Education books

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Raising Boys' Achievement in Schools (Trentham Pounds 14.95) deals with a now familiar problem with refreshing directness. A young male who works in school is likely to be labelled by his peers as a boffin, a swot, a keeno, even a bog rat. "It's a case of yobbus horribilis rules, OK." To editor Kevan Bleach and his contributors, though, it's not OK. Their book is an optimistic and readable account of strategies and projects that their schools have adopted to improve boys' attainment and self-image. Look out for Colin Noble on new approaches at primary, Val Penny on how an all-woman secondary English department used structured themes and topics, Beverley Swan on single-sex classes at Shenfield School, and Kevan Bleach for a perceptive and readable overview.

At Shenfield, curriculum segregation improved both boys' and girls' performance, but it made the boys more difficult to teach. Steve Biddulph's Raising Boys (ThorsonsHarperCollins Pounds 7.99) addresses these findings. This Australian bestseller is a no-nonsense parents' handbook, strong on anecdote, humour and reassurance, but its section on schools and teachers has important things to say. Boys and girls are different. Boys start learning later and they learn in different ways. How do we write that into our key stage assessment data?

Not easily: but what we can do is adapt our assumptions and our teaching styles. Michelle MacGrath's The Art of Teaching Peacefully (David Fulton Pounds 13) is gender-unspecific, but her chapters on "building confidence and self-esteem" and "developing relationships with pupils" are directly relevant to the issue of boys' achievement. For the rest, she deals sensitively and sensibly with the pressures, skills and crises of good classroom management. "The pupils most likely to disrupt are those who feel least sure of themselves, who are most frightened and who have the lowest self-esteem." There can be few teachers who would not benefit from these pages.

One of MacGrath's themes is the importance of listening carefully to what children have to say, and this comes across strongly, too, in Middle Childhood, a study by Moira Borland, Ann Laybourn, Malcolm Hill and Jane Brown of Glasgow University's Centre for the Child and Society (Jessica Kingsley Pounds 14.95), which considers the preoccupations and perspectives of children between the early years and adolescence and those of their parents.

There is much here that is important, not just to teachers (again, there are indications that boys mature more slowly than girls on physical, social and intellectual levels) but also to politicians. There is little evidence here, for example, of the uncaring parent-from-hell at whom much policy is directed, though that may be because the survey sample was small and to some extent self-selected.

What does come across very clearly is the extent to which children of this age are afraid of loss. The loss of friends, the loss of a parent by death or separation, even the loss of a pet are ever-present worries. Helping Children to Manage Loss by Brenda Mallan (Jessica Kingsley Pounds 14.95) explores this territory sensitively and helpfully, using case studies to emphasise the positive approaches that help children not only to cope with such experiences but to grow in maturity through them.

There is advice, too, on dealing with illness, disability, the traumatic effect of some disasters and the always traumatic experience of divorce. Interestingly, "boys of six to eight whose parents divorce have a particularly difficult time adjusting". Life can be particularly tough for boys.

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