THE title of a new volume about the German occupation of France
during the Second World War has a peculiarly apt title, given the
events in the French capital in recent times - When Paris
Went Dark, by Ronald Rosbottom (John Murray, £25 (CT
Bookshop £22.50), hardback; £9.99 (£9)
Teachers of history, philosophy of religion, and politics across
Europe are being confronted with the prospect of renewed
anti-Semitism. This volume provides an admirable background study
to the question: Does France have a particular problem with
While we have no room for complacency in the UK, teachers will
find it educative to see how France repeatedly failed to root it
out. When the French Revolution, in 1789, gave the Jews in France
equal rights with all other French citizens, anti-revolution groups
adopted an anti-Semitic stance.
Most notably, the French military held to the traditional view
that the Jewish community's loyalty to France was questionable, and
produced a cause célèbre to support its case. An
Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris (Arrow Books, £7.99
(£7.20)) is a best-selling fictionalised account of the
Dreyfus affair, which began in 1894 when a Jewish army officer in
France, Alfred Dreyfus, was falsely accused of spying. It was a
case that both traumatised and divided France in a way that was
never finally resolved.
Much the same was the case when Maréchal Pétain's
collaborationist Vichy government was complicit in the deportation
of vast numbers of Jews during the Second World War. For 50 years
or more after these events - until 1995, in fact - France held to
the view that, because the Vichy regime was illegal, and without
authority, the anti-Semitism of the war years was not ultimately a
Mitterrand: A study in ambiguity by Philip
Short (Vintage Books, £12.99 (£11.70)) is a perfect
example of the ambivalence of French leaders. This wonderful
account of a skilful but ultimately duplicitous politician
demonstrates the failure to tackle the endemic anti-Semitism in
France in the past. Not until 1995 did a French President, Jacques
Chirac, finally recognise that the anti-Semitic actions of Vichy
were crimes committed in France, by France.
All this has a bearing on the position in this country. For a
start, the question in the title Does Religious Education
Work? A multi-dimensional investigation, by James C.
Conroy, David Lundie, Robert A. Davis, et al. (Bloomsbury, £75
(£67.50) hardback; £24.99 (£22.50) paperback,
published 23 April), would be a wholly irrelevant question in the
fiercely secular French education system: there is no RE.
This newly published compilation of essays is, therefore, a
salutary and timely reminder to us of the crucial significance of
the value of RE in the UK curriculum. There is no forum in a French
school where, in so far as neutrality is possible, religious
intolerance can be tackled in a way that is non-confrontational
and, above all, educational. Instead, a French head teacher is
reduced to standing at the school gate asking Muslim children to
remove their scarves, and Christian children to remove their
crucifixes. It is a fundamentalist view of secularism.
The book concludes: "In schools where religion was treated
seriously . . . the teachers (and the school community) clearly
considered that they had significant obligations to foster
community relations, and worked hard to do so." More remarkable
still, even where it has low status as a subject, "we should not
underestimate the extent to which students are engaged. . . It was
this very unimportance which the students enjoyed", as opposed to
the daily grind of maths, more maths, and further maths. RE is a
chance to relax and do something useful at the same time. The
authors' names are refreshingly unfamiliar, and represent the
latest thinking on the subject.
In a similar vein, Christian Values for Church
Schools, by Neville Norcross (Grove Books, £3.95
(£3.56)) reflects the recent changes in the Statutory
Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools (SIAMS) framework,
supposedly to boost the distinctiveness of church schools, whether
aided, controlled, or academy.
In fairness to Grove Books, they have a singularly attractive
strapline. "Not the last word . . . but often the first." In that
case, they probably need to know that the new framework has created
considerable disquiet in voluntary controlled church schools in
particular. Many such schools are the only school in a community,
and walk the tightrope of being both a church and a community
An experienced head teacher, with a demonstrably outstanding
church school, was left floundering (as was the inspector) by an
articulate parent, who asked how the 15 required values are
specifically Christian, as opposed to Jewish, or Muslim - or
humanist, for that matter. Any attempt to define the
distinctiveness runs the risk of being disrespectful to those of
other faiths and none.
The "Value a month" approach runs the further risk that "We did
compassion in November. . . Sorry, kids, it's December now, we're
on to justice. Tough." That being said, if you want to play the
SIAMS game, this booklet will help you pass with flying colours.
But it is a shame that "Christian ethos" has been so devalued (pun
intended) by the new framework.
Meanwhile, hot off the press is another classic from Barnabas in
Schools: RE in the Classroom with 4-5s, by Helen
Jaeger (£7.99 (£7.20)). Simple to use and to understand,
each lesson has a starter activity. The lessons are varied, and
will clearly afford the children great enjoyment. As one would
expect with a BRF imprint, the material is solidly biblical, but
the themes are rooted in the everyday.
What is the biggest burden for primary-school teachers?
Planning. Hey presto, Jaeger has done it for you - for a whole
year, and for less than £10. Wonderful.
Free service launched. Anew service that
matches secondary-school teachers and trainees with classroom
vacancies was launched in London on 19 January. The service - which
is free to both schools and teachers - is TeachVac, and is the idea
of Professor John Howson. Endorsed by the top brass at the National
Governors' Association, the National Association of School Business
Management, and the ASCL, representing secondary-school head
teachers, the service already has more jobs than some other online
Schools that register receive updates about the job market every
time they register a job, and dioceses can stay informed about
vacancies in their area through a group recording function.
Professor Howson said that the service would be expanded to cover
primary-school vacancies and leadership posts later this year.