How life has become a tale of six capitals

17th November 1995 at 00:00
THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT BOOK By Jane Ogborn and Terry Furlong The English and Media Centre Pounds 9.95 - 0 907016 19 7. Brian Slough welcomes back an old classroom helpmate

The English Department Book recaptures the best of times, the worst of times of my professional life. At another level its hidden agenda constitutes an historical document: the peculiar, changing times of our league table society. Its encyclopaedic thoroughness makes it long-lasting; this is not a book to be read at one go.

All departmental life is here. Nothing is left to chance, from the tensile strength of bands (rubber) to safety pins (visits). Foremost, it is a reference work on organisation and management, "to trawl through as occasion requires", determined by a department's particular circumstances, perhaps a review of the heavyweight issues (curriculum planning, assessment, recording and reporting) or a timely refresher on safety procedures for a visit. Whatever the occasion, every department should benefit from this amalgam of successful practice.

It exudes experience, which informs the coping strategies, whether covering standard English or absence. The authors are strong on collaborative management that remembers part-time and non-specialist staff, but also primary colleagues and that endangered species, the librarian. Their text is true to sharing principles. It encourages inter-school liaison and includes examples of it: schemes of work; timetabling visual plans; whole school spelling policies; differentiation guides, to name but few. The nitty-gritty information (addresses, telephone numbers, recommended reading and so on) is valuable, with a hint of bias.

Such sharing should alleviate the stress which the book acknowledges. References to pressures, burn out, exhaustion far outnumber fun (a word mentioned just twice). Of course, some argue that DIR ("do it right") books create insecurities, hence strain among the conscientious, their main readers.

Sometimes the tone is staff-room colloquial ("duff stuff" can be "chucked"), or ironic ("sympathy, awe, and assumed stupidity" in chatting up the timetabler), occasionally provocative ("if your school has recently opted out and found itself awash with money"). The repetition, stating the obvious ("schools should be places where teachers as well as pupils learn"), the cartoons, even the spelling mistakes, make it humane. The politically incorrect humour about information technology also helps.

The photographs have gone, but since its 1982 predecessor there are excellent new sections: media, information technology, drama, special educational needs, and bilingual learners. These sections indicate changing preoccupations, as does the emphasis on the Office for Standards in Education. Its capital letter presence intrudes around 40 times, even before the climactic chapter on "The OFSTED inspection". Contrast HMI's absence from the 1982 edition.

Empowerment by inspection sits uneasily with the concept of partnership and a shared vision. Fear is not a lasting teacher of duty, as Cicero said a long time ago.

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