Calthorpe Academy is one of the largest special educational needs schools in Birmingham. Their new BookSpace library presents a positive reading experience for pupils who have a range of educational difficulties.
In 2015 the Academy was awarded a Basic Skills Quality Mark which set in place a number of action plans. One of these plans was to focus on reading for the 400 pupils at the school, particularly reading for enjoyment. Senior managers, led by Julie Neil, Head of Science, looked at their reading offer, including Ofsted’s suggestions that the provision on offer was not conducive to a positive reading culture for the pupils.
“We looked at what our pupils were getting from the current library and realised we had some work to do! The book stock itself was all wrong. The books were too ‘highbrow’ with high impact words and not at all accessible for our children. This was our starting point. We then looked at the environment itself and watched how pupils were using the library. We could see they were uninspired. The awe and wonder was completely missing.”
BookSpace created designs for two spaces; a reading for pleasure space and one a little further down the corridor which would be used for reading scheme books and story sacks. “We were really keen to not replace like for like. This was a really big thing for us as a school and you only do this once so we wanted to push the boundaries and explore what ideas were out there. When Jane visited from BookSpace she suggested using soft seating and secret reading spaces in the main library which was exactly what we needed. For many of our children, particularly those with conditions such as autism, having a safe quiet space to retreat to is exactly what they need.” Lots of tactile elements were included in the plans. Wall trees with beads and mirrors, an audio book station and a tree canopy suspended from the ceiling all provided stimulation for pupils who are wheelchair bound and spend a lot of time looking up at the ceiling.
How BookSpace helped
BookSpace designer, Jonathan was really excited to work on this project. “It was a chance to explore new ideas and have a play whilst still staying true to the BookSpace ethos of making the books king”, says Jonathan. “At the end of the day, we’re all about making the books look great and designing a space that makes children want to dive in and start exploring all those fantastic books. I decided to give the school three options, two using our classic design and one using our woodland theme. This allowed me to drop in woodland themed wall stickers, one of our Book Trees, a tree canopy and little Toadstool seats.”
“We absolutely LOVED the designs from BookSpace when we saw them. They were what we wanted and more!” says Julie. “We especially loved the woodland theme. The nooks and crannies, the fact that all the books were displayed face-out, the tactile beads, the colours, the magnetic board. It was all amazing. We did change one thing from the original plan because we needed ‘flat’ trees against the wall in the corridor with no books on – just beads and mirrors. We felt that having the books in the corridor would be too much of a distraction for our pupils and cause a few issues. BookSpace quickly adapted the design, sending back a revised version within a couple of days. They were really easy to work with”.
The larger space is designed to make it as easy as possible for children to not only see the books but to reach them independently too. As many pupils are in wheelchairs the bookshelves have been kept at a lower height. Face-out shelving has been used throughout to ensure that pupils can easily pick up a book. The space was essentially two corridors and a space in the middle where they met. By using the mid-floor area for some book display it now looks less like a corridor and more like a library but still retains enough access for pupils and teachers to move through the space. The smaller space has been designed with a small study table in the middle for guided reading sessions and shelving has been used to provide some privacy. Storage hooks have been used across one wall for story sacks to be displayed. Both spaces are coordinated in terms of colour and small wooden woodland animals are displayed on the walls in both spaces to continue the woodland theme throughout.
The two library spaces were installed just after February half term in just one day. The next day they received a phonecall to say that Ofsted would be visiting!
The libraries have been well received by everyone including the Lord Mayor of Birmingham who visited recently. “Our pupils just love it” says Julie. “We haven’t time-tabled classes to use the library and it seems to be working really well. Teachers know that it is a new resource and are using it as and when they feel their pupils need it. Generally small groups of 3 or 4 children are coming down at a time which is great as it gives each child enough time to explore and find what they need. They especially love the quiet zones like the Picturebook Tunnel and the Hideyhole and of course the interactive TV with the headphones is real hit. Teachers are using the space a lot for their PSHE sessions which works really well. They can cover topics like sharing and respect in terms of respecting the new furniture. We can’t thank BookSpace enough for the beautiful library. Ofsted loved it and so did the Lord Mayor of Birmingham I get so emotional when we watch the children enjoy the space. It is magical.”