year 3 were studying explorers, we bought a small boat as a role-play area, and a multicoloured jeep was sunk into the grass for play. The ultimate find, however, was a double-decker bus.
The bus was purchased on eBay for £2,400. The whole school cheered as it arrived, but as I climbed on board I couldn’t help worrying about the stink of diesel and the leaking roof. Additionally, buses take up a lot of space, which led to the realisation that we would need to extend the standing area in the playground if we wanted to maintain a full netball court. This was a huge challenge!
The refurbishment and transformation of the bus into a library became a whole-school and community endeavour coordinated by our deputy headteacher and site manager. Parents helped us to remove the seats downstairs and put seating and two tables upstairs for quiet study. Power was provided via underground cables. The livery was painted by professional graffiti artists from a design by Kyra in Year 4. Brightly coloured carpets were fitted throughout, including over the wheel arches. The library bus provides a special place to enjoy reading during playtimes, in recognition that reading is for leisure, too.
The children and adults at our school love books and love reading. We have gained so much from creating special libraries that provide safe, emotionally secure yet imaginative worlds where it feels like anything can happen.
Dame Alison Peacock is executive headteacher of the Wroxham School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and a government adviser