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Education for those who care

29 September 2017

Need to get to grips with latest systems? Dennis Richards reviews a selection of texts to help

THE annual exams furore had a different flavour this year. We had a classic British fudge on our hands: English and maths were graded in numbers, and the rest graded in letters. Supposedly, this made the transition to a numbers system easier to understand. Fat chance.

The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, tried to be reassuring: the vast majority of parents and students, he said, had grasped the new system. And, to emphasise the point, Mr Gibb gave us the clincher: no fewer than 97 per cent of head teachers understood it as well.

Hang on a minute. What about the other three per cent? Given that there are approx­im­­ately 3500 se­­­cond­­ary maintained schools, a splendid 100 or so heads have no idea about the new grading system. That is hardly reas­­suring. I think I would have kept quiet and bought a copy of GCSE AQA A Religious Studies: For the Grade 9-1 course. The strap-line is “CGP books — they might just save your life”. I suspect that they were addressing it to the students; Mr Gibb’s belief is that it might be to some head teachers as well.

It is great value, and, if you get one, you can buy another one at half price. It gives the new syllabus in a nutshell, and is packed with hints for revision and exams — a brilliant idea. The other exam boards will no doubt follow shortly.

The debate whether there is an education crisis rages on, probably much as it always has done. Who Cares about Education? Going in the wrong direction belongs to the school of thought which proposes that the rigid focus on examination performance, in a narrow range of subjects, is taking our education system in the wrong direction.

The book takes the view that a “broad and balanced curriculum” in a comprehensive-school framework is best. The foreword is written by Melissa Benn, the daughter of Tony Benn, which tells you all you need to know about the message.

I suspect that the writer wrote this volume when the expansion of the grammar-school sector was re­­­cently mooted. The snap elec­tion in June would appear to have taken that idea off the agenda for the foreseeable future. That said, this is a great read. If you are al­­ready on the same page as the author, you will love it.

Eric Macfarlane has had a great career, and the passion shines through. The style is anec­dotal, chatty, and jargon-free. As is so often the case in recent years, the litmus test is Michael Gove. If you are not a fan, buy this book. If you are a fan, it will show you why so many in education oppose his reforms and his ideology.

The writer of Mental Penguins is con­vinced that there is a crisis — but of a wholly different order from the discussion in Mac­far­­lane’s vol­ume. The style could not be more different. Ivelin Sardamov teaches political science in the American University in Bul­garia; did you know that such an establish­ment existed?

He believes that the technological revo­lution is forcing our children to “shed deeply human qualities in order to acquire a more adaptive, yet narrower, skill set”. We are progressively turning ourselves and our chil­dren into “mental pen­guins”. In simple terms: don’t let go of books, and fight to keep spaces where children can be “free” of technological overload. It might be interpreted as a plea for home schooling. But that’s a whole new ball game.

From a familiar and valued source comes Church School Gov­­ernance. Regular readers will be aware of my admiration for the value for money provided by booklets in this imprint. Their brevity for pro­­fessionals — and hard-pressed reviewers — is another advantage. On this occasion, Grove Books has pro­duced a volume that could easily be handed to newly appointed gov­ernors of church schools. It is very thorough, as always, and ticks most of the boxes.

What the publisher recognises is the fast-changing nature of the educational scene. Its production line is fast-moving. It will, there­fore, be aware that this volume will quickly need additional material. It does not address the next two big issues in governance namely, the relationship between multi-academy trusts and local governing bodies, which will increasingly produce tension. As will the recent focus on head teachers’ salaries.

I can find no evidence that church-school heads and governing bodies have even con­sidered whether such rises are appro­priate in a Christian context.


GCSE AQA A Religious Studies: For the Grade 9-1 course

CGP books, £5.95


Church Times Bookshop £5.35


Who Cares about Education? Going in the wrong direction

Eric Macfarlane

New Generation Publishing £8.99



Mental Penguins

Ivelin Sardamov

iFF Books, £14.99


Church times Bookshop £13.50


Church School Governance

Mike Simmonds

Grove Books, £3.95


Church Times Bookshop £3.55

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