Off the Shelf

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
On the day I read Vaughan Bowie's Coping with Violence (Pounds 14.95 Human Science Publishers, PO Box 872, 90 Dartmouth Road, London SE23 3HL) the head of the school where I am chair of governors was violently threatened and abused in school by two adults. Another head in our town was attacked a few years ago in similar circumstances and never returned to work.

clients. As well as describing physical techniques, it gives advice about Bowie's book aims to help those in the front line cope with violent communication, and dealing with the emotional effects.

The material on communication - how to respond to an angry person, awareness of body language and so on - is interesting and practical. I am less sure about the value of learning physical techniques from a book. Just how useful is a sentence such as: "Where the attacker has grabbed a worker strongly with two hands, the worker responds with the sequence as shown in pictures 16 to 19." (Wait until I find the right page, you cad!) But what is most sad is that people trying to do a professional job are met with blows and insults. I think of the threats offered to our head, and I compare them with the values that our school tries to give to our children, and frankly I despair.

Keeping ourselves safe is one thing. Keeping our children out of harm's way is something else. Child Safety for Parents by Dr Bill Gillham (Piccadilly Press Pounds 5.99) lists the threats every family fears - abuse, accidents, bullying, road dangers. Particularly interesting is the section on road safety, which deals with the need to train children to be safe pedestrians.

We have a disproportionately high child pedestrian accident rate in the UK, undoubtedly because children are kept away from the roads. So when they do go out, their inexperience puts them in real danger. Although this book is for parents, and might be taken up by the PTA for example, it is also useful for teachers.

There are no particular links between the other books in the column this month, so here they are, as they come off the shelf.

A Tour of the Calculus by David Berlinski (Mandarin Pounds 7.99) was, for me, terrifyingly fascinating, like a boa constrictor. You see, I did two years of calculus at school without understanding any of it. I should have had Mr Berlinski as a teacher, for he makes it all seem almost erotic."...the juxtaposition of the two, throbbings on the one hand, those numbers on the other, unsuspected and utterly surprising..." This is a super holiday read for maths teachers.

Blue Coat: Grey Coat by W B Taylor (Pounds 7.50 plus Pounds 1 postage. Sessions Book Trust, Huntington Road, York YO3 9HS) is the story of the Blue Coat and Grey Coat schools in York, and of their successor organisation, the York Children's Trust. It is a valuable addition to the literature of educational history. My favourite sentence reads: "Within four months it became obvious that the Master was not suited to his post and the Mistress was mentally deranged."

The worst thing about Peter Westwood's Commonsense Methods for Children with Special Needs (Routledge Pounds 12.99) is the title. We have far too much common sense in education already, and too little vision, creativity, eccentricity and inspiration.

I have a nightmare in which our future schools are all run by sensible people and in which nobody will behave like our head, who once turned up unannounced in a neighbouring school's assembly dressed in a gorilla suit.

That being said, this book, in its third edition, has been deservedly well received because it gives hard-pressed teachers lots of real and practical ideas about the teaching of basic skills. Like all good special needs resources, it is really about the effective teaching of pupils of all abilities. I still think the odd gorilla suit would gee things up a bit though.

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