THE nation's teachers are returning to school in sombre mood. It
may be overstretching the point to say that the summer has seen a
battle for the soul of English education; nevertheless, the furore
over the decline in this year's English GCSE results is symptomatic
of a sharp division of opinion.
For Michael Gove et al., GCSE has become so ludicrously easy
that it is no longer fit for its purpose. On the other hand,
cynical practitioners on the ground believe that our political -
mostly public-school-educated - masters are disconcerted by an exam
in which children of relatively modest ability are achieving
success. The drive to bring back "proper exams", to raise the
boundaries for higher grades, and to ban re-sits will all have a
markedly negative effect on middle-to-lower-ability children.
Encouragement is a vital tool in the teacher's armoury, in the
quest to reach a target which is achievable. Praise,
Motivation and the Child, by Gill Robins (Routledge,
£21.99 (£19.80); 978-0-415-68174-2), is, therefore, a
particularly timely volume. It calls into question some of the
assumptions that praise is always, by definition, positive. It is a
volume that makes a real contribution to a genuine debate whether,
in our rush to praise children for almost anything, we devalue both
them and the system.
It is a thesis that causes controversy, but, since I was
recently asked to present an award to a child "for opening the door
nicely", I have some understanding why a debate might be
It is not easy, as the words "Well done" are engraved on every
teacher's heart. We find ourselves saying well done to the bus
driver for getting us from A to B, to the postman for delivering
our letters, and to the waiter who successfully serves us with a
cup of coffee.
I suspect that Mr Gove would enjoy this book, and it would
certainly provoke debate in the staffroom, and on a PGCE
But even GCSE results that are lower than expected are put into
perspective by Young People, Death and the Unfairness of
Everything, by Nick Luxmoore (Jessica Kingsley, £13.99
By the law of averages, it is almost certain that every head
teacher who serves for any length of time will have to confront the
desperately difficult situation created by the death of a student.
This honest book - sometimes painfully so - is far more than a
primer for dealing with the death of a child. It is, rather, a
clearly written and jargon-free analysis of how young people
themselves see death.
The author is brave enough to include some awful gaffes from his
own work as a counsellor. It is an approach to be treasured. We so
often learn how to react in a given situation by observing the mess
that others have made before us. We shudder as the author recounts
how he carelessly assumed that a student was aware that his father
had committed suicide rather than dying of natural causes.
And, talking of suicide, Cyberbullying and E-safety:
What educators and other professionals need to know, by
Adrienne Katz (Jessica Kingsley, £18.99 (£17.10);
978-1-84905-276-4) is a comprehensive, bang-up-to-date compendium
about how the British teenagers' addiction to smartphone use has
changed our society for ever. Even the fear of being stranded
without a phone now has a name - "nomophobia", apparently. Worse
still is the fearful rise in cyber-bullying, which has tragically
led to a spate of teenage suicides. Because relationships,
relaxation, and recreation are now all managed on a mobile, there
may be, for a short while, a lull in the pace of technological
This superbly researched book has, therefore, just a chance of
remaining relevant and useful for longer than many previous
volumes. It is currently the essential guide to the sheer
awfulness of some children's experiences of cyber-bullying, and
current best practice in both putting a stop to it and preventing
it from happening in the first place.
One group of teachers will begin the year with some excitement
and not a little trepidation. They will be worrying about sitting
in the wrong chair in the staff room, and whether to address the
head teacher by his or her first name. But, most of all, their
anxieties will centre on the classroom and the children's response.
What If It Happens In My Classroom?, by Kate
Sida-Nicholls (Routledge, £18.99 (£17.10);
978-0-415-68714-0), has a particularly captivating title, and the
volume more than lives up to it. Older teachers will remember
Michael Marland's The Craft of the Classroom. This is a
worthy successor. Marland had no advice about what to do when a
student makes a homophobic comment, nor if a student spends the
entire lesson texting his mates. That did not happen 30 years
My favourite is the discussion about what to do if a student
falls asleep in your lesson. Staffroom veterans will say leave well
alone and enjoy some peace; a sadist in the maths department will
recount with glee how he solves the problem with a well-aimed board
rubber. Consulting this volume may enable some hapless NQT to avoid
a career-ending accident.
On the other hand, if half the "What ifs" in this book happened
in a newly qualified teacher's classroom, he or she would not
survive until Christmas. And what would I have done if a student
had sat in my chair? I am rather glad I never thought of that.
As ever, assembly takers across the land will be grateful for
the chance to add more volumes to the already groaning assembly
shelf. New ideas are always welcome when the responsibilty is daily
for 39 weeks. Where in the World?, by Martin Payne
(BRF, £9.99 (£9); 978-0-85746-155-1), has material both
for the classroom and collective worship. The migration of swallows
at the end of summer has always been a thing of wonder: the author
skilfully uses this annual miracle to explore the Christian faith
through the eyes of the world-wide church. From somewhere to
everywhere is its engaging sub-theme. An ideal resource for both RE
and worship in the autumn term.
Its global focus could usefully be followed by Primary
School Assemblies for Religious Festivals, edited by Ronni
Lamont (SPCK, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-0-28106-697-1). In
schools where the pupil population comes from a variety of faith
traditions, this volume will be especially valuable. While the
danger of a superficial "Thomas Cook Tour of World Religions" is
ever present in such a volume as this, there is a real depth of
feeling and empathy in the impressive writing. It is warm in tone,
and appreciative of diversity and difference.