Education books;Books

17th April 1998 at 01:00
In the very first sentence of the foreword to Promoting Positive Behaviour (David Fulton pound;13.99), Tim O'Brien writes: " 'Behaviour' and all of its associated negative connotations, is the most common topic of conversation in staffrooms across the United Kingdom."

Our leaders should consider that. In the corridors of power they gravely discuss target setting, benchmarking, inspecting and strategies for school improvement. In the staffrooms, which is where it really matters, they talk of behaviour, and of the increasing number of pupils for whom the conventions of school seem meaningless and threatening.

Tim O'Brien, deputy head of a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulty, feels that disaffected pupils must be won over through the curriculum. The danger is, he says, that the EBD school becomes a "therapeutic community", in which "the curriculum is an afterthought".

What such schools really should be aiming for, he argues, is "Raising (pupils') self esteem through achievement and attainment in the whole curriculum. Learning that you can learn provides valuable therapy."

The book also has pointers to useful classroom techniques - a chapter called "Battle Zone or Learning Zone?" indicates the thrust of his approach, which is that the teacher should be flexible and responsive rather than confrontational. The confrontational teacher can always be "bounced" by a difficult pupil into a series of exchanges which are ever more undignified and from which there is ultimately no escape. "A teacher has to be aware of their bounce potential, because the battle zone is over-populated by bouncing teachers." How right he is. We have met the bouncing teachers. We have been bouncing teachers ourselves.

"Baseline Assessment" is the concept and practice of measuring pupil performance on entry to the school system. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, many teachers have found difficulty in accepting it. They would argue that the main purpose of the first year in school is to allow time for assessment within the classroom. Why else is that first year called "Reception", with "Year One" following?

Part of the problem is that there has been a lack of clarity as to what baseline assessment is for. Is it to give teachers useful information about individual children? Is it a tool for the early diagnosis of special needs? Or is it really all about "value added" and the politics of school improvement?

All of these questions are debated in the new NASEN publication, Baseline Assessment: Policies, and pitfalls. This is a record of a recent policy seminar, the main paper being by Professor Geoff Lindsay, with contributions from Sheila Wolfendale, Max Hunt and Peter Tymms.

Also new from NASEN is Medical Conditions by Joy Homan. This provides all the basic information that teachers need about such conditions as epilepsy, cystic fibrosis and diabetes. Importantly, too, it deals with childhood cancers. The rose gardens and memorial benches that are such sad features of our schools remind us that cancer and other illnesses claim some young victims. The book has good advice on dealing with tragedy, as well as on coping with symptoms such as those of epilepsy (both books pound;6 from NASEN 45 Amber Business Village, Amber Close, Tamworth B77 4RP).

And finally, there is Anarchy. One of the most risible features of rock culture is to see youthful entertainers proclaiming themselves to be anarchists. They should be made to read Fermin Rocker's The East End Years (Freedom Press pound;7.95). Rocker is a painter and book illustrator who was brought up in a Jewish anarchist family in London's East End. Now in his 90th year, Rocker relates his father's political activities - the marches, the speeches in Hyde Park, the "Siege of Sidney Street" and his father's internment during the First World War.

This is real history - a time and a place brought to life through description of human feelings.

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