It does exactly what it says on the cover
THE SECONDARY TEACHER'S HANDBOOK. By Lyn Overall and Margaret Sangster. Continuum pound;9.99.
For many teachers, the idea of continuing professional development is relatively recent. You'd get your first teaching post, have a series of weekly after-school sessions ("this week the pastoral system, next week photocopying"), pass your probationary year and that would be that. Professional development meant the number of courses you managed to attend after that point.
Now we're besieged with opportunities to sharpen our classroom practice, improve our leadership skills, plump up our professional portfolios and extend our knowledge. A good thing, too: if teachers aren't constantly learning (and wanting to learn), what chance is there for our students?
Continuing Professional Development for Teachers reflects this notion of self-awareness and continuous learning. Written by two senior lecturers in university schools of education, it has sections on professional development in different career phases: in your first post, preparing for what it quaintly calls "advancement", and finally, preparing for leadership. This continuum is important because, as the authors say on their opening page, "the teachers who are reading this book are the ones who will be in the forefront of developments in schools during the next decade and beyond".
The book gets off to a stodgy start, with accounts of the role of the various general teaching councils (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and a lengthy description of government regulations on professional development, again divided up according to principality. The rest of the material is for reference: an account of what an induction year might look like, then lists of possible opportunities for further professional development, which would not be the main concern of new teachers.
The problem for the authors is that most of their material is readily accessible from other sources, including the DfES's own TeacherNet site, which has a comprehensive section on the various layers of professional development.
The book really hits its stride only when it provides a case study of the induction year at one school, and it becomes increasingly concerned with practice as it goes on. It provides hints on "knowing yourself" and "balancing personal and school life". ("Research has shown that working long hours at school is not necessarily productive".) For me, the best sections are the later ones, with genuinely helpful advice on taking on middle management and senior management roles. This is where the nitty-gritty issues are tackled, such as how best to manage departmental meetings and team-building.
This mapping out of the extent of a teacher's career, from innocent beginnings to a grand finish in headship, is a distinctive feature of the book. The emphasis on genuinely continuous professional development is welcome.
But it also creates a problem. I can't quite imagine the readership. Given the pace of change in education, if I buy it as a newly qualified teacher, the sections on middle and senior management are likely to need updating by the time I'm applying for those posts. If I'm about to apply for a middle management post, I'll want in-depth guidance, not a book with lots of material for NQTs. The book would perhaps serve best as a useful addition to the staff library. It might then be dipped into by a range of people whose careers are in various phases.
Lyn Overall and Margaret Sangster's Secondary Teacher's Handbook is, like so many books from Continuum, a really clever idea. It aims to synthesise into one book all the issues teachers are likely to need to know about on a day-to-day basis. Its A-Z format makes for easy reading. A quick flick through gives a flavour of its range: assessment, evaluating lessons, ICT, parents, questioning. Need a quick overview of special needs regulations? The book has a pithy summary. More than that, each entry also contains a section on strategies - what we should do to apply best practice - plus a reference to Teacher Training Agency standards and further reading. It is jargon-free with a genuine focus on the main issue for teachers: teaching and learning.
Occasionally it's a little too broad-brush in its approach. When I looked up "able students", I wanted clarification on the distinction between gifted and talented. Instead, the authors concentrate on practical strategies the teacher might use ("try to find times when able students work with you and with other able students"). Of course, such an approach cannot hope to be comprehensive. I wanted more meaty entries relating to literacy and the key stage 3 strategy as a whole, but as a handy reference guide - a welcome dose of sanity in a sometimes chaotic world - this does the job admirably.
Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk