Grey's Essential Miscellany for Teachers

29th April 2005 at 01:00

There's something hypnotic about books that are collections of unconnected facts. They succeed because they provide the illusion of self-improvement, while allowing that part of the brain necessary for following a narrative to do something more congenial, such as keeping up with Coronation Street.

This latest one from Mr Grey (he's already given us 100 Essential Lists for Teachers) is typically addictive: a truly miscellaneous collection of stories, lists, brief facts, quotations and anecdotes. Every page will tell you something you don't already know, even if you've been teaching since Tim Brighouse was a lad (try it if you don't believe me).

True to the spirit of a miscellany, too, some of the facts are interesting but not very useful (Bryan Ferry, Dawn French, Pavarotti and Sting have all been teachers). Others are less quirky but more useful: the information that 2.9 per cent of primary children are eligible for free school meals but don't take them, for example. Surely that's something heads and governors might look into.

Arguably, the book's not quite a pure miscellany in that it's divided into 18 themed chapters: "Behaviour and Discipline" and "Literacy and Language" for example. I also resist the temptation to believe that the enterprise was devised so that the author could publish his own poem, a nicely elegiac farewell to teaching called "Epitaph".

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