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Education: Fighting evil forces

07 February 2014

Dennis Richards shares his pick of the latest education resources

SCHOOL Counsellors Working With Young People and Staff, by Nick Luxmoore (Jessica Kingsley Publishing, £16.99 (£15.29); 978-1-84905 460-7).

Perhaps, happily, the scourge of drugs is not the problem in the schools it once was. Arguably, it has been replaced by a plague far more insidious and difficult to deal with.

Tallulah Wilson, a London schoolgirl, threw herself under a train at St Pancras station at the age of 15, considering herself to be "fat, ugly and worthless". It was an image she had created for herself with the help of others. It could not have been further from the truth. Her devastated mother described in graphic detail the "toxic digital world" into which her daughter had withdrawn, freely consulting blogs that encourage self-harm and suicide.

Tallulah is by no means the only one. In August last year, 14-year-old Hannah Smith took her own life, having fallen victim to a sustained online bullying campaign. Self-harm among teenage girls has reached pandemic proportions.

"The forces undermining girls now are horrendous and incessant," says a parenting consultant, Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer. Boys are not exempt, but it is girls who are bearing the brunt of this latest teenage angst. Nick Luxmoore's book, therefore, could not be more timely.

It is not the internet which killed these youngsters. Correlation does not equal causation. The fact is that mental illness afflicts both students and staff in schools in significant numbers.

Luxmoore has worked in schools as a counsellor for over 20 years. The book is brutally honest; the language is often, shall we say, industrial.

He faces up, first, to the generally ambivalent view of counselling: "quack" psychologists, for example, and the subtle pressures placed by teachers on a counsellor establishing a different kind of relationship with their students. The case-studies are immediately recognisable and realistic.

By far the biggest pressure on the school counsellor, according to Luxmoore, is the desire from other professionals for quick results. The teacher wants the student to achieve a C grade at all costs. "How are you getting on with him," the teacher enquires of the counsellor. "Is there anything I should know?" Given that the teacher's pay is now linked to results, the tension is clear.

This handy volume is a must for any school debating the issues surrounding counselling.

Talking of teachers and why they do the job in the first place, What Motivates Christian Educational Practitioners?, by Howard Worsley (Grove Books, eD17, £3.95 (£3.55); 978-1-85174-881-5).

This is a theological exploration of the question in the title. Howard Worsley, a prolific writer on all aspects of church schools, makes a valiant attempt to draw up a theological underpinning of a teacher's work, in a "context where pupils need to make two levels of progress in English and Maths in a given year, or where a headteacher is observing an inadequate lesson".

It is most successful when it sticks to the brief. The part that covers redemption and restoration is particularly helpful. The Gove philosophy of one chance and you're labelled, is deeply resented and resisted by all schools, and most ignore it, regardless of the damage it may do to them in the league tables. Worsley has got it right, and good on him.

The relationship between grace and OFSTED is not, however, immediately apparent.

Worsley's greatest strength is his analysis of the current educational context, and how a distinctive Christian education can be established within a state-funded school. He freely relies on other scholars who work in a similar field, for example Jeff Astley, and gives the reader choices. There is no one-size-fits-all conclusion.

It is excellent value for money and invaluable for Church school heads and governors facing inspection.

HELP, There's a School In My Parish! by Anthony Buckley (Grove Books, eD16, £3.95 (£3.55); 978-185174-872-3). is written for chaplains and church members wishing to involve themselves in schools; the flavour is gentle, and very easy to understand.

The writer concentrates on traditional forms of involvement: assemblies, and use of church buildings, for example. He has, however, some useful reminders about special schools and exclusion units, both of which would not currently be natural habitats for chaplains and church volunteers.

Mere Education: C. S. Lewis as teacher for our time, by Mark. A. Pike (Lutterworth Press, £17.50; 978-0-7188-9325-5). Far more challenging, in an intellectual sense, this volume will delight the huge army of Lewis devotees. It is readable, and the extensive footnotes give some indication of the level of research involved.

Where Lewis's genius cannot be denied is in the field of storytelling, and, since schools and children feature prominently in his writings, the author is able to draw some fascinating insights into the educational process from them.

The imagery is rich, and many of the lessons are timeless and beautiful. But we cannot evade the reality that Lewis died in 1963. In the same way as Thomas Arnold speaks some timeless truths, he is nevertheless from another age.

Pike reminds us, for example, that for Lewis any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage is sin. Lewis is firmly of the view that the Christian rule is either complete faithfulness to one partner or total abstinence. Pike's sub-title ("C. S. Lewis as Teacher for our Time") may be so, but in several aspects it will be a highly contentious view.

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