Book of the week: nothing like a tall Dane

18th May 2001 at 01:00

Self-Evaluation in European Schools: a story of change
By John MacBeath, with Michael Schratz, Denis Meuret and Lars Jakobsen
RoutledgeFalmer pound;15.99
TES price pound;14.99 plus 99p pamp;p per order. Order direct on 020 8324 5119

"'Do you know what the longest distance in the world is?', asked the British professor. He answered his own rhetorical question: 'The longest distance in the world is between a state curriculum policy and what goes on in a child's mind.' Serena realised that what was going on in her mind was something that the three professors would never know. Her attention had been caught by the tall Dane who had entered the bar and seemed to be observing them... the professorial exchange had faded to a background buzz."

Is this a prelude to a sexy scene from Robertson Davies's The Rebel Angels , or David Lodge's latest work, Thinks? No, it is from the unromantically named Self-Evaluation in European Schools , based on research involving pupils, teachers, parents and academics from 101 schools in 18 countries.

This is an enthralling account, in two parts, of the success that comes when key players get caught up in "making school improvement happen".

Part one is a novel that takes us on a tantalising and compelling journey of discovery as seen through the eyes of Serena; her teacher Tom Ericson; headteacher Mrs Barrie; and the school's critical friend, Ursula.

The message is clear -nbsp; self-evaluation is at its best when all the stakeholders have a voice in school improvement.

Part two provides one of the best self-evaluation toolkits on the market. Central to the kit is the self-evaluation profile (SEP) which arises naturally from the development work across schools. It covers the things that matter to pupils, teachers and parents, and its strength lies in its simplicity - just 12 areas of school life that can be used to open discussion about its quality and effectiveness: academic achievements, time as a resource for learning, school as a learning place, and so on.

The authors share a step-by-step approach, stripped of mystique and jargon, for debating which of the 12 areas are the most relevant for evaluation in the situation of an individual school.

Archie McGlynn is head of McGlynn-Ross Education Consultants and a director of the International Network for Educational Improvement. He was HM Chief Inspector of Schools (Scotland) from 1987-2000 .

A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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