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Education books

You think children have a good deal now, in the enlightened Western world? How about this, then, from a paper by Sally Jenkinson in The Future of Childhood, which she has co-edited with Christopher Clouder and Martin Large (Hawthorn Press pound;9.99).

"Evidence from the USA suggests that powerful psychotropic drugs are routinely administered to children as young as two - without diagnosis and in the absence of medical symptoms - in order to control their behaviour."

The Future of Childhood is a collection of papers presented to the 2000 Conference of the Alliance for Childhood. Taken as a whole it's a powerful argument for rethinking the way our education system deals with children. Contributor Mary Jane Drummond sums up the approach when she urges those who educate young children to "concentrate on children's strengths rather than their weaknesses, their capabilities rather than their incapacities, on their considerable intellectual and emotional powers, as we know them from generations of research and enquiry".

These words find an echo in another paper, this time by Cathy Nutbrown writing in Understanding Learning: influences and outcomes edited by Janet Collins and Deirdre Cook (Paul Chapman pound;45, pbk pound;15.99). "There is so much to learn in the early years," she writes, "and learning is so complex, that perhaps it would be true to say that only young children are capable of it. Such a capacity for uninterrupted, unthwartable, multidisciplinary learning deserves enormous respect from adults."

Another chapter, "I'll be a Nothing" by Diane Reay and Dylan Wiliam, has some revealing comments by children on SATs. The title is a direct quote from Hannah, a lively Year 6 pupil who is afraid that she will do badly in the tests and, as a result, predicts she will "be a nothing".

When my grandchildren were small, my daughter had to show some deterination in fighting off the well-meaning advice of professionals who wanted her to impose an adult-oriented sleep routine on them. As an antidote to this style of child care, Without Boundaries by Jan Fortune-Wood (Educational Heretics Press pound;9.95) is persuasively argued. Well-meaning liberalism, the book argues, is not enough, because when the negotiation is ended, the parent or carer still makes the decision.

Even worse, the author believes, is the notion of "loving discipline", which she clearly believes to be a contradiction in terms. She argues for the principle of building a consensual partnership with the child. She uses the term "taking children seriously" a great deal, which is important, because it heads off any notion that she's arguing for letting children run wild. Indeed, she points out that laissez-faire childcare does not take children seriously.

One way of taking children seriously in school is through the use of nurture groups: small groups in which children are given warm and careful attention.

Nurture groups were successfully used in London primaries in the Seventies, and the demise of the Inner London Education Authority probably helps explain why the approach has been little used since.

Then, against a background of increasing concern about disruptive behaviour, Effective Intervention in Primary Schools: nurture groups was published in 1996 to re-open the debate. The authors, Marion Bennathan and Marjorie Boxall, have long experience in the field; Marjorie Boxall ran nurture groups more than 30 years ago as an ILEA educational psychologist. Now a second edition (David Fulton pound;14), has a new chapter, "Nurture Groups in the New Century", that brings the issue right up to date. Primary practitioners worried about disruptive behaviour (show me one who isn't) will find practical advice here.

GERALD HAIGH

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