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Rounding up the class

10 June 2016

Dennis Richards gives his marks on a range of educational materials

JESSICA KINGSLEY PUBLISHING is a rapidly expanding, independent publisher of resources for schools that work primarily with troubled children. Founded in 2007, JKP has built up a formidable reputation for high-quality production, and for tackling the acute dilemmas that psychological problems such as autism, eating disorders, ADHD, and self-harm can create in a school community. What Are You Staring At? by Pete Wallis & Joseph Wilkins (Jessica Kingsley Publishing; £12.99) is a laudable attempt to present the concept of restorative justice to a wider audience. It is billed as a Key Stage 1 text, but it has far more uses than that. The volume is superbly illustrated and produced, and would make an attractive addition to any library.

The story is a simple one, recounted in comic-book style. Jake clouts Ryan, for what appears to be no particular reason. The school’s initial response is punitive, as one would predict. A sympathetic teacher brings the two boys together, and the truth emerges: Jake’s adored uncle has died the day before. It is a superb case-study simply because it is what happens in every school every day. There is an extensive bibliography to pursue the concept of restorative justice. What is missing from the discussion is the response of Ryan’s parents. They are likely to feel aggrieved that their son has been injured at school; they are not likely to see the uncle’s death as an acceptable reason for a gratuitous assault. Debate and discuss. In other words, we have here an ideal resource for in-service training for teachers.

From the same stable comes Little Meerkat’s Big Panic: A story about learning new ways to feel calm by Jane Evans (Jessica Kingsley Publishing; £9.99). A full-colour children’s story is the vehicle for the theory of the “triune brain”.

In essence, three animals are personified to illustrate what some psychologists believe to be the three parts of the brain. Little Meerkat is the primitive “reptilian” part of the brain, formed before birth, and activated automatically if we feel in danger or threatened. Small Elephant and Mini Monkey, the other two characters, represent those parts of the brain which enable us to deal with anxiety successfully. Teachers and social workers, particularly those working with “school refusers”, will warmly welcome this attempt to help children in a worried state understand why they feel the way they do, and what steps they can take to deal with their anxiety more effectively.

Using Poetry to Promote Talking and Healing by Pooky Knightsmith. (Jessica Kingsley Publishing; 14.99). Using poetry as a therapeutic tool, but Dr Knightsmith writes from a position of a “complete mental breakdown”. I doubt if she would claim that her poetry is going to reach the status of an A level set text, and yet the general reader will love it. It is particularly worthy of note that none of the poems is difficult to understand. The subject-matter is not easy, very far from it, but there is a refreshing honesty about the approach. It is excellent value for money, with more than 100 poems and more than 50 “poetry prompts”.

IN SPITE of every attempt to refine it, or even get rid of it entirely, the requirement for a daily act of collective worship in schools will be around for some years yet. But the deluge of things needing a head teacher’s attention often means that preparing a morning assembly falls to the bottom of the list. As the same head teacher may well now be responsible for more than one school, you can imagine that dredging up something useful to say on a wet Monday morning in November may just be the final straw. Thank heavens, then, for 10-Minute Assemblies for 4-11s by Rebecca Parkinson (Barnabas for Schools; £9.99). There are 50 of them — I reckon that’s about 20p each.

The author occasionally gets a bit carried away, and her suggestions for props goes into overdrive. You know the kind of thing: a kettle, a mug, a tea bag, a bottle of milk (so far so good: a quick raid of the staff room will do the trick). It’s when she adds a large toy car, a bottle of lemonade, and “a selection of foods” that the project is doomed.

But, for the most part, the book has some brilliant “off-the-shelf” assemblies, which need the minimum of preparation. I’ve owned it for less than a month and I’ve used three of them already. If Parkinson can now add a companion volume for 11-16 year olds, she’ll earn a fortune.


GROVE BOOKS also has a deservedly high profile, publishing high quality, inexpensive pamphlets. I have quoted the company’s strapline before and it continues to sum up its publications perfectly: “Not the last word… but often the first”. Headteachers as Community Pastors by C Cocksworth & L Wainscot (Grove Books; £3.95). Christopher Cocksworth is the Bishop of Coventry. He opens up his reflections with a refreshingly honest mea culpa: “Frankly, until I became a bishop I did not think much about church schools.” It’s pretty obvious he didn’t think much of them either. It is reminiscent of Lord Carey’s discovery 20 years ago: “Why is the Church of England so embarrassed about its schools?”

Cocksworth’s episcopal visits to church schools in his diocese have opened his eyes to the way church schools and their leaders are embedded in their communities. Former mining towns, towns with a high transient immigrant population, and small rural villages all throw up formidable challenges to head teachers who well know that what happens at home directly affects what happens at school. It used to be easy: the frontier was clear, and what happened out of school stayed out of school. No longer.

And the Bishop has a lot to say: I can’t remember seeing the word “seventhly” before. And we could easily have got up to “Fifteenthly”. It’s a full discussion, bursting with ideas, and all for the price of a pint.

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