Off the shelf

15th November 1996 at 00:00

School self-review, which is all the rage at the moment, started like this: "The inspectors are coming next term." "Wow! We'd better set to and find the muck before they do! " Heads and governors interested in examining their own performance should look closely at Sheila Russell's book Collaborative School Self-review (Lemos and Crane Pounds 14. 95). It takes the buzz-phrases - "performance indicators", "evaluation", "classroom observation" - and discusses how they can work in real schools and classrooms, drawing heavily on actual examples.

Outside inspection, properly done and well reported, provides valuable support for self-review, because it enables those within the school to see it through other eyes. Suppose, though, you could take another step back and see the whole inspection process through other eyes? This is what Thomas A. Wilson's Reaching for a Better Standard (Eurospan Pounds 48.95Pounds 22.50) allows. This American book sets out to examine the English school inspection system with a view to finding out whether there are lessons to be learned for American schools.

Well written and lively, it makes absorbing reading - one of the few education books you could read for pleasure. The heart consists of a detailed account, with long quotations, from a five-day inspection. Everything is there - observations, teachers' reactions, reporting back. How can this be, given rules about confidentiality? The author has, with great skill and diligence, constructed an entirely fictional inspection, using as raw material the experience of 10 months spent watching local inspectors and HMI. The final account was reviewed by several inspectors. It is beautifully done, and entirely convincing.

As a brand new grandparent, I picked up Young Children, Parents and Professionals by Margaret Henry (Routledge Pounds 37.50Pounds 12.99) with anticipation. I turned eagerly to page 19 where I would see, according to the list of contents, "Mother and baby smiling". What I found, however, was not a delightful picture but a diagram which explained how a mother and baby alternately smile and receive smiles. Only the previous day I had mused with a colleague on why so many academic authors resort to diagrams which are considerably less lucid than a few well-written sentences. The "baby smiling" diagram - two wavy lines and the four words "mother", "baby", "quiet" and "smiling" in various permutations - was borrowed, with full acknowledgments, from the Open University. Still, Margaret Henry's book is not for grandparents, but for child care workers, and is an effective study of the way these professionals can enhance child-parent relationships.

Church schools make much of family and of the triangle of church, school,home. These days, so many influences bear on this apparently strong and simple concept, that many - within the churches as well as outside - wonder just what church schools are for. For Catholics, members of an authoritarian institution in a questioning world, the issues are particularly acute. Heads and governors will want to read The Contemporary Catholic School, edited by Terence McLaughlin, Joseph O'Keefe SJ and Bernadette O'Keefe (Falmer Press Pounds 40Pounds 14.95). It deploys 20 distinguished contributors, including Professors Gerald Grace and Richard Pring, and Peter Hastings who for over 20 years ran the highly successful and innovative Trinity RC Comprehensive School in Leamington Spa.

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