Education books

Michael Duffy

Politicians and think-tank folk who wonder why education reforms go down badly in schools could do worse than read Modern Educational Myths (Kogan Page pound;19.99) - a sparkling collection of essays commissioned by a group of Derbyshire comprehensive schools that believed they had values and convictions worth sustaining. Their theme is "the future of democratic comprehensive education", their approach the demolition of the fallacies that underpin market-led managerialism.

All the usual suspects are here - Clyde Chitty and Caroline Benn on standards and structures, Maurice Kogan and Stephen Ball on control and regulation, Bob Moon and Michael Armstrong on tests and tables, Tim Brighouse on the huge potential of learning out of school, and editor-headteacher Bob O'Hagan on faith and vision. Excellent, even optimistic, reading for those who believe the comprehensive principle is not dead yet.

One of the book's concerns is that ever-increasing "accountability" is destroying personal and professional job satisfaction. Stress in Teachers past and Present (Whurr pound;19.50) presents sobering evidence that this is so. Editors Jack Dunham and Ved Varma have made something of a specialisation of teacher stress. Their tone is reasoned and persuasive. Even in the present target-ridden climate, as they show, individuals and schools can do much to minimise the destructive effects of constant and unrealistic pressure. Significantly, their final contribution is from a lawyer. Stress is now a health and safety issue: schools and teachers that have not dealt with it need this book.

The classroom, of course, has always been a stressful place - but most teachers, even experienced ones, could reduce the anxiety by learning to watch more carefully what happens in a teaching situation. Ted Wragg's An Introduction to Classroom Observation was a bestseller in 1994: an updated edition highlights the new criteria for initial training but leaves the essentials in place. What is the difference, Wragg asks, between the teacher set in a familiar routine and the teacher who feels always "the excitement of constantly finding new ways to help children learn"? Much of the answer is in these shrewd, wise and helpful pages.

But even the most skilful and observant teacher, working largely alone in a busy and often crowded classroom, will sometimes be confronted by a crisis of order. These are the events that top the stress league tables. Traditionally the pastoral care system has had to pick up the pieces. As many schools have found, such care has been at best patronisingly reactive, at worst negative and control-oriented. The challenge has been to devise a system that supports learners and learning rather than teachers and teaching.

Rethinking Pastoral Care (edited by Una M Collins and Jean McNiff, Routledge pound;15.99) charts this journey from an Irish perspective, in a context where the term itself was variously construed as "a back door for religious education" or "a front door for mere humanism". Teachers and researchers describe their schools' slow journey to change pupils' and teachers' perceptions and in the process, to solve the all-too-familiar problem of "the unteachable 2W". This account is down-to-earth, often funny and always convincing.

There is no such thing as an unteachable 2W, or indeed an unteachable pupil, in The Elements of Teaching by James M Banner and Harold C Cannon (le University Press pound;95). This is a slim volume, written "for all who would gladly learn that they might gladly teach" and for all who may need to be reminded that "teaching is a calling . . . one of life's noblest and most responsible activities". That doesn't lessen its interest, though.

The sentiments may be too high-flown, the anecdotes too reminiscent of Reader's Digest, but the message is spot-on. Undergraduates should be bribed to read it - the price, perhaps, of their testimonials to the City.

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Michael Duffy

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