Education books

10th November 2000 at 00:00
The history of education used to be part of every teacher's training: a Government stipulation, indeed. The first training colleges were required "to lecture on the theory and history of education, supervise teaching, and to give a course of model lessons". For a long time, little changed. But there is no place now for theory and history in professional teacher training - hence the title of History of Education for the Twenty-First Century in the Bedford Way Papers series from the Institute of Education, University of London (edited by Richard Aldrich and David Crook, pound;15.99, order on The history of education is clearly part of history, its authors say, but is it necessarily part of education? Does it have a future?

"Yes," is what the contributors mostly say - particularly given the immense resource of the web (an excellent chapter, this, packed with useful sites for the researcher) - but only if it can create a consciousness of our educational past that is neither "official" (that is, dictated by the political search for new agendas and new solutions) nor "private" (as was that of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and most of her advisers) but instead is "public", in the sense that it comes from informed debate. Only by that means, they say, can we stop the process whereby the untested myths of our educational heritage are either hi-jacked or misrepresented.

The debate exists, of course, though it is somewhat muted. Teacher Education in Transition: reforming professionalism? (Open University Press pound;16.99) is an important contribution to it: a scholarly account by John Furlong, Len Barton, Sheila Miles, Caroline Whiting and Geoff Whitty of 10 years of government initiatives in this important field and the impact they have had on the profession. For the latter the authors draw heavily on their work on two projects on "Modes of Teacher Education", funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. At the superficial level they report a transformation in teachers' own judgments about the value of their initial training - from "significantly negative to overwhelmingly positive". But there are more fundamental changes. The combination of deregulation and ever closer central control has changed teachers' professionalism structurlly and conceptually, and new working partnerships between higher education and teachers are more rhetorical than real. What we need to cultivate, they say, is neither the unaccountable autonomy of the old model nor the teacher-as-technician nightmare of the new, but a democratic professionalism that will accommodate the needs of those parts of society that both models currently exclude.

Teachers and the State by Mike Bottery and Nigel Wright (Routledge pound;55 hbk) covers similar ground but widens the research focus to include teachers' professional development and in-service as well as initial training. The subtitle, "towards a directed profession", conveys the thrust of the argument. "We can get bogged down in academics," one headteacher reports. "What we really want is time to implement the national curriculum." Squeezed between marketisation and central control, the researchers say, schools sacrifice the more richly educative purposes of schooling to a sort of compliant managerialism. Teachers, losing sight of the public and "ecological" dimensions of professional practice, are happy to condone it.

So how can the profession recover or discover that view of itself that transcends the school and its position in the performance tables? Part of the answer, the authors optimistically say, is action research: that very partnership with higher education that the last title described as "largely rhetoric".

Teacher-led School Improvement by David Frost, Judy Durrant, Michael Head and Gary Holden (Routledge pound;16.99) is based on a successful partnership project in Kent. It sets out to show that "reflective action planning" focused on school improvement can provide participants not just with a diploma but with "stimulation, challenge, motivation and enjoyment". If that sounds like a tall order, read this book. It's positive and optimistic - cardinal values of the old profession.

Finally, Marilyn Nathan's A Handbook for Headteachers (Kogan Page pound;22.95) is a new edition of the 1996 Headteacher's Survival Guide, updated to accommodate four more years of insistent legislation. As a primer on management, it's full of good advice. On leadership, on the other hand, it has little to say. It's good on the nuts and bolts, but it's not inspiring.

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