The top 10 education books of 2018

As chosen by Tes editor, Ann Mroz, in no particular order
31st December 2018, 11:03am


The top 10 education books of 2018

Learning How to Learn: how to succeed in school without spending all your time studying; a guide for kids and teens

Authors: Barbara Oakley, Terrence Sejnowski with Alistair McConville

Publisher: Tarcherperigee

Details: 240pp, £13.99

ISBN: 9780143132547

Learning How to Learn is written for children and gives a very accessible account of how our brains actually learn, accompanied by practical activities that you can put into action straight away.

As well as rescuing the idea of "learning how to learn", this book is a landmark in another way. As far as I know, it is the first attempt to explain some of the latest research in cognitive psychology to children and not just teachers.

This is a particularly valuable task because so many traditional teacher injunctions can seem like they have no purpose other than to make children's lives a misery. This book explains in a pupil-friendly way why things such as practice and drill really do matter, and how in the long term they will make your life easier and save you the misery of late-night cramming and exam anxiety.

Read the full review here.

Daisy Christodoulou is director of education at No More Marking and the author of Making Good Progress? and Seven Myths About Education. She tweets @daisychristo


The Teacher Gap

Authors: Rebecca Allen and Sam Sims

Publisher: Routledge

Details: 166pp, £14.99

ISBN: 9781138730892

The Teacher Gap is such an exciting book. I read it as a fellow writer, as someone with a professional doctorate, but primarily as a teacher and middle leader. I read it with shouts of triumphant recognition (empirical evidence that "trust" is the key) and with lightbulb moments (it was because of the lack of a "shoulder to cry on" that I struggled in my first placement). There were also moments of prolonged reflection (the mismatch between the support leaders believe they offer new teachers and the support new teachers believe they receive has given me pause for thought as a mentor).

There is a sense of meaningful and valuable collaboration between school leaders, policymakers and the authors. This book, and the treasure trove of research materials and references within it, offers some serious clout.

Read the review in full here.

Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching. She tweets @thosethatcan

The Tyranny of Metrics

Author: Jerry Muller

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Details: 240pp, £20

ISBN: 9780691174952

The book makes a compelling case for why we should place less faith in metrics when it comes to measuring performance at a teacher and school level. However, I feel that the author puts too much faith in human judgement as an alternative. While metrics are evidently flawed, we know that human judgement is also subject to all sorts of limitations and inherent bias.

Shortly after I agreed to review this title, Ofsted's chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, gave a speech explaining how she had recently read the book and how it was influencing her own thinking. Having now had the chance to read it myself, I think we should take this as a positive sign. My hope is that others involved in school accountability, including politicians, have the chance to consider its core message.

Read the full review here.

James Bowen is director of the NAHT Edge middle leaders' union and a former head of an "outstanding" primary. He tweets @JamesJkbowen

Inventing Ourselves: the secret life of the teenage brain

Author: Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Publisher: Doubleday

Details: 256pp, £20

ISBN: 9780857523709

This book surveys a field both broader and narrower than Sarah-Jayne Blakemore's earlier volume, The Learning Brain, co-authored with Uta Frith. It deals with brain development as a whole, but it focuses on adolescence as a crucial stage in defining who we are.

Inventing Ourselves is a timely book. Blakemore points out that we sometimes put too much trust in scientific studies, which, after all, produce findings not facts, and suggests that whatever we read about neuroscience "should be swallowed with a substantial swig of scepticism". Sarah-Jayne Blakemore nails some neuro-myths and calls out the snake-oil salesmen, but warns against throwing the neuroscience baby out with the "brain baloney" bathwater.

Read the full review here.

Kevin Stannard is the director of innovation and learning at the Girls' Day School Trust.

Natural Born Learners

Author: Alex Beard

Publisher: Orion

Details: 352pp, £19

ISBN: 9781474604710

Beard's onion-peeling methodology proves compelling and, ultimately, liberating. Instead of the old polarised narrative of "this system good; this system bad", Beard serves up an educational manifesto that draws together the best elements of what he sees - true lifelong learning, early years prioritisation, knowledge plus creativity, judicious use of classroom technology and, most powerfully, a call to arms on why being a teacher in the 21st century is about to become the greatest, most important job on the planet.

If that sounds rhetorically grandiose, then you've got the flavour of the book. Natural Born Learners is audacious, sassy, unafraid of big questions about what our children deserve and what our culture needs from education. It's a book that's bold and exuberant.

Read the full review here.

Geoff Barton is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are

Author: Robert Plomin

Publisher: Allen Lane

Details: 288pp, £20

ISBN: 9780241282076

Plomin warns us in his introduction that "my goal is to tell the truth as I see it, without pulling punches for the sake of perceived political correctness". Well, he's certainly done that.

If anyone is going to write a book that challenges deeply held beliefs about who we are, it is Plomin: a psychologist with 45 years' experience in research, but with an undimmed passion for his subject.

For Plomin, schools do matter "in that they teach basic skills such as literacy and numeracy", as well as science, history and other subjects. But in terms of academic outcomes, their impact should not be overestimated.

If, as he claims, inherited DNA differences account for more than half of the differences between children in their school, then it is here where relative success or failure can be found.

Read the full review here.

David James is deputy head (academic), Bryanston School. He tweets @drdavidajames

How to Survive in Teaching: without imploding, exploding or walking away

Author: Emma Kell

Publisher: Bloomsbury Education

Details: 176pp, £18.99

ISBN: 9781472941688

I wish I'd had How to Survive in Teaching on my bedside table when I was considering leaving both my school and the profession in 2015. Emma Kell presents a digestible summary of how it's been, how it is and how we can all survive this thing called "teaching".

Kell doesn't pull any punches when it comes to what she believes is happening and should be happening in England's schools. With 20 years' experience in various inner-city schools, her acute understanding of what's happening on the ground is obvious throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Kell uses her experience to offer hard-hitting advice, commentary and analysis. I'll be dipping into it regularly as a middle leader and recommending it to anyone considering venturing into this most noble profession.

Read the full review here.

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs and tweets @RogersHistory

Responsive Teaching: Cognitive Science and Formative Assessment in Practice

Author: Harry Fletcher-Wood

Publisher: Routledge

Details: 168pp, £16.99

ISBN: 9781138296893

The middle of exam marking season may not be the best time to challenge how you think and feel about assessment, but this was the task set to me in my reading of Responsive Teaching.

Although thoughts of September lessons may be far from your mind, Dylan Wiliam and Doug Lemov offer cover support for this text, urging you to embrace this practical guide and end some of the inefficient and futile practices commonly called "formative assessment".

Primarily a blend of teacher-friendly practical advice and cognitive theory, this book is clearly targeted for wide consumption and hopes to revolutionise teaching in this time of heavy workload and rising pressures for students to "progress".

Read the full review here.

Sam Draper has been head of English in three inner-city London schools and has been teaching for 15 years

Creating the Schools Our Children Need

Author: Dylan Wiliam

Publisher: Learning Sciences International

Details: 216pp, £25.50

ISBN: 9781943920334

It's clear from the rich, practical wisdom of Creating the Schools Our Children Need that Wiliam has seen a vast number of schools since starting his career as a maths teacher in west London in the early 1980s. The result is a book brimming with guidance on fundamental educational challenges, such as the optimal size of schools: "It is true that the highest test scores are more often found in small high schools. But so are the lowest test scores. In fact, there is a slight tendency for larger schools to be more effective than smaller schools, because, with more teachers of each subject, teachers can specialise."

Wiliam's vision of schools - where all pupils follow a challenging, content-rich curriculum, and all teachers are given time and support to hone their craft - is a compelling one. But it would transform our education system only if we also recognised the need for impeccable classroom behaviour, as well as positive routines and rituals that normalised the hard work and self-motivation of our students.

Read the review in full here.

Dame Sally Coates is director of education at United Learning

Closing the Vocabulary Gap

Author: Alex Quigley

Publisher: Routledge

Details: 216 pp, £16.99

ISBN: 9781138080683

How can we promote social mobility? As Alex Quigley states in his book, this is a very big problem. His answer is to tackle something that is closely related, but more manageable: the vocabulary gap.

The book is essential reading for any teacher hoping to raise levels of vocabulary, reading and writing. However, it will particularly benefit teachers in key stage 2 and beyond who tell me that they lack the knowledge and resources they need to support vocabulary, reading and writing in their pupils. What particularly struck me, though, is how useful this book is for researchers like myself who are committed to raising language and literacy standards in school. Crossing the boundaries between educational research and teaching practice can be challenging, but is essential if we are to work together to find optimal ways to support pupils.

Read the review in full here.

Dr Jessie Ricketts is a senior lecturer specialising in language and reading acquisition at Royal Holloway, University of London

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