According to John Dunford's absorbing account of the Inspectorate (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools Since 1944 Woburn Press pound;37.50pound;18.50) inspectors in the Fifties were told "to inspect primary schools wearing a sports jacket and to arrive unannounced; to inspect secondary moderns in a suit and to notify the school in advance of the visit; and to inspect grammar schools wearing a dark suit and a regimental tie, having first inquired whether the visit would be convenient to the school."
A fascinating theme in Dunford's book is that of the battles, discreet or otherwise, fought around the independence of the Inspectorate. He discusses such episodes as the effective dismissal of Senior Chief Inspector Martin Roseveare in 1957 and Eric Bolton's clear and public warnings in the late eighties about the effects of teacher shortages.
Come the Nineties, nothing short of a root-and-branch reform of the system would satisfy a government which was convinced that HMI was standing in its way. Thus we had the arrival of OFSTED, and of Chris Woodhead. Dunford writes, "The decimation of HM Inspectorate by the 1992 Education Act and the consequent abandonment of much of its valuable work have proved to be needless acts of destruction."
Dunford ends by outlining his own 15-point plan for "an inspection system which combines the proper accountability of schools with a strong impetus to school improvement".
Inspection is intended to make schools more effective. But what actually is an effective school? This, in essence, is the question asked in School Effectiveness for Whom? edited by Roger Slee and Gaby Weiner with Sally Tomlinson (Falmer pound;14.95). They are deeply critical of the assumptions behind the current drive for school improvement. "School effectiveness research is riddled with errors: it is excluding ... it is normative and regulatory ... it is bureaucratic and disempowering ... (it is) neither interested nor very effective in preparing children for citizenship, parenthood or work."
Perhaps, though, all of this is a distraction. Perhaps we spend too much energy on systems and not enough on studying how children develop, learn and grow. In this regard, time will be well spent reading The Social Child edited by Anne Campbell and Steven Muncer (Psychology Press pound;39.95). It is a challenging read but not a heavy one, and illuminating insights are offered by expert writers on a host of school-related themes - friendship, moral understanding, development of the emotions.
Equally relevant to our understanding of what makes children tick is The Ambiguity of Play by Brian Sutton-Smith (Harvard University Press pound;26.50). Early-years experts tell us that play is important. Professor Sutton-Smith goes much further, presenting his "Seven rhetorics" of play. Read it on the beach and by combining sunbathing with deep study you will enter, to some extent, into his world of incongruousness and ambiguity.
Are your knees happy? The Handbook of School Health by the Medical Officers of Schools Association, now in its 18th edition (Trentham Books pound;22) says, "A swollen knee is an unhappy knee." Not only that, but "If an effusion is present, intra-articular mischief is almost assured."
Joking apart, this is the ultimate reference book - essential for residential schools or schools with nurses, and extremely useful for all others.