Do we need federal standards?!! Do we ever!: The Brisbane Hearing

6 07 2010

Brisbane Hearing 6 July 2010 for the Australian House of Representatives Inquiry into School Libraries and Teacher Librarians
Parliament House, Brisbane

The following are draft notes which should be checked against the transcript when it is released.
Committee members in attendance included: Sharon Bird, Dr. Dennis Jensen, Mike Symon and Yvette D’Ath (Qld MP).

A repeated question from the committee was “Do we need Federal standards?”
The answer needs to be a resounding YES! Principals need a reference in this age of devolved staffing. They need a standards reference, with the same standards for primary and secondary, though different emphasis. They need a role statement reference. And they need a research clearinghouse for reference.

Qld DET “Workforce Futures” witness, Gary Francis, needs this research also. He is currently collecting data/evidence for departmental decision-making. Gary Francis will be “interrogating the evidence” of this inquiry. He needs to know why all teachers can not be expert “knowledge workers” and teachers of IL and selectors of quality literacy resources; why quality teachers need the support of the TL knowledge navigator and literacy and IL expert.

As Dr. Jensen stated, there almost seems to be a policy in state DETs to run down the role of the teacher librarian. SLAQ admitted that TLs could be part of the problem in not promoting their role, although with some 430 members they have an excellent opportunity to promote the TL role through their association. Marj Kirkland, CBCA President, stated that some regional directors are openly speaking out against having teacher librarians!

And today’s hearing brought out the need for the Australian evidence: support for research linking quality school libraries and reading and academic achievement.

The equity issue between states and sectors again emerged. Too many students have NO access to quality school libraries and qualified teacher librarians, especially in remote regions. The private schools on the Gold Coast all have teacher librarians, while only 50% of government schools do.

Queensland Catholic Education Commission, represented by Adrian Miller and Terry Creagh, laid Catholic school facts on the table in a matter-of-fact way, outlining staffing levels and shortfalls and being quite open about problems with staffing geographically isolated and small schools. Yet 85% of the 288 Catholic schools in Qld are staffed by a qualified Teacher-Librarian, though only 15% of these are FTE.

The Brisbane Catholic Education’s scholarship scheme to attract more teacher-librarians is an initiative bringing younger TLs into the profession and fill staffing gaps. During the past two years, dozens of Catholic teachers have trained as TLs under this scheme. Jane Connolly, Professional Officer Executive Support and Mary Tsourounakis spoke for BCEO.

QUT is benefiting from this program, with TL program numbers almost doubling since 2007-8 to 110 in the course this year. Perhaps the DER and BER programs are also having an effect. Qld DET also had a sponsorship program at one time for half the TL Masters course.

SB: There is a problem with not having anyone to supervise pracs! “Hopefully we can do something about that.” QUT agreed that special programs were needed to catch up with training, with the Commonwealth supporting places at universities and employers recognizing the need for dual qualifications, and support with subsidies and leave.

The witnesses for Queensland University of Technology were Mandy Lupton, Unit Coordinator/Lecturer, Master of Education (Teacher-Librarianship) and Dr Hilary Hughes, Coordinator, Master of Education (Teacher-Librarianship).

Brisbane Catholic Education tabled a TL role statement, for which it was commended by Dr. Jensen, while Qld DET could only refer to a description of physical duties of TLs in relation to OH&S and work cover! Sharon Bird asked how many principals would know of the Learning for the Future standards and Standards of TL Excellence? Great laughter from the gallery!! [GP note: Why can’t every state professional association send at least the latter to every school via systemic school leaders email networks? Or through Principals Associations?]

SB asked why the Catholic system has taken such a positive stand in sponsoring TL training.

The reply from Jane Connolly was that TLs are REQUIRED for the best possible outcomes for students! They are needed for curriculum leadership, IT skills, and literacy skills.

SB asked about TLs having a leadership role although rarely part of executive.

Kate Seed from QTU said they are not classed in Qld DET as head of a service, but as teachers. Teachers of literacy and numeracy are recommended to be part of the executive, so the same could certainly be done for TLs.

Central and regional school library advisors were disbanded around 1990. No support service is left although E-Learning is running an online Digital Pedagogy Licencing course and the remaining Library Service (combined from TESOL, professional and in-service libraries) tries to do what it can. Corporate knowledge has been lost. In the past advisors would always see the principal first when visiting a school, so affording an opportunity for sharing knowledge.

QUT was left considering what it could do beyond its 4th year Stepping Out program to initiate pre-service teachers into the wonders of IL and collaboration with TLs. Mandy said they would have to take this back to education lecturers.

The Qld Teachers Union was represented by Kate Seed, Industrial Advocate, and Margaret Kittson, Chair of the QTU TL Cttee and TL Holland Park State School. Kate and Margaret spoke about the current procedures regarding flexible school staffing under workplace reform agreements. While QTU has tried to uphold its TL policies regarding non-contact time, CPPT and flexible scheduling in primary and special schools and Section 6 of the State Teachers Award which highlights the dual focus of the TL role, many principals choose to ignore these agreements. Strong recommendations are needed from this committee. If there are national standards then negotiations will have to take place with each industrial body.

The question of tied funding arose. Kate stated that they are already doing this with the National Partnership Agreements, so tied funding should be very possible.

The last session was the Qld Department of Education and Training represented by Laurie Campbell, E-Learning, Gary Francis, Director, Workforce Futures and Julie-Ann McCullough.

This session was in stark contrast to the previous session with BCE and QCEC. Two of the Ed Qld representatives side stepped, refused to reveal information, said they did not know the answers to questions (such as the number of TLs in their schools) etc. Ed Qld referred only to TLs’ teacher qualifications and was of the view that every teacher should have information literacy skills. Where particular students were missing essential skills in their mapped profiles, individual interventions would be made. The view was expressed that every teacher was a “knowledge worker” and that the department felt that it was important for principals to be able to have the flexibility to tailor things to suit local needs. Sharon made the point that as she sees it it is just too big a job for principals to get their heads around everything.

Marj Kirkland, Pres of the Children’s Book Council of Australia and TL, Aquinas College, and Megan Daley, VP CBCA and TL St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School tabled a supplementary submission which emphasized the differences between sectors and highlighted the need for funding and staffing in school libraries. In summary it stated:

Statistics from the March 2010 national survey by the Children’s Book Council of Australia:

624 respondents to survey.

BER LIBRARIES

127 schools indicated that they had received $500,000 or more in BER funding for their library; 85 of those received over $1,000,000.

Staffing:
Of these 127 schools, almost one in five (18%) do not have a qualified teacher-librarian in their library. In fact, the figures may be worse than that, as some libraries may be ‘out of contact’.

Budgets:
The average library budget of these BER libraries was $16,895.
Over 65% of BER school library budgets were $10,000 or less.
30% of BER school library budgets were $5,000 or less.

COMPARISON OF EDUCATIONAL SECTOR SCHOOL LIBRARY BUDGETS IN SURVEY (not just BER)

Anglican Schools:
Average Library Budget: $44,762.
80% of Anglican school library budgets are greater or equal to $20,000.
5 stated that their budgets are unknown. One commented: “We do not have a budget. We spend until told to stop.”

Independent Schools:
Average Library Budget: $37,220.
74% of Independent school budgets are greater or equal to $20,000.
6% of those schools had library budgets of over $100,000.

Catholic Schools:
Average Library Budget: $20,732.
39% of Catholic school library budgets were greater or equal to $20,000.
Less than 1% were $50,000 or greater.
43% were $10,000 or less. 22% were $5,000 or less.

Government Schools:
Average Library Budget: $10,606.
13% of government school library budgets were greater or equal to $20,000.
Only 2 (.5%) of the 375 schools had a budget exceeding $50,000.
66% had a library budget of $10,000 or below. 36% were $5,000 or less. 3% were $1,000 or less.

Marj referred to recent studies which show that information literacy is decreasing in students entering tertiary studies and critical thinking is in decline. The federal government needs to lead on IL and digital literacy and define the TL role in same.*

The question of national negotiation of database subscriptions came up again, which would be especially good for primary.

Chris Kahl, Pres of the School Library Association of Queensland Inc and Robbie Rentz, Pres, Brisbane Subcommittee of SLAQ and TL Marist College, Ashgrove offered a supplementary sub of two case studies of primary and secondary schools and a variety of programs from around Qld in different sectors.

The cmttee questioned both groups about the assertion of DETs that all teachers should/can teach IL. The consensus, including SB, was that teachers are the general practioners and TLs are the much needed expert specialists.

SB: Raised the fact, as she did in Darwin, that DEEWR has not referenced any of the research on libraries and literacy.

The need for Australian research was emphasized.

Margaret Spillman, TL Mackay West School, and Kate Balderson, Library Assnt, Mackay City Council Library Service, discussed their program Productive Partnerships-Learning for Life. This cost-neutral collaboration between the primary school and the public library has won outstanding awards, but the reason it exists is so that the school library can still offer vital services even though their budget hasn’t changed in 15 years! The Council Library, in turn, registers new borrowers in Year One of their schooling!

Queensland schools staff teacher librarians, but they do not have to be placed in the library!! They can be put on classes. There are now many schools without TLs in the library, including seven high schools on the Gold Coast.

Sunshine Coast Teacher-Librarian Network Group was represented by Graeme Smith, TL, and Kylie Downey, TL Meridan State College.

Sheryl Gwyther, author behind the Saving Aussie Books Re-visited Campaign, spoke to her submission on the vital need for quality school libraries and teacher librarians in promoting children’s literature and literacy. The school workshops they organize and their contribution to Educational and Public Lending Right royalties are significant in supporting Australian childrens writers and illustrators.

The above individuals joined the committee in considering the value of school library staffing, funding, and scheduling statistics in the MySchool website [GP: YES!] and the meaning of the Deep Web [the major part of the web, some say 500 times the size, which isn’t searchable from ordinary search engines ]

They also responded to questions about the perception that IT specialists can replace TLs (Sheryl: not their literacy role!), the PD role of TLs in keeping up with new resources and information tools (Graeme), schools being built without libraries (Kylie described a Sunshine Coast high school which tried this until they realized their students were disadvantaged, and built a library).

Margaret spoke about a Torres Strait Island school where books are being thrown out of a school library to be replaced by e-books, without consideration of IT availability and maintenance problems!

Sheryl spoke about the need to educate parents and the community and politicians in what is being lost.

The Softlink International Chief Operating Officer, Nathan Godfrey, said that 40% of Australian schools have a Softlink automated Library Management System. Yet NSW DET is holding back on upgrading to web-based systems, now a standard. Connectivity and security policies seem to be the issue. Other new key directions are Web 2.0 applications for interaction with students and books, Online Learning Portals for direct communication and Data Based Tools for analyzing and reporting. Their new GPS tool can be used to analyze reading patterns, for example, and validate against NAPLAN results.

In fact, Softlink has done this with a survey of 500 schools matching NAPLAN results to funding and staffing of the library!??!!
SB asked for the breakdown – and so does The HUB!!
What a day!!

* Greenfield, P.M. 2010 ‘Is technology producing a decline in critical thinking and analysis?’, Connections, SCIS, Issue 73

University College London (UCL) CIBER group.(2008) Information behaviour of the researcher of the future. London: University College London. CIBER Briefing paper; 9. h

Advertisements




BER in Queensland: New Libraries But No Books or TLs?

9 12 2009

A Guest Blogger (name supplied but withheld) from Queensland has contributed the following:


Maralyn Parker’s article in the Daily Telegraph (19 Nov 2009), about the Rudd government’s Building Education Revolution, has opened up an interesting debate. The comments on the blog which followed suggest that there are serious problems with the construction and staffing of libraries in many states.  In Queensland, problems are in two inter-linked areas:

1.     the direction provided to schools for the design and outfitting of the new  libraries

2.     the flexible staffing arrangements which allow individual schools to decide on TL time allocation.

BER Library Design

On the first of these issues, the Manager of Library Services for Education Queensland has no background in libraries or significant qualifications in that area. Yet this person has the authority to lead the implementation of the BER.  Library 21 seminars have been held throughout Queensland and bus trips organised to look at state-of-the-art libraries. The library was promoted as “the information and knowledge hub of a school and a key facility to the transformation of learning in schools in line with the contemporary rethinking of schooling”.  That sounds altruistic, but the Manager goes on to say: “Having said that – the role of the teacher librarian will be very different in the future”, and that is where the disjuncture begins.

The new library designs advocated are spacious, attractive and modeled on marketing books as evidenced in large, commercial bookstores.  Movable, flexible shelving, whilst appearing to display books more appealingly, cannot house the collections of books already held in schools. As the Manager of Library Services said on the Queensland TL listserv, “A library that is considered as a facility only for its custodial role of looking after books will no longer meet the needs of learners in the future.”  Culling on a massive scale is advised and thousands of great books discarded.  One school has been told to get rid of any books published before 2002.  So what happens to the classics and the treasured stories, thousands of which will never be available as e-books?  Another could only display Junior Fiction to the letter O because there was no more shelving space in the new design.  Such examples seem ludicrous, but are the reality of modern design being placed above functionality and practicality.

The move towards e-learning and e-books, whilst worthy, is not matched by the extremely poor state of technology in schools.  Kindles and the usage of e-books may well advantage adults who want the convenience of them, but dispensing with real books in favour of the computerised version is not a scenario suitable for schools – especially primary schools. Teachers who speak in favour of books are seen to be old fashioned and unwilling to take on the “brave new world of technology in the 21st century”, but our libraries have great collections of valuable books, and very few, if any,  Kindles.  Too many computers are in a sorry state and will not fill the void unless mega-money is put into their improvement.  Radical, knee-jerk reactions by the minority, causing wholesale change (quite possibly for political gain only), does not appear a responsible course of action for schools. Barbara Combes (2009) comments that empowering students from as young as primary school is essential if educators are to enable them to navigate an ever-increasing technological landscape.  A specialist teacher librarian in a school is imperative to teach students and teachers to efficiently and effectively research information,  understand cyber safety and provide access to quality multimedia that supports the curriculum.

Staffing of School Libraries

The second aspect of the future of effective libraries in schools is the key role of teacher librarians.  They should be vital members of every school staff, but are undervalued in some schools. An anonymous commentor from Queensland to Parker’s blog states: “In Q’ld state schools, every school with an enrolment of 300 or more qualifies for a dedicated TL position and the policy is that it be filled by a qualified person wherever possible.

In Queensland, principals have the authority to decide upon the allocation of specialist time within their own schools.  Depending upon the priority given to various specialist areas, time may be taken from teacher librarians and weighted in favour of music, physical education or LOTE.  If a principal is supposed to have a teaching load as well as an administrative role, he/she can re-allocate the time so that they are full time administration and the other specialists make up the shortfall by trading their time for the principal’s teaching duties.  In other instances, teacher librarians can be taken from their regular duties in the library to cover staffing absences or special programs.  In some schools, the principal has dispensed with their teacher librarian altogether and staffed the library with an aide, technician or an unqualified person. How many parents are aware of this situation? Parents of students in schools that value their teacher librarian may assume that all schools are similar in their access to high quality library service. The converse is true for schools where a trade-off has occured.

Until Education Queensland values its TLs’ contributions to literature, literacy and information literacy by making the time non-negotiable within schools, the full worth of these grand new libraries will not be utilised.