THE A-level results
season is over for another year. The script is a familiar one. Are
the exams getting easier? Are A levels fit for purpose? Are
standards going up or down?
There have been some
interesting trends to note: the continuing rise in entries in the
"hard" subjects, for example maths and physics, and at the same
time the calamitous collapse in modern-language entries. But the
real story is what students will do next; the years of a seamless
transition into higher education are over.
We are now well into an
era where students are facing a lifestyle choice as to whether they
load themselves down with huge debts in fees and living costs in
the hope of a highly paid, successful career as the pay off. Just
the moment, then, for What Are Universities Good
For? by Stephen Heap (Grove Books, £3.95
Grove Books have a well-
deserved reputation for thought-provoking pamphlets. And their
strapline is a brilliant summary of what they are about: "Not the
last word . . . but often the first". Heap's thesis is clear: "It
can be argued that society needs more from its universities than
contribution to the economy".
Having set out, in easily
readable and accessible chapters, a digest of the development of
university education in England, Heap concludes that, for financial
reasons, we are moving inexorably towards what he calls a
"fundamentally instrumentalist view of education". And for
Christians this will "never be adequate".
Heap has clearly got to
grips with recent reports on higher education, including Dearing
and Browne, and is particularly dismissive of the latter. Browne's
"main concern is ensuring that the needs of the economy are met".
Using the writings of influential theologians, including David Ford
and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, Heap has no
difficulty in pleading the case for a far wider vision.
It is inspiring stuff.
But it is clearly not the last word. Schools are subjected to
rigorous checking through OFSTED, and have been so for nearly 20
years. As Christians, we presumably welcome the expansion of higher
education from the 1990s onwards, with all the finacial
Being disparaging about
an "economic" model does not dispense with the question: "Who
pays?", nor with a student's wish to have value for money.
Universities can give the impression that teaching gets in the way
of research. Three lectures a week and a tutorial no longer passes
muster. We need an OFSTED equivalent for Higher Education - OFHED
perhaps - and a follow-up pamphlet from Grove.
One of the joys of
education is its range. University students were also young once.
Tom, Katie and Friends, by Eira Reeves and Shirley
Pope (LDA Findel Education series of four titles, £5 each, £19 for
a pack of four), is an engaging series of stories written for young
children up to the age of six.
With the self-explanatory
titles of Care, Are
Kind, Love, and
Tease the four stories reflect the author's years
as a midday supervisor (she will certainly have seen at close hand
how badly children can be- have towards each other). Tease
is a particularly telling example. Three children are teased, one
as a result of having ginger hair, another be- cause he is too
small, and the other cannot catch a ball. Beautifully illustrated,
and Early Years children will love them.
And then, of course, we
have all stations in between in Teaching Narnia: A
cross-curricular classroom and assembly resource by Olivia
Warburton (BRF, £6.99).
The Narnia stories have
not enjoyed a particularly good press in recent years. Openly
accused of sexism and racial stereotyping by some, and rejected as
clumsy evangelism by others, the stories remain stubbornly
attractive to Key Stage 2 children (aged seven to 11), and remain
on best-seller lists year after year.
Warburton addresses all
this head-on: no doubt in 50 years' time critics will be debunking
J. K. Rowling in a similar way. Lewis wrote his masterpiece in
1950, not 2013. The context, skilfully drawn out by the author, was
the grinding deprivation and greyness of Britain in the immediate
This is a wonderful
resource in which the stories are allowed to speak for themselves.
The lesson plans provide a stimulating trigger for the imagination,
and for creativity, and all of it in a meaningful way. Lewis wrote
the Narnia Chronicles as children's stories, not as evangelistic
tracts. And in this volume their "ancient power" shows why they
have stood the test of time.
The author is a Cambridge
English Literature graduate. Teachers can use this volume in
literacy and/or religious education with total confidence. I
suspect Lewis would approve of that more than anything else.
The volume is published
by the Bible Reading Fellowship. Wisely, books intended for schools
go under the logo "Barnabas in Schools".
From the same stable
comes Wow! Our Amazing Planet: A cross-curricular
conservation resource by D. Chandler (BRF, £9.99). If you
buy only one book related to schools and the environment, this is
the one. Everything about it is exciting. Its great strength is its
focus on the local environment: bees, butterflies, blackbirds,
snails, slugs, and spiders. Children will love the titles of these
sections, such as "The birdy bits" and "The wriggly bits".
The more serious stuff is covered as well, in the same buzzy
style. We have troubled species, troubled climate, and troubled
places. There are colouring-in templates, word searches, and a
strong Christian emphasis that the world is merely loaned to us to
look after. A bril-liant resource, and excellent value.