A step forward from received wisdom

6th December 2002 at 00:00
SCHOOLING THE RUSTBELT KIDS. By Pat Thomson. Trentham Books pound;15.99.

STRATEGIES TO PROMOTE INCLUSIVE PRACTICE. Edited by Christina Tilstone and Richard Rose. RoutledgeFalmer pound;18.99.

DEVELOPING INCLUSIVE SCHOOLING. Edited by Carol Campbell. Bedford Way Papers pound;15.99; order on 020 7612 6050.

If a film producer were to go into any disadvantaged school in the post-industrial city on any day, says Pat Thomson, the footage would show happy children working hard. However, the cutting room floor would be littered with clips showing vexed, acrimonious, sad relationships between teachers and students.

This thought experiment, or "writerly device", as Thomson phrases it, is a clever one, bringing into focus the difference between the rhetoric and the reality of school life. It is characteristic of the stance taken in this intelligently written book, highlighting the way that received wisdoms are used to "explain" children's difficulties. Using devices such as the imaginary film-maker, combined with long quotations from senior staff in "rustbelt" schools, Thomson manages to question some of the narratives of failure in these schools.

Take, for example, what one deputy head says about discipline: "What I deal with most isn't discipline, even though that's how it's usually presented to me; it's family stuff." The analysis rejects the simplistic explanations of failure - of schools or children - often presented by politicians, and moves beyond to the lives of the individuals and the communities in which they live. Central to all of this is the reciprocity involved in the health of the school and the community. Even though the backdrop to this challenging book is Australian, its lessons are universal.

Titles beginning with Strategies toI can invoke sleeping sickness. But Christina Tilstone and Richard Rose have produced a lively, engaging and useful book. They bring together a range of contributors to examine ways in which the move to inclusion can be enhanced. In a thoughtful introduction, Rose examines questions and dilemmas in the field, intelligently, drawing on observations from philosophers as much as from educators.

This opening discussion airs the complex and heated arguments often heard about inclusive education and provides an excellent platform for the remainder of the book, which is divided into three sections, examining diversity, curriculum and "the wider context".

The first section addresses some important contemporary themes, including gender, race and cultural diversity as well as multi-agency work. The middle section examines core curricular areas - maths and literacy - in two chapters that focus on the challenges raised by thinking around differentiation. The final section examines the early years, the 16 to 19 phase, the role of LEAs, psychologists and professional development. This is a thoroughly useful book, well compiled and edited, with helpful summaries at the beginning of each chapter.

Developing Inclusive Schooling significantly takes forward understandings about inclusion. Carol Campbell's own introductory chapters and Ingrid Lunt's subsequent chapter provide an unrivalled examination of the meaning of inclusion. It is discussed not just as a topic in education but as a social movement with varied elements and complexions. Social exclusion is discussed alongside resourcing, values, rights and choice.

Other chapters deal with gender and ethnicity and there are important contributions on parental involvement and school effectiveness, and it is good to see a chapter given to inter-agency collaboration as a means to socially inclusive schooling and an extended discussion of international developments.

In a world where discrimination and segregation are increasingly untenable, all these books help in the process of moving toward a more inclusive education system.

Gary Thomas is professor of education at Oxford Brookes university

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