Good practice

18th May 2007 at 01:00
Geoff Barton values some hands-on help

Making School Work: A Practical Approach to Secondary School Leadership By Andy Buck Greenwich Exchange pound;11.99 www.greenex.co.uk

Andy Buck has written this practical book with the help of his senior team at the Jo Richardson Community School in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. He certainly has the right credentials: this is his second headship and he sits on the board of the Training and Development Agency.

He wants to provide "some concrete solutions to common challenges", especially for urban school leaders.

The epigraph - "faire words butter no parsnips" (J Clarke, 1639) - suggests an author impatient with philosophy and keen to see action. Thus the book provides guidance on sharing a vision, delegating responsibility, monitoring teaching, reviewing reward systems and performance management.

Much of this is helpful and written in a no-nonsense style, which works well as a starting point for reflection on practice.

Extracts from policies at the author's own school suggest he and his team run a tight ship. Here he includes guidance on everything from developing your staff team to diary management.

At times the tone is just a bit too prescriptive, and the densely packed presentation could have been more appealing, but this remains a good value source of approaches and ideas for heads and senior teams

Taking Care of Behaviour: Practical Skills for Teachers By Paul Dix Pearson pound;16.99 for book and CD

When I was training, I watched a veteran teacher bring a rebellious Year 8 group to order simply by looking at them and waiting for them to fall silent. It was effortless and apparently magical. Was this, I wondered, something you were born with or a set of skills you could learn?

Paul Dix is a trainer for Pivotal Education, a behaviour management consultancy. He clearly believes, as I do, that effective behaviour management is something you can learn. His book and CD cover such issues as consistency and clarity, language, giving praise and managing cover lessons.

Each chapter starts with the principle of an issue and follows with practice, examples, tips and a self-assessment exercise. So in the section on language, we are advised to use "a controlled, respectful but flat voice" and to "breathe steadily but not audibly".

Paul Dix reminds us to use assertive phrasing such as "you need to" and "I expect". There is helpful advice on involving parents and managing extreme behaviour.

All this is sensible, consistently practical and reassuring, but the text is quite wordy, with a lot to take in. I cannot quibble with the content, which is consistently practical and reassuring. But by the end, rather than giving you a sense that life as a teacher will be easier from now on, it all feels a little dispiriting.

There's something slightly overwhelming about so much advice being imparted in this format - a useful reminder, perhaps, of how difficult it is to teach such skills through a book rather than one-to-one coaching Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk

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