Education books

5th May 2000 at 01:00
All over the world established educational structures are collapsing. This year's edition of the World Year Book of Education: education in times of transition edited by David Coulby, Robert Cowen and Crispin Jones (Kogan Page pound;45) charts the phenomenon as it affects countries as diverse as South Africa, Slovenia, Bolivia and South Korea.

Few teachers and even fewer politicians will find time to read it. That's a pity, for the overview chapter, Fine-tuning Educational Earthquakes, makes stimulating reading, demolishing as it does the myth of pragmatic change ("we know what works") and the myth that politicians and policy-makers are in control of the change they set in motion. But everywhere, it notes, the changes bring about "an increase in the intensity of surveillance".

That's noted too in New Labour's Policies for Schools (David Fulton pound;16), a critique of the promises and realities of educational change in Britain under the present government. Like National School Policy, its predecessor for the Tory years, it analyses current initiatives in the context of previous policies and in every area it examines - target-setting or the curriculum, for example, or early years or inclusion or pay and performance - it identifies controversial issues.

It is targeted at graduate and undergraduate students of education but teachers and governors, too, will find it a useful guide to the legislation that affects them, and the standards-not-structures rationale ("we know what works") that underpins it. Editor Jim Docking's opening chapter (What is the Problem? What are the Solutions?) puts it all in context.

What Docking does not explore is the rhetoric of "community" that features so strongly in New Labour's policy pronouncements. Schools and Community: the communitarian agenda in education by James Arthur with Richard Bailey (Falmer Press pound;15.99) fills this gap. Community, the authors claim, is at the heart of Mr Blair's Third Way - "communi-tarianism" is to New Labour what collectivism was to Old Labour and individualism was to Thatcherism.

But what exactly is communitarianism? This book examines the oftenconflicting agendas that the term contains and shows how deeply they have permeated policy-makers' thinking - an education in values and in the obligations rather than the rights of citizenship; an emphasis on character-building and self-help as the foundations of the common good; respect for community service, "stakeholding" and the duties (and, especially, the powers) stakeholding confers.

As the authors say, there is nothing here that community schools in particular have not already been doing. As an ideology, though, it has authoritarian implications. "For individuals to succeed, society must be strong," Tony Blair has said. Hints, again, of more surveillance.

Improving Quality in Education by Charles Hoy, Colin Bayne-Jardine and Margaret Wood (Falmer pound;15.99) is bluntly hostile to Ofsted-style surveillance and carries a dedication to all those "who have survived it".

It claims that quality in education is actually damaged by attempts to inspect it - the real achievement is to draw it out. Trust, partnership and co-operation produce better teaching and learning than management by target-setting and control; internal self-review is infinitely more productive than external inspection.

There is some familiar ground here, though the implications of the 1999 performance management proposals are not included.

"Professionalism," David Blunkett said of these proposals, "is now back at the very heart of teaching." The Politics of Professionalism by Gary McCulloch, Gill Helsby and Peter Knight (Continuum, pound;14.99, pbk, and pound;45) is a shrewd and readable analysis of what that means and its possible implications for teachers, now the country's unhappiest public workers.

It's not wholly pessimistic. Politicians, this book reminds us, cannot mandate educational improvement - that stems from teachers "wanting to make a difference".

Mr Blunkett's "modernised professionalism" may prove as transient as the forms it supplanted. Like Chris Woodhead, he may come to appear "as outdated in his commonsense assumptions" as those 1950s giants, Messrs Alec Clegg and David Eccles.


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