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Education books

The title "deputy head" often comes with adjectives attached - "indispensable" is one, "long-suffering" is another. Susan Tranter, who is one, knows this well. In Diary of a Deputy (RoutledgeFalmer pound;12.99), she writes: "Being a deputy head is not only about strategic leadership. It is about the person who stays till the end at parents' evening."

Tranter's book succeeds in being both reflective and highly practical. Each chapter starts with a diary entry that lets us into the writer's thoughts as she moves from subject leadership through her first year in senior management. After each entry, she goes on to discuss and advise on the school issues and events that arise.

The first chapter lets us into the thoughts and plans of the aspiring deputy - the person planning what Tranter knows to be a big leap. "In a very real sense the job of deputy headteacher is extremely far removed from the task of teaching classes, leading a subject team or managing the welfare of a student group."

From there we are led on a journey through a host of issues - the interview, settling down, recruiting staff, teamwork, time management and leading strategic change.

It's a highly personal, but totally professional account - the best possible handbook for any ambitious teacher.

One piece of Tranter's advice is particularly worth repeating. "Most deputy headteachers will at some time have the responsibility for ensuring the quality of their school's teaching and learning. It is important, therefore, to be an excellent teacher yourself."

One of the issues that Tranter deals with is relationships with parents. She describes, for example, how the atmosphere at a parents' evening was transformed by a simple rearrangement of the room.

The lack of that kind of insight into the parental experience of school has always been a barrier to real partnership. In Working with Parents (Heinemann pound;19.99), Monica Shah also mentions parents' evenings and "a daunting atmosphere that evokes their memories of being a new pupil themselves 30 years ago".

The apprehension, she points out, works both ways. She gives the example of a parent who phones a subject teacher about her son's work, only to be given a brief, "there is really nothing to worry about" reply. "The subject teacher," the author writes, "may have felt alarmed as parents rarely telephone subject teachers."

Shah covers the subject in considerable depth, with many case studies, in chapters on transition, telephone contacts, homework, one-to-one discussions and home visits. She calls for an imaginative approach by school leaders, based on understanding of the local community - what she calls "collective wisdom rather than received wisdom".

The world, as we know, is a troubled place. In Sustainable Education: re-visioning learning and change (Schumacher Briefing 6, Green Books pound;5, to order telephone 01803 863260), author Stephen Sterling sets out the future in a relentless list of trends - "globalisation, telecommunication, technological change, economic and cultural homogenisation, interdependence and dependence, complexity, uncertainty, inequity and debt."

Education, he says, is failing either to acknowledge these pressures or to help young people understand and deal with them. There are two crises, he suggests - "a crisis of education, its limited present ability to contribute to a better world", and "a crisis in education, its limited ability to assert humanistic and democratic values in the face of quasi-market and managerialist forces".

The title of W Roy Niblett's memoir, Life, Education, Discovery (Pomegranate Books pound;8.95), sits comfortably next to that message. Indeed, he writes in one of his essays, "The Status Quo is not an Option":

"Living well takes more than knowledge and skills. It involves, too, feeling, insight, understanding other people, sympathy, a sense of beauty."

Professor Niblett was born in 1906. His memoir has fascinating stories of a Bristol childhood (at a time when you could post a letter in the morning and get a reply by the evening delivery the same day) before it moves into his distinguished academic career. He has been an educator - a teacher in every sense - for far longer than most educational experts have been alive. We would do well to take notice of him.


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