Off The Shelf

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Are you a woman head? I bet some people wondered, when you were appointed,whether you would be able to "control the boys". Anna Hicks, author of Speak Softly and Carry Your Own Gym Key (Sage Pounds 30.50 hardback, Pounds 13. 95 paperback) whose book is an entertaining account of her time as a high school principal, certainly met those attitudes - and because she happened to be single, with three children, and working in the Deep South of the United States. she met them with knobs on. Thus, for example, just before her appointment, she heard of a women's bridge group "where my ability to take a gun away from a student had been debated".

She was the first woman principal in her district and, "It was sometimes lonely and frightening." There were particularly American issues, too - the "Pom Pom Wars" (about cheerleaders' obnoxious parents) and some potentially nasty racial incidents, notably one surrounding the election of an African-American Homecoming Queen. She defused that last one with a multi-cultural assembly which roused some of the redneck parents to foaming-at-the-mouth fury.

This is a lively and funny book, full of warmth - and never think that because it is American that it has nothing to do with us, for it most certainly has.

Similarly transatlantic in its appeal is Best Ideas from America's Blue Ribbon Schools published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (Sage Pounds 12.50). This is a collection of ideas - some classroom based, some organisational - which teachers have wanted to share, and they range from a "Brown Bag Buddy Program" (pupils invite people from local companies to come in and share a packed lunch with them) to an "Exemplary Patriot" award (go on - how do you feel about that one?).

If the Atlantic is wide, perhaps there are times when the English Channel seems wider. Education and Identity in Rural France by Deborah Reed-Danahay (Cambridge University Press Pounds 37.50) is based on the author's experience in the remote village of Lavialle in the Auvergne, and although much of the account will seem familiar to an English village school head, many incidents remind us that rural France has its own loyalties.

Thus, when the Lavialle teachers were a little too overt in their support for Mitterrand during the 1981 election, the people of the village expressed their displeasure by, of all things, cleaning up the school yard - "an attempt by families to exert a claim over the school, in opposition to that of the state and the teachers". This is an interesting study of a community and a country in which the relationship between village and state is at times uncomfortable, and where the school is often seen as a necessary, but not always welcome, outpost of government power.

I do not know whether either the French or American legal systems wrestle with the same sort of labyrinthine charity laws that we have. Independent schools - or parent-teacher groups in state schools - wanting to gain charitable status, or to work within it without inadvertently breaking the law - face some challenging hurdles, and this is an area which abounds in hearsay and false information passed from one half-knowledgeable person to another. Very welcome, therefore, is Schools: an Education in Charity Law by Debra Morris (Dartmouth Publishing Company, Gower House, Croft Road, Aldershot, GU11 3HR Pounds 39.50). The author painstakingly deals with all the questions about tax, investment of funds, responsibilities of trustees and fund raising.

One of the duties of this column is to mention worthy subsequent editions of books which may have been reviewed at length when the first appeared. Special Needs in Ordinary Classrooms by Gerda Hanko, rich in case studies, and with its feet firmly on the classroom floor, was warmly received in 1985. The third edition, just out, is fully updated to take account of the 1994 Code of Practice (Fulton Pounds 12.99).

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