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It's all in the preparation

Preparing to Teach in Secondary Schools

Edited by Val Brooks, Ian Abbott and Liz Bills

Open University Press pound;22.99

This title is primarily a handbook for PGCE students. Reflecting what the course now involves, it is awesomely comprehensive. Nineteen authors contribute to it, most of them currently or recently based at Warwick University's highly rated institute of education. Collectively, they cover all the standards that newly qualified secondary teachers have tomeet, except those relating to subject specialisms.

The approach is sensibly thematic. There is a relatively short introduction about the nature of teaching ("a complex, dynamic activity") and the professional values and practice that shape it. Then there is a section that examines core professional competences in a learning-centred classroom context: planning, differentiation, assessment, communication, resources, control.

The central section deals with the secondary curriculum. Editorially, this presents a rather greater challenge as the secondary curriculum is a rapidly moving target. This is where citizenship comes in, of course, and spiritual, cultural and moral development - now abbreviated to SMCD, according to the book's long and helpful list of acronyms. Both these topics are carefully, even cautiously, handled, but there is a good deal here that will be helpful to teachers still unsure of what is expected.

The contributions on key stage 3, and on the associated primary strategies, are very useful - partly because the authors are on much firmer ground. It is not just teachers of English and maths who will want to refer to these chapters. There is a real sense here of how good teaching can bring lessons and learning to life.

The final section is important, too, as it carries the explicit message that nothing in education is as straightforward as government policies (not to mention initial teacher training coursework and QTS standards) might make one think.

The section is called "Making Schooling Work for All: Aspects of the Inclusion Agenda". It deals with special educational needs, schooling and ethnicity, and schooling and gender, as well as with pastoral care and PHSE. More even than the early sections, it is designed to make students think about the gaps and inconsistencies in current policies and practice.

What about, for example, the sort of exclusion that stems from poverty and deprivation? That, perhaps, is why the final chapter is on the Excellence in Cities initiative: not so much an appendix, perhaps, as a gentle reminder that class, like ethnicity and gender, remains a significant factor in educational performance.

The chapters are clear and make good use of case studies and scenarios.

Inevitably, and properly, they draw heavily on recent research. There are realistic suggestions for further reading and there is a helpful webliography.

Considering the amount of policy-speak that the authors have to use, there is refreshingly little jargon, but there are perhaps too many references: even the most obvious truism ("a sound knowledge of your subjects is needed") tends to be carefully attributed.

This is not a book to be read straight through, nor one that experienced teachers will need to keep beside them. For PGCE students, though, it offers a properly challenging analysis of the current policy agenda and it will prove an invaluable point of reference as they work their way through a full and very demanding year. It will be a real source of reassurance as well, during that equally demanding first appointment - a chance to skip the theory and bone up on the practical applications.

Not, of course, that the two are mutually self-exclusive. The chapter on positive approaches to pupil behaviour (one to which many young teachers will certainly turn) is a good example. Theory informs practice: if you know why children misbehave, you are half way to knowing how to respond. So keep this book handy for a while. In a year or two, you'll hardly need to use it.

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