Education Books

10th September 1999 at 01:00
The free-market approach to education - parental choice, publication of exam and test results and the tying of budgets to pupil numbers - assumes that there will be general improvement in all schools as they battle each otherfor pupils.

However, life is not quite like that. It is possible that allowing parents to choose schools will actually exacerbate the differences between them - instead of all schools getting better, the less popular schools will get worse.

In pursuit of evidence on this subject, Hugh Lauder, David Hughes and others carried out a long-term study of "free-market" education in two New Zealand cities. In Trading in Futures (Open University Press pound;50pound;16.99), they report that middle-class parents soon made some schools their own, while other schools went into decline: "The recent history of working-class schools has been one of stress and change triggered by the market. In contrast the elite schools have remained virtually untouched." That, of course, is in New Zealand. And is it happening here? Ask any inner-city headteacher.

And while you are about it, ask them about morale. Lots of teachers are down in the dumps these days, which is why Denis Lawrence has written Teaching with Confidence (Paul Chapman pound;42pound;13.99). It has sections on such topics as personality types, com-munication, assertiveness, stress and its management.

The penultimate chapter outlines a "seven-day self-esteem enhancement programme". On day one, you make a list of your positive achievements, "no matter how small". On day two, you make a list of your positive personal qualities, and so on until day six, when you treat yourself to a walk or lunch with a friend. We have all known people who need this kind of advice, and if they are unable to get it from a friend or a loved one, then a book, I suppose, is the next best thing.

One of the things that depresses many teachers is the steady onward march of testing and assessment. It takes up valuable teaching time, it knocks on into teaching style and lesson content - and few teachers are entirely certain that the game is worth the candle in terms of the better education of children.

If you want to argue the point, though, you need a good factual starting point -which is what you will find in National Testing: Past, Present and Future (British Psychological Society pound;16.95) by Professor Diane Shorrocks Taylor, who clearly knows most of what there is to know about testing and assessment. It has the whole story from the heady days of TGAT (Kenneth Baker's Task Group on Assessment and Testing), of whose proposals Margaret Thatcher was famously suspicious, purely on the grounds that the National Union of Teachers and The TES quite liked them.

The struggle towards the formidably difficult goal of producing good tests which can be formative, diagnostic and evaluative, is well told.

The soccer season these days starts well before the autumn term, which means that the staffroom football chat can begin right away. What rapture! If you want an intellectual spin on the subject, try Sport Matters by Eric Dunning (Routledge pound;16.99) - a fascinating examination of the interaction between sport, violence, and the growth of civilisation.

One of the most interesting facts it contains is that between 1314 and 1667 football was banned in all or part of this country no fewer than 33 times - which raises the thought that if they could do it then, they could do it now.

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