Off the shelf

14th November 1997 at 00:00
New ways of working, new forms of public-private partnership, new forms of collaboration with central and local government, new relationships with parents, new patterns of choice. That's from the White Paper, of course - but it could equally well be from New Schools for a New Century (edited by Diane Ravitch and Joseph Viteritti, Yale University Press Pounds 21), analysing the perceived failure of public education in the great cities of the United States.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, bureaucratic school boards, comprehensive schools, over-powerful unions and defensive teachers all get their share funded places in private or parochial schools, targets and standards and firing teachers are all part of our agenda. What is different is that Ravitch and Viteritti (both powerful figures in American education) are of blame. The prescription for improvement is familiar too: local school management, opting out, privatised state schools, vouchers, publicly clear that teacher empowerment is a precondition of reform. Teachers are professionals, they argue, not "interchangeable factory workers". Coming from the United States, where teachers have an even lower status, that's interesting. In the light of the White Paper's threat to ensure that all teachers "use the best methods of teaching", it's relevant, too.

But what are those methods? The authors of Accelerated Learning for the 21st Century (Colin Rose and Malcolm J Nichol, Piatkus Books Pounds 20) - "The 6-Step Plan to unlock your MASTER mind" - have no doubts. Those familiar with Accelerated Learning ("The answer to my prayer: it gave me all what-to-do") will find little that is new in this updated version. Others may be put off by the style, which has overtones of Dale Carnegie and Billy Graham. Behind the buzzwords and mnemonics, though, there is a genuine passion for teaching and learning as enjoyment, and a fund of common sense.

Which is more than you can say for the hero (if that's the word) of Fred Remembered: Recollections of John Shirley, Headmaster and Canon of Canterbury (edited by Robin Pittman, John Catt Educational Pounds 13.95). Canon John Shirley ("Fred" to all who knew him) was head of King's School Canterbury from 1935 till 1962 - but this is far from dull reading. These recollections by former pupils and colleagues are unputdownable. Fred was larger than life, a prodigious snob, a man who would cane a whole team for losing and who was so vain that he would eject a pupil from the school play so that he could take the starring role. He ruthlessly exploited his more than feudal powers, charmed parents, manipulated pupils, terrorised teachers and revelled in the aura he created. He was, we are told, a truly great headmaster. Today, one suspects, he would have been in jail. Read, and reflect.

And finally, a welcome reminder of the treasures in the Public Record Office. The latest reader's guide, Education and the State from 1833 (Ann Morton, PRO Publications Pounds 14.99) is a rich source of study, covering the whole field from statutes and commissions to individual school reports and log books. Apart from anything else, it demonstrates conclusively that there's nothing new about our current preoccupations. Plus ca change, in fact, plus c'est la meme chose.

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