20th October 2000 at 01:00
INVOLVING PUPILS IN PRACTICE: promoting partnerships with pupils with special educational needs. By Mike Jelly, Alan Fuller and Richard Byers. David Fulton pound;15. Involving Pupils in Practice tells the story of a group of special schools in Essex and their participation with an "Involving Pupils" action research project.

While the explicit focus is pupil involvement as managers of their own learning and decision-makers in their own schools, it is just as much about school improvement.

The book contains much that is heartening, not least the essence of collaborative work that comes across. It is uplifting to read about practitioners' developing ability to teach thinking skills, use circle time to good effect, and foster meaningful school councils.

It is even more uplifting to read about the spin-off benefits of pupils' enhanced confidence and learning. Less heartening, perhaps, is that some of the successes of the project (such as pupils knowing the content of their individual education plans) were causes for celebration rather than taken as entitlements.

In this respect the authors are less judgmental than I am. They are keen to stress that the advances made in pupil involvement could be seen as a continuum, with low as well as high-level participation achievements, and all of these are valued.

In contrast, I find the sometimes low baseline of pupil involvement is an indictment of our schools and systems. Whileall of the progress will have been significant to those involved, the more basic examples are perhaps less worthy of sharing in such a book.

But this does not take away from its value. The book is rich in examples and open and readable in style. It is sensibly organised into sections introducing the project and its ethos, describing the practice, and addressing evaluation issues, implications and conclusions.

The auditing tool and some of the content on the processes of learning to learn and on co-operative and collaborative learning are particularly useful.

There is scope for more incisive coverage of the rationale for involving pupils in practice.

There is scope, too, for further discussion of some controversial topics. What happens when pupils and parents disagree? How much do we seek out only what we want to hear? How far are we willing to share power with pupils? How do we involve pupils with profound and complex learning difficulties?

I would have welcomed also a more critical look at the project data rather than what appears to be the result of a cherry-picking exercise for rosy quotes.

In these respects, however,I may have been looking for a different kind of book to this one, which, in sharing the story of enhancing good practice in pupil involvement, does what it sets out to do admirably.

Melanie Nind is a senior lecturer in inclusive and special education at the Open University

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