Off the shelf

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Suppose you have for your school a Personal and Social Education programme which mentions tolerance, respecting individual differences and building a supportive community. Then suppose that your staffroom is poisoned by mistrust and intrigue. Two teachers have not spoken a civil word to each other for months; another is a focus for general discontent. What price then your ring binder filled with moral exhortations?

This thought came to me when I read Developing Good Practice in PSE by Jonathan Long, one of a number of booklets published by SATIPS, the Society of Assistants Teaching in Preparatory Schools (Pounds 5 plus 50 pence postage, from Paul Baker, Dragon School, Bardwell Road, Oxford OX2 6SS). The booklet offers excellent advice on the practicalities of setting up a PSE programme. The policy, though, Jonathan Long points out, has to grow out of the values embedded in the school. "Indeed, it is difficult to see how any Personal and Social Education Programme can be developed until it has been established whose values and what values are going to be fostered in a school. These are the roots upon which many of the fruits of education depend."

One of the central values of all schools has to do with realising the potential of every pupil. My guess is that heads worry a great deal about this - and particularly about whether they are meeting the needs of the most able children.

Barry Teare's Effective Provision for Able and Talented Children is a recent addition to the School Effectiveness series, from Network Educational Press (Pounds 11.95). This is an absorbing book, which links theory to practice in a seamless and always interesting way. The starting point, though, is that each school should have a policy for its able children - something that a few teachers resist, on a range of educational and sociological grounds. Barry Teare insists, though, that "the most important reason for a policy is that the chances of effective provision are greatly enhanced - the welfare of children should be at the heart of all our thinking." And in any case, "Evidence from OFSTED supports the view that if schools are willing and able to meet the needs of able pupils, standards are raised for all pupils."

Another recent book from this same excellent series, which is edited by Tim Brighouse, is Raising Boys' Achievement by Jon Pickering (Pounds 11.95). The problem is by now a familiar one. In bald terms, girls work hard at school but have low expectations; boys do not work, preferring to "have a laugh", but they feel sure that somehow they will eventually swan around in BMWs. This hugely practical book looks beyond all the myths and preconceptions, and is particularly strong on shunning any sort of negative "boys are worse than girls" judgments. There are case studies and examples of policies and practices. Any school which has a teacher or a working party looking at this issue must have this book.

When I was a remedial teacher (as special needs teachers were then called) in the Sixties, our local authority adviser had strong views on dyslexia. He believed that, while it undoubtedly existed, the term was far too freely and inappropriately used, especially by middle-class families who thought it socially more acceptable to say "John is dyslexic" (or, worse, "John has 'got' dyslexia") than "John is having trouble with reading and writing". However, things have moved on since then, and although it is still possible to see what our adviser was driving at, we are more clearly aware of what dyslexia is, and how to cope with it.

Ronald D Davis's The Gift of Dyslexia, now in a second edition (Souvenir Press Pounds 12.99), offers many insights not only into dyslexia itself but into the whole thought process and its relationship with language. Because he himself is dyslexic, the author is able to give the insider's view, and the result is intriguing and illuminating.

Finally, because it is a subject in which I have a particular interest, I mention Minibuses: A guide for users and operators (Pounds 5 from the Freight Transport Association, Hermes House, St John's Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 9UZ). I know from experience that there is much confusion in schools about the rules and regulations surrounding the way they use their minibuses. Seatbelts, for example, are the subject of endless misunderstanding. This booklet (produced in association with Ford Motor Company) will clear up most, if not all, of the confusions.

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