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Off The Shelf

Those of us who were Open University students during its founding years wear the distinction with pride and affection. Do you remember that ingenious square plastic microscope that came with the Science Foundation Course? Did you know it was originally designed for work in remote places in Africa? And did you realise that in order to get enough earthworms for one experiment, the OU had to import them from Holland?

Les Pearce, laboratory manager in the Biology Department of the OU recalls these and other episodes in his contribution to Lifting it Off the Page, a collection of the memories of 24 OU staff (Open University #163;6 including postage, from Simon Newton, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keyns. MK7 6AA). Edited by Tim Dalgliesh, the book is an informal history that will interest and entertain anyone who has had contact with the OU over the years.

And while we are in "Did You Know?" city, perhaps I can ask, gentle reader, whether you are familiar with the way they operated for bladder stones in the 18th century? It was a procedure which had a 60 per cent mortality rate and was so dramatic that you could buy a ticket to go and watch. It all went something like this . . .

Or, on second thoughts, perhaps you would prefer to hear it played upon the viola da gamba, for believe it or not, the composer Marin Marais wrote a piece for that instrument which described his own experience under the knife. The sections are headed, "The decision to mount - in position - serious thoughts - tying the legs up to the arms - the incision - blood is flowing - here the stone is delivered - here the legs are released - here one is put back to bed."

This delicious and alarming information comes from Creativity and Disease,by Philip Sandblom (Marion Boyars #163;13.95). Dr Sandblom has made a life-long study of the effect which illness has on literature, art and music, and the story of Marais and his bladder stone is but one tale from this enlarged and revised edition.

Meetings of school governors, exciting though they may be are not, at least, watched by people who have bought tickets. If they were, then the audience might realise just how much time governors spent on working out what they were supposed to do next. Which is where Graham Bill's brief, up-to-date and inexpensive Governor's Guide to Special Educational needs in Mainstream Schools comes in. The book contains the information which many governors who were consulted said they wanted (#163;5 including postage, 10 per cent discount to members. NASEN Enterprises, 2 Lichfield Road, Stafford ST17 4JX).

A more broadly inclusive guide is The Blackwell Handbook of Education by Michael Farrell, Trevor Kerry and Carolle Kerry (Blackwell hardback #163;45, paperback #163;12.99). In A-Z format, this is a handy reference from which to remind yourself of what is, for example, Conductive Education, or a Steiner School, or a Newly Qualified Teacher. There is also a list of acronyms and abbreviations, and a directory of organisations.

Finally a book that will fill a need in a very large number of schools. For a range of reasons, whether justified or not, teachers tend to be particularly anxious about how Muslim pupils and families relate to school.In part this stems from a simple lack of knowledge, but there is also an assumption that Islam does not always sit easily alongside practices which have long been taken for granted in UK schools. Thus, at the practical level, secondary schools have had to come to terms with the fact that Muslim families, while accepting the benefits of physical exercise, disapprove of communal changing and showering. If Islam and its people are to enrich our schools, and if there is not to be misunderstanding and offence, then we need to be given information and to learn from the experience of schools which have found productive ways forward. This is why Children of Islam by Marie Parker-Jenkins (Trentham Books #163;12.95) is so welcome. Described as "A Teacher's Guide to meeting the needs of Muslim pupils," it is the result of years of research among Muslim and non-Muslim schools in this country.

* The Village School, mentioned in my last column, is available from Bryn Campbell, 11 Belsize Park Mews, London NW3 5BL (0171 435 4312).

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