Education Books

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Amid the excitement and activity of target setting and school improvement, it is all too easy to slip away from the central truth that the targets will only be met if different, and better, things happen in the classroom.

That efforts to change things in schools tend to stop at the classroom door is a well-known fact which some commentators have attempted to explain in terms of a perverse liberal conspiracy. It has not, though, had much objective analysis, which is what makes The Rules of School Reform (Falmer Press pound;13.95) by Max Angus so interesting. What Angus - Australian teacher, education officer and then professor of education - came to realise was "that constant change amid enduring regularities was a permanent feature of the system". Education, he finds, is a mass of "rule systems", some official, some not, which "provide stability but also confine the extent of any change".

There is no shortage of examples - the way, for instance, that attempts to introduce a more investigative approach to science teaching in England and Wales led not to more experiments but to more worksheets. The way that, in another case, "the introduction of team meetings largely provided teachers with an opportunity to discuss routine matters rather than new ideas about teaching and learning". Neither is it easy to see what is to be done. Attempts to make regulatory changes to classroom practice may or may not work - "changing rules about teachers' work seldom seems to produce the intended changes in practice".

There is also, as we have seen in full measure in this country, the dilemma faced by governments which want to give schools freedom from bureaucracy but at the same time feel bound to control the curriculum and pedagogy.

Put together the words "school" and "sex" and you have an uncomfortable mix - as Debbie Epstein and Richard Johnston put it in Schooling Sexualities (Open University Press pound;15.99 paperback, pound;45 hardback) "Schooling stands rather on the 'public' side of the publicprivate divisions, while sexuality is definitely on the private side", they say.

And yet, of course, schools are very concerned with sexuality. Gender identities and attitudes are affected by schooling, and the schools themselves are affected by society's attitudes to sexuality. The book revisits some familiar stories - the Jane Brown case (the Hackney head who did not take her pupils to Romeo and Juliet allegedly because it was too heterosexual); the Conservative moral "back to basics" debate. There are much more subtle issues, too, particularly those dealing with pupil culture, teacher attitudes, teacher and pupil sexual identities and sex education. One heading - "I thought I was the only Asian lesbian in the world" - is a sample of the kind of thing the book tackles.

All of which is evidence that schools can be stressful places, which is why the parents of young children are usually concerned about the big step from home to nursery or reception. Irene Yates addresses many of the worries in Pre-school Learning for Parents (Piccadilly Press pound;6.99). Many, perhaps most, modern parents will know most of it already - about talking to baby, showing very early that books are enjoyable, dealing with the "terrible twos" - and, the cynic will say, the parents who need the advice are unlikely to see it. That, though, may be an argument for primary heads keeping the book handy for the many occasions when they find themselves acting as general advisers on parenting.

School's Out by Jean Bendell was first published in 1987. It is the author's account of how she educated her two daughters at home. Reprinted under the imprint of Education Otherwise at pound;6, plus pound;1 postage (EO Books, Badger's Holt, Birchwood, Storridge, Malvern WR13 5HA) it is one of the few books which makes the all-important point that children can learn in places other than school.

Gerald Haigh

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