Education books

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
In the first sentence of Education, Exclusion and Citizenship (Routledge pound;15.99 pbk), Carl Parsons writes, "This book is essentially an intellectual project seeking to locate school exclusion within a matrix of social forces and discourses of legitimation which include national and local government decision making, professional teachers' concerns and public opinion".

Enough to put the reader off? If so, this is a pity, because the message that follows is timely and clear. It states that there are too many permanent exclusions - more than 13,000 in 1997-98, compared with fewer than 3,000 in 1990-91. It goes on to show that children are being damaged, and that society and schools have them on their conscience.

Little of what the author has to say will surprise anyone who has been around schools for the past 30 years. That an "effective" school in measured academic terms can actually, and almost by definition, be entirely ineffective for a proportion of its pupils, has been a central plank of the radical platform for at least 50 years.

It is the detail which Parsons provides, though, that impresses.

He leaves the most interesting part to the end, where he tells the story of his own involvement, as a school governor, in the events surrounding the exclusion of a six-year-old pupil. Here, he forsakes the academic style to tell how he tried, as a lone dissenter, to overturn the exclusion decision. It is a story that will evoke much sympathy, but as a former head I am conscious that seven governors, a head and the chief education officer, presumably none of them lacking in compassion or understanding of children, saw things differently.

Another view of disaffection comes from Martin Johnson in Failing School, Failing City (pound;10 inc pamp;p from Jon Carpenter, 2, Spendlove Centre, Charlbury OX7 3PQ). Johnson, president elect of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers for 2000, has 30 years' experience in the most difficult inner-city schools.

His aim here is to take issue with the Government view that schools in difficult areas can and do succeed. This, he says, ignores the reality of life in the most problematic schools of all - those on the worst council estates, catering for what he consistently calls "the underclass".

Such a bottom-of-the-heap school, he says, might be less than a mile from one, notionally in the same area, which succeeds with a more mixed intake.

"Although they are separated by a short walk, they are also separated by a social chasm which has only widened in the last 20 years."

A depressing tale, but one that has continually to be fetched out from under the carpet.

A look down the contents page of Michael Farrell's Key Issues for Primary Schools (Routledge pound;16.99) goes some way to bearing out Martin Johnson's reminder that when the school day finishes, "teachers ... have hours of work in front of them, some at school and some at home".

Farrell lists some 50 "key issues", from "Admissions", through "Equal Opportunities" and "Inspection" all the way to "Sex Education", "Target Setting" and "Very able pupils". Together, they remind us that teaching is a more multifaceted job now than it ever has been - and beg the question as to whether all the facets are strictly necessary. Still, this book is a useful factual checklist of what the Government believes the duties of a primary school to be.

Much of what we now do in education derives from good practice in business and industry. A general management book such as Managing Staff Selection and Assessment by Paul Iles (Open University Press pound;16.99 pbk, pound;50 hbk) adds a useful dimension to a topic that is current in educational debate.

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