In brief

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Classmates series Assemblies Made Easy By Victoria Kidwell

Creating Positive Classrooms By Mike Ollerton Continuum pound;4.99 each

I have previously given Continuum's Classmates a thumbs-up. Classroom practitioners need books that are quick to read, practical and relevant.

These latest titles show the strengths and weaknesses of this growing pocket-sized series.

Assemblies Made Easy is a disappointment. The jaunty style quickly grates, and the title promises far more than it delivers. At its heart is a rather mundane collection of assembly ideas (a typical piece of advice is to overcome your nerves by humming a trite song. Something from the Nolan Sisters is recommended). The suggested assemblies are fine, but don't challenge the author's premise that assemblies borrowed from other people "never really work as well as those that are homemade".

Many of us may have reservations about daily acts of worship and the challenge of moral and spiritual provision, but most would welcome something more substantial than what is on offer here.

Mike Ollerton's Creating Positive Classrooms is far more reflective. First, he considers how teachers can create a positive ethos to enhance students'

learning, taking in such issues as body language, how we greet students and classroom appearance. More profoundly, he looks at how far we involve students in their own learning. All of this is interesting and relevant, if unexceptional.

The second half of the book, in which Ollerton examines "key issues", is where he becomes provocative and entertaining. He questions current practices such as detentions, reward systems and sanctions for smoking. He challenges many of the prevailing assumptions that such things work or should be part of the fabric of school life. Underpinning all is the idea that students must take more responsibility for their own actions.

Conscious of leadership adviser John West-Burnham's recognition that schools are too often places where pupils come to watch the teachers working, I welcome Mike Ollerton's divergent thinking. Of course, it's easier to be divergent about school systems when you are a senior lecturer at a higher education college. But - such reservations aside - the book pulls off the clever trick of developing our thinking in an engaging, accessible style. That's not bad for less than a fiver.

GEOFF BARTON Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Suffolk

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