Education books;Books

15th October 1999 at 01:00
My father, a miner who became a chauffeur to the management, died at Christmas 1989, aged 85. Only now, helped by Peter West's Fathers, Sons and Lovers (Finch Publishing pound;14.95) do I begin to appreciate the upbringing he gave me. A working-class man, with little formal education, he read to me every night. When I was older he stood me next to him in the male voice choir, and took me along to brass band contests. I was, I now realise, his hope for the future, destined for something other than the coalface - and yet I let him down in so many ways.

You see the kind of thoughts that Dr West's book provokes? Based on interviews with men who grew up in small-town Australia between the Thirties and today, it will be for some a difficult emotional read. Others will just find it a valuable addition to the literature on gender and stereotyping.

Lots to think about too in Boys in School, edited by Rollo Browne and Richard Fletcher (Finch Publishing pound;12.95). Again, based on Australian experience, it covers much that will be familiar to British readers. Particularly interesting is a lengthy discussion on tackling homophobia among secondary school boys: "Teachers who deal with homophobia by non-intervention, joking and laughing along, making careless statements, or covering their own discomfort through discomforting statements are colluding with homophobia." That ought to ring bells in a few staffrooms.

Not all ill-behaved or unhappy children have inadequate parenting. Not all inadequate parents are abusive. The problem for those with responsibility is how to make difficult judgments - predictions, indeed - about whether a child is in physical danger.

This is the subject of two books from The Bridge Child Care Development Service. Ann Hagell's Dangerous Care: reviewing the risks to children from their carers (Policy Studies Institute pound;12.95) is in effect a review and discussion of the existing literature and research. Dangerous Care: working to protect children, edited by Renuka Jeyarajah Dent (PSI pound;10.95) is about the practicalities of risk assessment.

Both will be valuable to specialists, and contain much for others to think about. I am haunted by one passage in the second book. Contributed by John Fitzgerald, chief executive of The Bridge, it is headed "Failure to hear the views of the child", and tells how relatively rarely do professionals write down the words of the children whose cases they have under review. They miss the things that children say, sometimes because they are brief and subtle, sometimes for more chilling reasons.

"The failure to comprehend what they are saying is often because of our inability to imagine the grotesque world in which some children live ... many of the cases we are dealing with involve what can only be described as torture ... the term 'abuse' comes nowhere near describing the reality of their experience."

After that, if you want something more optimistic, try Early Education Transformed, edited by Lesley Abbott and Helen Moylett (Falmer Press pound;16.99). Contributors include Glenys Kinnock, Mary-Jane Drummond and student Mark Vandevelde, whose insights into early-years education have already received much attention.

This is an inspirational and confident resolve-stiffener for those in pre-school and reception who are trying to do what they know to be right for our children.

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