Book of the week: For all real teachers out there

What's it all about?
By Jill Clough, Irene Dalton and Bernard Trafford
Secondary Heads Association pound;10.
Order on www.sha.org.uk

This fascinating, reassuringly short volume of reflection is the product of "a strong professional friendship". It's likely to achieve its aim, not only of being read "before September" - there's still time, just - but of giving joy to its readers.

"We offer it in support of those who are thinking in isolation and feel threatened by the current climate," say the authors.

"We hope that those who read it may find the confidence, amid the bustle and the pressure, to stop and ask themselves what it's all about and whether they are doing something simply because "it is expected" or because it is right for "the learners in their care".

What carefully chosen words - and what a call to creative thinking and feeling, to "moral" reflection on the needs of `the learners in our care'.

Jill Clough is well-known for her courageous change of post. Three years ago she left selective all-girls Wimbledon high school to take on East Brighton College of Media Arts, a school about which she quotes a telling statistic.

"The area from which my pupils come represents about 3 per cent of the city; and 71 per cent of the Child Protection Register."

Irene Dalton edits the Secondary Heads Association house magazine, Headlines, as well as being head of Wombwell high school, Barnsley, in "a traditional pit community". Bernard Trafford is head of Wolverhampton grammar school and equal opportunities officer of the SHA.

They are writing for "all readers who teach or have taught". They have no time for "irrelevant and almost anti-learning strategies, dictated by non-teachers".

Dalton writes tellingly about the time consumed by bidding for "funny money", and Trafford is intensely critical of politicians' "obsession with `standards' and the `short-term political future'" - "just too much pushing and far too little readiness to pause and consider what we are really trying to achieve, and why".

But this book is more than a sharply-worded critique of central government policy. These three heads are committed to a view of education that should hearten every teacher, and rouse into serious self-criticism every DfES official and minister.

They believe students are "what it is all about". They want to ask learners "what do you need?" and to build institutions with democratic structures where students are empowered to find a point and purpose in what education has to offer.

Hilary Belden is co-ordinator of the Ealing North West Partnership EAZ and former head of Glenthorne high school, London Borough of Sutton. To read this article in full, see this week's edition of the TES.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

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