Education books;Reviews

8th January 1999 at 00:00
When education, education, education is the universal message, what does it feel like to be a teacher? According to John Smyth and Geoffrey Shacklock, the Australian academics who wrote Re-Making Teaching: Ideology, Policy and Practice (Routledge pound;15.99), the answer everywhere is increasingly likely to be "not good".

All over the world, they say, politicians are restructuring education in the name of productivity and market forces. All over the world, teachers, seen by governments as simultaneously the cause and the solution of the problems that beset them, are being squeezed and regulated. Public education, they contend, is no more than a reflection of economic fashion. The name of the game is "erosion and corrosion" and teachers are merely "the proletariat of the post-Fordian age".

Good, strong stuff, and, in its analysis of Australia's highly bureaucratic Advanced Skills Teacher scheme, more than relevant to the post-Green Paper position here. At the very least, there is an important case to answer.

But how do we ensure it gets a hearing? Not, according to Andy Har-greaves and Michael Fullan in Toronto, by protesting about manufactured chaos, and certainly not by trying to defend an illusory status quo. Strategy is the key, according to What's Worth Fighting For in Education (Open University Press pound;10.99), the latest punchy handbook in the excellent What's Worth Fighting For series. If strategy is to remain the key, the profession has to go deeper in winning pupils to their learning and wider in winning the users of education all of them to its values. Apple pie and motherhood? Not at all. There is crisp advice here, and encouragement for all but the most dispirited.

Judith Bell and Bernard Harrison echo diagnosis and prescription. Leading People, Learning from People (Open University Press pound;14.99) uses accounts of change in schools and colleges in the UK and Australia to argue that only new leadership can create the circumstances needed for teaching to thrive. The call is for teamwork and empowerment - a familiar story, but told here with refreshing bluntness. It's not just in Australia, we're reminded, that teachers possess "finely tuned bullshit detectors". And it's not just governments that have a remarkable capacity for stifling initiative. But can a new professionalism survive the forces that operate to subvert it? If you are optimistic - the essential qualification - this book says yes.

It is not just teachers, of course, who have been buffeted by the gale of change. Social services have seen even greater structural upheavals. And care workers, especially those who work with children, have (like their charges) been vilified in the media. All the more reason, then, to welcome Children's Homes: a study in diversity by Ian Sinclair and Ian Gibbs (John Wiley and Sons pound;16.99). This is a disturbingly objective study funded by the Department of Health of what we ask children's homes to do, and the frequent impossibility of doing it.

Given that residential care places cost pound;60,000 per child and that most such children have been and will again be excluded from school, there is a major issue here for schools (and Government) to address. The link between social exclusion and school inclusion needs careful probing.

Conventional wisdom, of course, would see guidance and counselling as part of the solution, and on that basis it ought to be possible to welcome as a significant contribution Telling Tales: perspectives on guidance and counselling in learning edited by Richard Edwards, Roger Harrison and Ann Tait (Routledge in association with the Open University pound;14.99). But even though this book is billed as a reader for the OU masters degree in education, its helpfulness to schools is limited.

Perhaps because privatised guidance, too, is going through an identity crisis, the predominant tone of these extracts is introspective and academic. (The contribution from Tony Watts and Michael Young, "Models of student guidance in a 14-19 education system", is a notable exception.) Too much of it is couched in the fashionable jargon of post-modernist obscuranticism. For hard-pressed teachers, this is an opportunity missed.

Michael Duffy

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