Road to self-improvement

15th March 1996 at 00:00
MANAGING THE LEARNING OF HISTORY By Richard Brown David Fulton Pounds 12.99

Richard Brown's Managing the Learning of History is driven by the twin motors of management theory and quality assurance - a powerful combination.

There is a key unifying chapter on Total Quality Management which offers an informed survey of the methodology, an inventory of the goals against which performance is measured and a commentary on the challenges, often raised by teachers, to this approach. His conclusion is disappointingly non-committal: "If it doesn't result in quality student learning, then don't do it."

This prolific writer is a self-confessed "parasite" with an enviable gift of distilling important truths from a wide range of writers and researchers. Some are pithy - "while there is an objective past there can be no objective history"; others reflect a commitment -"Authoritarian teaching styles heighten inequality between the teacher and the student, whereas research in the learning of history shows that listening to children, not just talking to them, hugely facilitates their learning".

Other dependencies are unforgivable - "Collaboration can be seen as constituting the metaparadigm of educational and organisational change in the postmodern age . . . as articulating and integrating principles of action, culture, development, organization and research."

Like such quotations, management theory diagrams can be powerfully hypnotic, no doubt due to their simple geometric forms - circles for reflective teaching, curves for the stages of team development, a triangle for a model of service quality and rectangles for the distinctions between quality control and quality assurance.

This is a book of vices and virtues. Among the former are its frequent self-evident generalisations - "Heads of History cannot implement change alone"; "Achieving a greater capacity for change must be explicit and pursued collaboratively in an all out manner". Its virtues lie in its bookstall, "successful management for beginners" style which may be broad brush in approach but conceals a great deal of common sense on such matters as gender and history, student self-evaluation and types of staff development. It may not sell ten million copies worldwide but it could recharge a goodly number of stale departments and set them on the road to self-improvement.

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