Home is a fragile construct

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Globalisation and Nationalism in Education By David Coulby and Evie Zambeta RoutledgeFalmer pound;65

Educational Leadership: culture and diversity By Clive Dimmock and Allan Walker Sage pound;21.99

Changing Citizenship: democracy and inclusion in education By Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey Open University Press pound;18.99

As the national curriculum was being launched 15 years ago, I accepted an invitation to speak to a teacher association national conference in Leeds.

The topic was "citizenship", a cross-curricular theme, you may recall. For advice I went to my friend Bill Percival, one-time pioneer comprehensive headteacher and distinguished leader of Charlotte Mason college of education. He told me that I shouldn't accept impossible tasks. His schools, he said, taught citizenship through experience, not the timetabled, subject-driven curriculum. "Civics, as we called it, was a waste of time," he told me.

Now, of course, every school has to take citizenship seriously, and there are many books to help them. I wish I could have read these three books all those years ago.

Coulby and Zambeta's offering is the least accessible of the three, which is a pity because it thoughtfully paints the bigger picture, outlining the contradictions and tensions between increased globalisation and resurgent nationalism. Quality and relevance is uneven between the various chapters, the best being the first part written by David Coulby himself about globalisation, the knowledge economy and its impact on institutions.

Dimmock and Walker's book is a valuable addition to the overcrowded literature on leadership. The quality of this contribution shouldn't be lost in the sea of mediocrity that pervades most of the field, especially in those books written by theoreticians rather than practitioners. So much of what's written on leadership assumes that some general or detailed propositions of what to do to be successful hold true whatever the context.

Even the relatively limited moves I've made in my career, encompassing Derbyshire, Wales, Birmingham, Oxfordshire and London, have made me realise the constraints on any general statements about leadership. Time and locality within even the same society make a huge difference before you start to compare leadership between cultures. That's what makes teaching in schools in multicultural communities so challenging and interesting, especially in the subtle understanding and changes of practice that the best heads and their staff achieve in such situations. Extracts from this book should be on National College for School Leadership courses, particularly if the college develops the "chartered urban leader" concept, as I hope it will.

The authors argue (and I agree): "Given the multicultural nature of schools around the world, leaders nowadays shoulder responsibility for shaping their organisations in ways that value and integrate heterogeneous groups into successful learning communities for all. The successful leadership of such communities calls for very specific skills attuned to ethnicity and multiculturalism." This is a useful and important book because citizenship, globalisation and the tensions with nationality should be the concern of all who lead any school: even monofaith, monoethnic and monolingual schools.

The third book is the best, as you would expect from Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey. Even 15 years ago I was disquieted by the resurgence of nationalism in the national curriculum history syllabuses, as well as the cross-curricular theme that travelled under the banner of "citizenship". St Paul claimed to be a "Jew from Tarsus - a citizen of no mean city": so the concept originated with cities. Today it's been stolen by nations. Osler and Starkey argue for three sorts of citizenship. The first, of status, is the sort we all recognise. It is linked, of course, to legal status and involves a set of rights and responsibilities ranging, for example, from military service to jury service, according to the country of which one is a citizen.

The second sort of citizenship according to Osler and Starkey is of feeling, of belonging to a community of citizens. This, for the authors, links neatly to the argument for inclusion. I read this section of the book as Hurricane Katrina raged, and watched on television a displaced, proud black woman in Houston's Astrodome stadium tell a reporter: "You may call me a survivor, a hero or a citizen, but don't call me a refugee." What was certain was that she didn't feel included.

Their third sort of citizenship is one of practice. And here the book comes into its own with its many examples of what experiences schools can provide to encourage the practice of citizenship at all levels. It ends with a simple but penetrating checklist of questions for any school to consider if it's serious about promoting citizenship. I see interesting numbers of schools that are, and they'll find Osler and Starkey's book invaluable.

Tim Brighouse is chief adviser for the London Schools Challenge

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