Is it a bird, is it a plane ...?

7th October 2011 at 01:00

Brilliant Secondary School Teacher: What you need to know to be a truly outstanding teacher

By David Torn and Peter Bennett

Bowen, rrp pound;12.99

4 OUT OF 5

With the ever-present focus on teacher professionalism and the looming promise of re-accreditation on the horizon, it is probably inevitable that there will be more and more books appearing that will promise to turn you into a super-teacher, or even SuperTeacher(TM)! What sets Brilliant Secondary School Teacher apart from the crowd is that it is packed with tips, case studies, examples and checklists, and almost all of them are relevant and practical.

The design of the book is such that it can either be read in one sitting or, much more likely, dipped into for specific ideas as required. Separate chapters cover everything from first contact with classes through using data effectively to make a difference, to the psychology of being a teacher and coping with challenging learners - and challenging colleagues. It is this comprehensive coverage that will give the book its longevity.

A typical chapter opens with introductory remarks outlining the topic before effectively walking the reader through a process of improvement. Throughout, there are text boxes with case studies, practical tips (such as getting learners into twos or threes to discuss what they learnt that period as a plenary activity) and my personal favourite, lists of dos and don'ts that are packed with practical advice drawn from the authors' extensive experience. This is a book that encourages the reader to think "I already do that" or, more usefully, "I'm going to try that today!"

Like all teachers, I have seen a marked increase in the use of hard data to provide evidence of learning in the classroom. CATs, STACs and all the other acronyms for numbers are now an integral part of the teacher's professional knowledge. For that reason, Chapter 6 on "Using data for pupil improvement" is worth the price of admission alone. This is not a book that slavishly tells the reader to use data; instead, it explains the value of that data, as well as warning against allowing the data to become the sole focus of learning. As the authors say, "Be sceptical about all data, especially quantitative data . data is neutral, it's how it is used that makes a difference to whether it aids or impedes good teaching and learning."

The only reservation I do have with the book is that there is a strong bias towards the English education system. That is not to say that there is any shortage of valuable advice in the chapter on "The Role of the Form Tutor", but one effectively has to translate portions of the book from "English" to "Scottish".

On the surface, Brilliant Secondary School Teacher appears to be aimed at those new to the profession, but the practical, matter-of-fact advice given by the authors will strike a chord with all teachers interested in improving their practice. This is a book that deserves its place in every department's reference library.


Between them, David Torn and Peter Bennett have more than 40 years' classroom experience. David Torn was awarded a PLATO in 2007 and won the inaugural GTCE Award for professional development. They both work at St Edward's School in Havering.

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