During the past few years, government interventions, the tightening of school management, and stiffer inspections have improved primary schools no end. If you believe that, then do not read this insightful analysis of primary schools' response to recent changes, as it will upset you.
Peter Woods and his co-authors begin by tracing the development of what they call the "contradictory processes of decentralisation and centralisation" since the 1988 Education Act. Citing a range of analysts, they describe the "reculturing" of education through the introduction of market principles.
Much of the book describes interviews with teachers and heads in primary schools, as their schools become restructured. Managerial demands sap time and energy, as one teacher describes: "You spend so much time in bloody planning, it's a lot of effort before you actually start."
Several interviewees express concern about teaching becoming deprofessionalised. One longs for the in-service courses she used to attend: "I came back afterwards and I was so bursting with ideas. I really felt refreshed and in charge of it all. Now I haven't been on a course for three years."
There is an interesting section on headteachers as business managers. Some aspects are valued, revealing the real cost of heating, lighting, photocopying, but others are confusing.
The chapter "The catharsis of inspection" is critical of the manner of inspection. Even a head who received a favourable report, confirming her as an effective professional, is unhappy at the unemotional presentation to the governors: "flat and deadpan. He just delivered it as if the school was closing! " The ending of the book is a little abrupt after a thorough analysis, but in it the authors plead for humane empowerment of teachers. Their reservations about the profession becoming technicians, managed closely by superiors and inspectors, will be shared by many of the book's teacher readers.
Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University