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Not just another assembly book

23 September 2016

Dennis Richards gives his assessment of a selection of new educational resources

WE KNOW from bitter experience that some education topics are best avoided in dinner-party conversations. The merits, or demerits, of faith schools, single-sex schools, and boarding schools are three such conversations. The grammar-school debate is back on the agenda.

Parents in the position of choosing a school for a child may wish to consider Home at Last by Mark Stibbe (MD Publishing, £8.99 (CT Bookshop £8.10)

This is a story that will disturb. Cynics will describe it as just another 50-year-old facing a mid-life crisis: it is clearly more than that. Mr Stibbe fully recognises that, for some children, boarding school is a wholly positive experience. Others simply keep their heads down and tolerate it. But, for him, and many others like him, “the decision to disengage emotions at boarding school has had lifelong consequences.” There is some familiar material relating to attachment disorder and disassociation.

Some will find the Evangelical flavour difficult to handle, but if your church has a book club, this volume will provide enough material for weeks. A challenging volume in every respect.

AS TIMELY, and on another hot educational topic, How to Survive as a Governor in a Church School, by Alexandra Green (Redemptorist Publications, £9.95 (£8.95)), tackles an issue that is slowly but surely putting the academies policy under increasing pressure.

The burden of ensuring that schools are publicly accountable for the way they spend public money, and for their year-on-year academic performance, formerly the job of local authorities, has passed to governing bodies. It is no secret that, in many areas of the country, governors are simply out of their depth. Meanwhile, church-school governors are also subject to a further inspection process which examines and evaluates the “distinctiveness and effectiveness of the school as a church school”.

Green is to be congratulated on a superbly produced volume that covers the latter kind of inspection in every detail, and has a full ongoing self-evaluation kit. Every church-school governing body should have several copies of this book. It will remain the last word on the subject until the specification changes.


WHEN I was a head teacher, I could never have too many assembly books. Collective Worship for Primary Schools, by Helen Jaeger (Barnabas For Schools, £7.99 (£7.20)), has 50 assemblies to add to the collection.

The list of potential topics for assembly is endless, but it needs to be. A primary-school head teacher could easily be responsible for leading up to 100 assemblies every year. Vicars who complain about the number of the sermons they have to deliver should try being head teachers.

This volume is mercifully simple in construction and easy to use. Heads will particularly appreciate the “No special preparation is required” ones. There is one unique feature: the assemblies are published in alphabetical order, according to the theme. Hence we begin with anti-bullying and conclude with world feasts. The best title in the book is appropriately in the middle: “Laughing is good for you.” Staff and students alike will enjoy that one.


IS GROVE the most prolific publisher of books in the country? Two more titles have rolled off the production line. The publisher’s brilliant strapline “Not the last word . . . but often the first” is appropriate for Creation: Steps to sustainability, by Wayne Talbot (Grove Books, Y42, £3.95 (£3.55)). I was about to write about the idealism of a certain type of teenager who wants to save the planet, and do something practical towards that end. I am given a sharp ticking-off by the author: “When we are talking about young people, we are not dealing with a separate tribe,” he writes. “The best projects are inter-generational.” He could not be more right. I have lost count of the occasions when I have felt that organisations, including the Church, were trying to “fob off” their responsibilities to the young generation. Sustainable development is for the whole community.

The somewhat wordy title Spirituality in a Church School Within a Performance-Driven Culture, by Anne Lumb (Grove Books, ED27, £3.95 (£3.55)), tells you all you wish to know about the content. Since inspection of all kinds has maintained its requirement for an evaluation of “spiritual development” in schools, it is probably wise to know what this means, and “how to do it”. This pamphlet will tell you.


Dennis Richards is a former head of St Aidan’s C of E High School, Harrogate.

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