by Brenda Ainsley
Being a part of the judging process for the UKLA Book Awards has been a source of massive enjoyment and professional enrichment for me. My first involvement was in 2011 as a teacher judge on a panel in Leicestershire. I was very fortunate to be invited: the quantity of reading was a challenge but it was fantastic to encounter some of the best new fiction aimed at 11-16 year-olds and meet regularly with other teachers to discuss the books. In 2014, I took part again, this time with the Nottinghamshire Group. Once more, I found it to be so worthwhile: when taking students to the library, I felt properly ‘clued up’ on what was new and interesting and could make recommendations with confidence. I had the copies in my own classroom: how fabulous to have bright, shiny, current books on my shelves for those students who had ‘forgotten’ to bring their own! Working with my Y9s and the librarian, I set up a reading group which meant I had feedback from young readers to take to our discussion meetings at the University of Nottingham.
In 2017, I was delighted to be asked to lead a group of teachers for the 2019 Awards. I know what a commitment being a teacher-judge is and I have been humbled by people’s readiness to participate when they are under so many other pressures. This year, colleagues at the Sir William Robertson Academy (SWRA) (amongst others) have found time and energy to rise to the challenge in ways I never imagined! Led by English teacher Jenny Mullowney, the school involved teachers, non-teaching staff, 6th formers, parents and students in the reading and selection process. Form tutors used a powerpoint presentation to talk about the long-listed titles with their tutor groups. Teachers, support-staff and non-teaching staff also wrote short reviews which were published online at http://www.swracademy.net/ukla-book-awards-2019-read-the-reviews/ so the wider community was also aware of what was happening.
On World Book Day, Jenny organised groups of students to talk to me about the titles they had read, what they enjoyed, and what hadn’t gone down so well. Their enjoyment of reading was palpable and they commented often on how they loved having access to new, topical books. They also really enjoyed having English teachers on hand to discuss the books with, as well as older students as role models and mentors. In the main, the students’ favourites closely mirrored the teachers’, and two students had read all of the books, which was very impressive. Also on World Book Day, the Literacy Lead teacher, Nicole Oldfield, organised extracts from Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise to be read in each lesson. By lunchtime, requests were being made in the library to borrow it. The English department has decided to invest in a class set of this text for Y8. I also talked about the titles to various members of staff including the receptionist, dining room staff and several teaching assistants. They had all enjoyed the experience, some reading something substantial for the first time in a while. In the entrance hall and the library, there are not only attractive displays of images of the books but also images of members of staff reading them… and these are not just the ‘usual suspects’.
Finally, Mark Guest, the Head Teacher, felt that involvement in the UKLA Awards was raising the profile of reading in the academy: students were clearly enjoying reading and were excited by the titles.
I have really enjoyed my involvement with the UKLA Awards and urge others to participate in the future. Sincere thanks go to the staff and students at the Lincolnshire schools which played such an important role in the judging process.