Map of Primary Country

7th June 1996 at 01:00

by Rosemary Webb and Graham Vulliamy

Open University Press

Pounds 11.99


by Denis Hayes

David Foulton

Pounds 12.99

It's a secret, strange pastoral land. Sometimes adults are floating deputies, sometimes children are packed lunches. Vital messages are smuggled out under empty Doritos packets or damp swimming costumes. A special educational needs co-ordinator is SENCO but a science co-ordinator isn't necessarily PSYCHO.

Now it's a war zone. The counter-revolutionaries have occupied the citadel and the forum. Are the public monuments still standing? Who has control of the passes? Webb and Vulliamy have taken the trouble to ask the older inhabitants of Primary Country. They researched 50 schools in 13 local authorities.

Their reports contain few surprises for those who still live there. But they make a fine and necessary book. They dispel many of the rumours. For example, whole-class teaching already happens more than is alleged; subject teaching already goes hand-in-hand with topic teaching.

Other painful paradoxes emerge, not to be found in the official dossiers of the Office for Standards in Education. Gains achieved since the onset of daily bombardment by flying acronyms - ERA, GEST, LMS, SAT, SCAA, DFEE - have been met by equivalent losses.

Webb and Vulliamy are to be congratulated on an exemplary presentation of opinions and experiences. The authors' residual optimism derives from their faith in teachers' and children's power to work together.

Such confidence also spills from the pages of Denis Hayes' book, a sort of Rough Guide to Primary Country for new arrivals who are hoping to settle permanently. He writes from a wealth of experience, with an unjaundiced eye and a generous heart.

He begins his book with a shamelessly unfashionable 50-page section on people. Worse, he sullies his prose with deeply unbusinesslike concepts, so that trust, interest, encouragement, pride or patience take precedence over framework, benchmarks, guidelines, strategy and national tests. His accounts of dozens of topics from classroom friendships to avoiding loss of nerve, from open evenings to working with caretakers and cleaners all ring true and are reinforced by vivid, plausible anecdotes.

This is not to suggest that Hayes neglects larger purposes. On the contrary, he then gives another 130 pages to the teaching and learning that actually happens in real classrooms. He talks about organisation, preparation, planning, effective teaching in its many guises, assessment and controlling the unruly - though he makes an important and clear distinction between misbehaviour and failure to conform. This is all set against a solid believable background of dribbly paintings and multiplication tables, of worksheets and blackboards, of wet playtimes and over-enthusiastic footballers.

His case studies, drawn from science, geography and PE lessons, and his advice on shaping the children's day are admirably succinct.

This is all done with the benefit of helpful page design, so that points to consider, suggestions for action and recommendations for professional development are given clear textual space. The tone of these is characteristically Socratic; questions are as important as answers. Hayes' advice is less like a forbidding sage than like the quiet words of an older, calmer friend.

Much has changed since Generalissimos Baker, Clarke and Patten blitzed Primary Country. The issue now is whether the culture Hayes so sympathetically describes will survive the offensives Webb and Vulliamy report in their dispatches from the front.

* Tom Deveson is an advisory teacher in the London Borough of Southwark.

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