Education Books

5th February 1999 at 00:00
The move from primary to secondary has long been a major stepping stone in a young person's life. In spite of the national curriculum's continuity and schools' growing commitment to liaison and induction, it remains difficult. All the more reason to welcome Pupils in Transition (Routledge pound;14.99), a no-nonsense guide to the issues at school, subject and pupil level which will help both schools and parents.

Authors Gill Nichols and John Gardner, reassuringly dismissive of the usual platitudes about differentiated teaching, explain clearly to Year 6 and Year 7 teachers the problems their opposite numbers have to contend with, for example in maths and science. Continuity of content, they say, is not much good if there is obvious discontinuity in teaching style and expectations. They give examples and some excellent advice.

Gender, Race and Class in Schooling (Falmer pound;14.95) deals with issues that are more deep-seated, though equally familiar. It is this familiarity, Chris Gaine and Rosalyn George say, that makes their reappraisal timely and important. The authors' argument, handled with admirable clarity and supported by comprehensive research, is that all three factors are more complex than current perceptions (about the under-performance of boys, for example) will allow or policy-makers admit. They are also invariably inter-related, they argue - with particular reference to school culture, the curriculum and the use of language. Among them, social class is increasingly important. It is still, they say, the most important single influence on educational attainment and in the existing climate of selection via parental choice it will become, as coded class advantage, the most important issue in education policy. This is thoughtful and persuasive: an excellent primer.

Developing Education (Paul Chapman pound;16.99) asks a distinguished list of contributors to predict the shape of education in 15 years' time. On the whole their answer is "much the same": the issues of accountability, governance and funding still predominate, although Carol Fitz-Gibbon has a nicely optimistic piece about good practice leading to evolutionary change, and Jenny Ozga paints a pessimistic picture of a two-tier teaching force that has led to two-tier schooling. Philip Hunter's editorial conclusion predicts more individualised teaching, a flexible school year and day and a highly flexible teaching force on portfolio contracts.

What Hunter doesn't predict is more learning at home, and that is perhaps surprising. As Alan Thomas points out in Educating Children at Home (Cassell pound;14.99), it is in the home that learning is demonstrably most confident, most flexible, most personal (and certainly in the early years) most rapid. Why, then, do we disparage it?

Partly, he suggests, because the only comparisons we make are those with classroom teaching, which by necessity and political compulsion is increasingly inflexible, impersonal and threateningly norm-related. For that reason, he says, he undertook this survey of home-based education - and he produces a good deal of evidence to indicate that young children taught initially at home make motivated and effective laterlearners, even if their reading has been dangerously delayed by current standards. Above all, he says, they learn that "there is no point in proceeding if you are stuck" - heresy, of course, in these days of whole-class teaching.

Inevitably, much of his evidence comes from parents who are too committed to their course of action to be properly impartial. It remains important, though, not least because home education is becoming more general and more feasible. If we are really interested in developing informal learning, this book is a challenge.

Finally, something very different. James Axtell's The Pleasures of Academe (University of Nebraska pound;33.50) is subtitled "a celebration and defense of higher education" . It is more of the former than the latter, but as a collection of essays about the joys of collegiality, sport, scholarship, book collecting and teaching it makes delightful if occasionally old-fashioned reading.

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