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Teaching the classroom apprentices

MENTORING AND DEVELOPING PRACTICE IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS by Anne Edwards and Jill Collison OU Press; Pounds 12.99 (pb), Pounds 40 (hb)

Mentor's guidance helped Telemachus, a somewhat diffident son, to become resolute and well capable of defending Odysseus's household.

Today's primary mentors face a similar challenge: teaching a class of 35 children; curriculum leadership; parents, Chris Woodhead and an unsympathetic government to satisfy; little non-contact time. It would be no surprise if teachers were reluctant to mentor. And yet they do. Children are the first priority. But the system which produces the teachers of tomorrow must also be maintained.

So, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of overwork and duty, many teachers strive to help students in their turn become teachers. It is the old apprenticeship system, based on the realisation that people learn best at the workplace, alongside the master craftsman.

The authors have researched thoroughly. Anne Edwards is professor in primary education at the University of Leeds. Jill Collison is a former primary teacher and now senior lecturer in primary education at the University College of St. Martin, Lancaster.

Business mentoring can simply be showing a newcomer the ropes. School mentors guide students to become teachers. These students have both their own learning and the demands of a strange institution, and they require a framework of teaching, learning and mentoring. Mentoring involves listening, modelling, analysing, discussing, observing, negotiating, supporting, criticising and action related to learning goals.

The book provides this framework. It recognises that mentoring asks the teacher to be willing to learn, to debate, and to theorise and not reflect on his or her own practice. It demonstrates the benefits of an effective training partnership for students, teachers, schools and universities alike.

This is an honest and helpful book. The demanding nature of mentoring is not hidden. Nor are the benefits. It contains a wealth of sound theory and practical advice for school mentors and tutors in higher education institutions.

The writer is headteacher of Westdene Primary School, Brighton.

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