Education books

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
WHAT MAKES A GOOD PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER? Expert classroom strategies. By Caroline Gipps, Bet McCallum and Eleanore Hargreaves. Routledge, Falmer pound;12.99. PRIMARY TEACHERS' STRESS. By Geoff Trowman and Peter Woods. RoutledgeFalmer pound;15.99.

What makes a good teacher? Seems a fair question - if you have a few minutes to spare, make a list of no more than 10 characteristics of a paragon. If you are from Ofsted, adherence to Curriculum 2000 probably ranks highly; if you are a headteacher, a good attendance record will be near the top; parents will more than likely give star rating to keeping children happy and motivated.

I am uneasy about the notion of good practice. How do you weigh and balance all the skills needed? Is a good teacher good in all situations? Don't teachers work as part of a team and the performance of others and the climate of the school serve as important factors in effectiveness? Is good practice conformity to current fashions, or personal and idiosyncratic - a magical star quality that is recognisable and unique to the individual?

Caroline Gipps, Bet McCallum and Eleanore Hargreaves chose to look at the work of 24 expert teachers of Year 2 and Year 6 children. They placed the responsibility of identifying expert teachers on education authorities and headteachers. The chief inspectors of two LEAs were asked to recommend schools in which the heads identified expert teachers through Ofsted grades, the heads' monitoring and subject expertise.

The authors are experienced teacher trainers with a particular interest in assessment. Their fascinating book is research-based with a sharp focus on teaching, assessment and feedback practices. The examples give invaluable and detailed insights of skilful teachers moving learning forward, particularly in the core subjects. They are carefully chosen to illustrate key skills that run through effective teaching. The chapter on teachers' and pupils' viewsof learning and teaching is particularly interesting in bringing home the complexity of these processes. It will come as no surprise that the teachers share a strong belief that children employ a huge range of learning styles and that a combination of teaching strategies needs to be employed.

Students and teachers who are looking for ways to extend their skills will find plenty to think about. Teacher trainers should find the book helpful in focusing their work with students. Heads will find it useful for school-based in-service training and as a source of classroom observation benchmarks for performance management.

I wonder if you are surprised that almost a third of the sample had been teaching for five years or less, and only two of the 24 were men?

Teacher stress is particularly topical following the court award of pound;250,000 to Monmouthshire teacher Janice Howell. Geoff Trowman and Peter Woods's timely, thoroughly researched and well-referenced book should be avoided by those of a nervous disposition. It tells, in some detail, the tales of 20 teachers who have suffered work-based, stress-related illnesses. Most are in mid to late career and have held responsiblity posts; several have been heads or deputies. There is also an organisational study of a school that unexpectedly goes into special measures.

In powerful and sometimes rather emotive language, the authors paint a grisly picture of an education system frequently driven by a culture of blame, managed through structures increasingly dependent on "mutual surveillance". The chapter on bullying in the workplace gives much to think about.

It isn't all gloom, doom and reach for the Prozac. The concluding chapters on coping with stress, trusting in teamwork and stating that prevention is better than cure are helpful and positive.

Mike Sullivan is an educational consultant and former primary headteacher based in the West Midlands

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