Off the Shelf

5th April 1996 at 01:00
Suppose you were to experience a sudden local backlash about a student or teacher in your school who was HIV positive. Would you know what to do? Would you keep your head down, or make statements? A useful addition to the armoury of advice is the little American handbook Sexuality and the Schools by Joan L Curcio, Lois F Berlin and Patricia F First (Corwin Press Pounds 9.95).

It covers a range of difficult subjects. For example, although common sense tells you that young people are often in anguish about their sexual identity, did you realise that in the USA suicide is the leading cause of death for lesbian and gay adolescents?

Most headteachers know all about being in the middle of family disputes. How well I remember listening to a mother as she spat out her hatred for her ex-husband. At one point she pulled out a photograph of him and thrust it at me, with the instruction that I was to watch out for him as he might appear at school. All the while her daughter sat listening impassively to this. The little girl's disturbed state, of course, according to this obsessive and highly neurotic mum, was caused entirely by her ex-husband's attempts to contact his daughter.

The incident came back to me when I read A Child in the Principal's Office by Richard Lodish (Corwin Press Pounds 34.95 cloth, Pounds 15.50 paperback). In a chapter called "The Sad Results of Broken Ties", he reflects on the damage done to children by marriage break-up, telling, for example of being awakened at 6am by a woman "with the news that her husband had just shoved a 20 foot ladder up to their kid's bedroom."

Lodish, in recent years a respected consultant on education to the United States government, spent much of his career as an elementary school principal in Cleveland. His empathy with children is transparent - hence the ambiguity in the title of his book. The warmth of his personality and the sadness with which he observes the wrong done to so many children ("for many . . . childhood is no longer a game of kick-the-can") will appeal to UK readers.

More memories of encounters with children are to be found in Pupil's Progress by retired teacher Isobel M Towers (Pentland Press Pounds 7.50). As an account of what it was like to be a student and a teacher before and during the war it is a good contribution to the history of education.

Stories again in The Courage to Change, edited by Paul E Heckman (Corwin Press Pounds 17.95). This is an account of the Educational and Community Change (ECC) Project at Ochoa Elementary School in Tucson Arizona, in a community where more than half the population live below the officially defined poverty line. Ninety per cent of Ochoa students were Latinos, 65 per cent of whom had arrived in the US during the previous three years. The school needed to change, and what it actually did was set out to re-invent itself. How it did this, in a highly participatory way, makes fascinating reading. School improvement is high on the agenda in this country, and this book is a useful addition to the debate.

School preservation, however, is not so hot a topic - and yet we have some wonderful school buildings. Not far from me, for instance, are the schools built by the Cadbury family on the Bournville Estate in Birmingham.They are well looked after by staff, pupils and governors, right down to the brass socket for the maypole in the polished floor of the infant hall. Others come to mind, too - the lovely airy buildings put up by Titus Salt for the children of workers at his Saltaire Mill on the outskirts of Bradford; the ubiquitous three-decker London County Council elementary schools.

For me it is an exciting privilege to visit these places, and yet, of course, they bring problems and responsibilities for today's custodians, and in the past the unfeeling response has been to make them redundant and knock them down. Beacons of Learning, published by Save Britain's Heritage (Pounds 11.50, 68 Battersea High Street, London. SW11 3HX), tells the story of our school buildings and alerts readers to the danger of losing an important part of our social and architectural history. Well illustrated, it makes fascinating reading.

The problem with an old building is that it can play havoc with the budget. Cash-strapped schools often dream of business sponsorship - and, in truth, a few apparently strike gold. Clearly, this is a game where there are principles and effective procedures, and Business Sponsorship of Secondary Schools by Tony Attwood gives highly practical advice (Pounds 14.95 First and Best in Education Ltd, 34 Nene Valley Business Park, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 4HL).

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