In brief

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Education Studies: a student's guide

Edited by Stephen Ward

RoutledgeFalmer pound;17.99

Education studies ought to be a booming business. After all, there are thousands of students training to be primary and secondary teachers, and numerous undergraduate courses, often in social science faculties, teach a degree in education that does not carry qualified teacher status.

Yet the subject was vilified in the 1990s by politicians eager to assert that teachers didn't need any of this background knowledge. Fortunately the same beliefs were not uttered about medicine. Imagine a surgeon marching towards you with a scalpel, saying: "I don't know much about your innards, but I'm quite handy with a knife."

This collection of 18 essays on aspects of education, written by staff of Bath Spa University, covers three important areas: global and international perspectives; teaching, educational settings and policy; and knowledge, learning and the curriculum.

The bias is probably more towards social and political issues than psychological aspects, but each author has clearly been pressed into making his or her chapter interesting, so I doubt that trainee teachers and students of education will find the book boring or irrelevant. On the whole, the texts are appropriate for the intended audience, only the occasional piece seeming to be aimed more at the dim student than the smart one.

Some of the most interesting chapters deal with international issues.

Matters such as the environment, human rights and cultural diversity are of concern throughout the world. Teachers increasingly need to be aware of the universality of such concerns, which require a broad perspective based on knowledge, not hearsay or prejudice.

The middle section of the book covers a range of topics, from early years education to special needs, gender, and radical alternatives to orthodoxy.

Most beginners like to think they are radical and will reform the world, but often, within quite a short time, become socialised into the ways of the time.

Christine Eden's chapter on gender and achievement will be particularly helpful. It addresses not only the relative underachievement of boys, a major issue as the gap between them and girls increases, but also looks at what work is needed to help girls. For example, gender stereotyping is still an issue, when A-level subjects such as maths, physics and computing are being taken by three or four times more boys than girls.

The third section, on learning and the curriculum, tackles specific subjects: maths, science, language, arts and humanities. I would have welcomed more on the issues of teaching and learning in the classroom, because matters such as styles, strategies and classroom exchanges are of particular interest to students, who want to savour the climate of the classroom. It would have been useful to have a few transcripts from lessons to illustrate what can easily be seen as abstract ideas.

I have just two small reservations about what is a handy collection for students. One is that a critical edge is sometimes missing. If the next generation of teachers does not challenge orthodoxy, who will? Every primary maths lesson nowadays is constructed in three parts. Why? There is no evidence for such uniformity, reminiscent as it is of the 19th-century "normal school", when all trainees were expected to teach the same way as their elders.

The other is that it might have been better to have 12 longer chapters rather than 18 short ones, so these big issues could be dealt with thoroughly. But this is picky. As a first read on such a variety of important topics, the book makes a useful starting point and offers plenty of pointers for further study.

Ted Wragg is emeritus professor of education at Exeter University

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