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Book of the week: Labour's record on education

Taking Education Really Seriously: four years hard Labour
Edited by Michael Fielding
Routledge Falmer pound;19.99
TES pound;18.99, 10 copies pound;185 (020 8324 5119)

Michael Fielding's book provides a riveting exploration of all aspects of New Labour's educational policies and practices. It explains paradox and pinpoints contradictions. For once in such a collection of separate contributions, the editor has managed to sustain a consistent theme and, with barely an exception, his contributors maintain high quality. It is at once scholarly, polemical in places, readable throughout and valuable to everyone who works in, or cares about, education.

Nor are there gaps. From Peter Moss's incisive and properly generous acknowledgement of the great strides made in the early years sector to Ann Limb's wholehearted support of the Government's higher education agenda, the coverage is thorough, comprehensive and incisive.
There are contributions from people at the heart of New Labour's great education enterprise, such as the zealous Michael Barber and the strangely muted David Hargreaves. There are critics, too, like Stephen Ball and John Elliott.

All are worth reading, including a surprisingly balanced contribution from the right-wing's own cheeky chappie, James Tooley.

New Labour, by continuing so many educational policies of its predecessors, has confused us all. The clearest critique comes in three chapters written by Fielding himself, Mike Davies, a gnarled practitioner (who, despite working on the shop floor of curriculum and testing experience in a variety of secondary school all his life, retains an Olympian perspective) and the Canadian Dean Fink, a passionate observer of many attempts at educational change.

Davies, Fielding and Fink are best at explaining the muddle. From Davies we learn that our curriculum and testing arrangements are misconceived and ill-suited to our present and future global and individual purposes and needs. Fielding reveals that we are adrift in a turbulent sea of confused philosophies and values - or, worse still, in the hands of a government which is unclear and contradictory about them.

Tim Brighouse is director of education for Birmingham City Council

A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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