Education books

11th December 1998 at 00:00
WHEREDO teachers come from? We all know the answer to that one. A barely literate sixth-former spends three years being taught lots of dubious theory by a lecturer who got out of the classroom as quickly as possible.

Better, surely, that the sixth-former had been apprenticed from the start to the longest-serving teacher in EddieWaring Street School ("Right! Lesson one! Go in hard at first - you can always be friendly later!").

Give or take a couple of exaggerations (and there are those people who would deny even those), this is what the teacher education debate is all about. Faced with the elevation of what was once anti-intellectual folklore ("Forget all you learned at college") into mainstream political thought, the higher education institutions have had radically to rethink what they are about.

This is the background to Primary Teacher Education: High Status? High Standards? edited by Colin Richards, Neil Simco and Sam Twiselton (Falmer Pounds 16.95), in which a group of teacher educators, mostly based at St Martin's College, Ambleside, take a constructively critical look at the new relationships developing between primary schools, teacher education and New Labour's Department for Education and Employment.

The contributors accept that things had to change. "They do not set out to be destructively critical of recent developments," say the editors in their introduction. Colin Richards, however, pulls few punches. "Though not based on even reasonably conclusive evidence, criticisms of English primary schools for failing to teach 'basic skills' effectively have also been used to castigate training institutions."

The book is a clear analysis of recent happenings, in particular the national curriculum for initial teacher education (the book's title is taken from the DFEE circular which announced it), and all the issues surrounding the notion of schoolhigher education partnership.

If Trevor Huddleston had not got there first, it ought to have been called "Naught for Your Comfort".

In case you thought that this was just a UK issue, The Role of the University in the Preparation of Teachers edited by Robert A Roth (Falmer Pounds 16. 95) will put you right. The view here is from the States, but the brush is broad, and the argument is seen as being common to most Western education systems. I like particularly here the neat logic of contributor James Raths who wonders why, if schools are as bad as their critics say they are, these same critics want all teachers to be trained in them.

"Our society," he writes, "needs to prepare teachers for classrooms that don't exist today and that will serve tomorrow's children after the reforms have taken place."

Right on cue, here are Brent Davies and Linda Ellison, writing at the start of their Strategic Direction and Development of the School (Routledge Pounds 16.99): "We cannot plan in schools for the new millennium by simply doing more of the same." They go on to analyse the planning demands current in schools, and to argue for a different approach because "the solution cannot be longer and more detailed school development plans".

Let me wholeheartedly recommend Effective School Leadership: Responding to Change edited by John MacBeath (Paul Chapman Pounds 45, Pounds 13.99). This is a zippy read arising out of the international research project "Effective leadership in a time of change", which grapples with the nature and practice of leadership (as opposed to management or administration) in schools.

I particularly enjoyed Angus MacDonald's "Management Metacognition Matrix". This has a horizontal axis going from "known" to "unknown" and a vertical axis crossing the middle, going from "aware" to "unaware". The four resulting quadrants range from "confidence" (you are very aware of how much you know) through "surprise" (you were unaware of how much you knew) and "anxiety" (you are aware of how much you don't know), all the way to "bliss" (you are unaware of how little you know).

In which quadrant, at this moment, do you belong?

Amid all this intensity, we need to remind ourselves once more that "compulsory education" might just be a contradiction in terms. An unusual approach to this theme is The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher you Went Right On by Albert Cullum (Harlin Quist Pounds 8.99). This is a picture book with added brief thoughts, which will make children smile and adults think. One excerpt gives the flavour: "Of course your classroom is not a circus! Of course you have rules we must follow! Of course there's lots of stuff we must learn! But, Teacher, can't you smile when you tell us all this?" Though at times a bit too American Pie for the British palate, Albert Cullum's book questions a lot of assumptions, and we live in times that cry out for subversive writing.

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