Education books;Features amp; Arts

19th November 1999 at 00:00
As a primary head in 1978, I cuddled the little ones when they were upset. A decade later, I stopped doing it. I understand, therefore, why Jeremy, subject of one of the brief case studies that opens Men in the Nursery: Gender and Caring Work by Claire Cameron, Peter Moss and Charlie Owen (forthcoming from Paul Chapman pound;15.99), was asked not to cuddle the children, and even why the ruling applied only to him and not to his female colleagues.

Jeremy rightly challenged this, with the result that "...the nursery changed the ruling to mean no one should cuddle the children".

That sort of issue, though important, forms only a part of this book, based on a Government-funded study at London University's Institute of Education. The central point the authors make is that the childcare is "gendered" - not just because the workforce is overwhelmingly female, but because government, trainers, policy-makers and society as a whole see childcare as women's work.

They unravel the complexities of the subject with clarity and conclude by setting out how society might proceed if, indeed, we do want a mixed-gender childcare workforce.

Increased caution about the way I dealt with children was not the only change during my headship years. Even more significant was the fact that by the time I finished, there were fewer children around to cuddle. Through the early Eighties, our school roll declined by a third, tracking the national trend exactly.

As Colin Richards points out in Primary Education: at a Hinge of History? (Falmer Press pound;14.99), the results of this decrease were: more mixed age classes (we had those); a reduction in special needs provision (we had that); a lessening of teacher mobility (that too); and increasing difficulty in covering the whole curriculum (and that). Critics of today's primary schools would do well to consider the lasting legacy of those years.

Colin Richards is a true friend of primary education, in the sense that a true friend is no sycophant. His book is a personal review - often becoming a very sharp critique - of what has been done to and within primary education over the past quarter of a century. Much of it has appeared before in various forms, but it is no less cogent and certainly no less readable for that.

Today's newly qualified teachers are, in my experience, bright-eyed and eager. In providing them with mentors (as schools are now required to do), the aim must be to build on their college courses and help them learn from experienced colleagues.

But at the same, their enthusiasm has to be protected from the disillusionment shading into cynicism that surfaces in some staffrooms.

Kevan Bleach recognises this in The Induction and Mentoring of Newly Qualified Teachers (David Fulton pound;15), when he writes: "The quality of the protege-mentor relationship is one that can make or break new teachers." His book explores the subject in great and practical detail and could well form the basis of the NQT mentoring policy and programme of any school, primary or secondary.

Memories of Tapton House School 1931-1991, compiled and published by Len Thompson (pound;12 inc pamp;p from 1, Orchard Gardens, Cranleigh, Surrey GU6 7LG. Telfax: 01483 274535) is a typical school history: a collection of personal reminiscences which are often amusing, always affectionate, and sometimes a little chilling.

A former pupil at the school near Chesterfield recalls the time in the late Thirties when a science teacher, Miss Stanley, bought a live rabbit with a view to studying its digestive system. Of course, everyone became fond of the rabbit. Miss Stanley was undeterred.

"Not being one to shirk a duty, she chloroformed the poor thing and we carefully dissected it and measured its lengthy intestine across the benches," says the contributor. "History does not record if the rest of the animal was cooked and eaten. I hope it was."

Gerald Haigh

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