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Top five education books out now

19 June 2020

Dennis Richards reviews recent books on education

WHEN the Covid-19 nightmare is finally over, how will we look back and assess the lasting impact, if any, on our education system? Will it be limited to a passing impact on one generation of students, or will it be something more radical than that?

It is a fair bet that we will be debating the extent to which online learning has made a valuable contribution. Which aspects of it will still be valued when the “new normal” finally arrives? It is extraordinarily timely, therefore, that Digital Life Together has appeared just now, after three years’ painstaking research. (There is, of course, no mention of Covid-19.) The subtitle makes clear the researchers’ target audience: The challenge of technology for Christian schools.

The context is an American one of schools that have an overtly Christian foundation and are funded outside the system. The volume is a “best fit” in the UK for the Christian Free School context, and is readable and jargon-free, and has a clear remit.

Equally importantly, the research is based on schools that have a clear mission statement. The practical difficulties of moving towards an iPad culture are well documented; but, fundamentally, the book is asking school leaders a key question: “How is technology affecting the fabric of Christian community?” I suspect that the story has still some way to go, but this is an excellent starting-point for Christian leaders.

Irrespective of the huge reliance on ICT during lockdown, there is no evidence that books have lost any of their ancient power. Early Years teachers can look forward to meeting the wonderful Faraday Kids Science and Religion series. Two of them — God Made the World and, in a separate volume, God made Space — show that long gone, thankfully, are the days when Christian educators desperately tried to fit science into a pre-determined biblical framework.

Sure, there is an assumption that God was behind it all, but the science in these texts is rigorous and up to date. “This is how we think [God] did it” is the approach. Some precocious bright spark will undoubtedly ask whether it could have occurred anyway, without the God dimension. But you get the feeling from these sparky books that the authors would be glad to have such a question put to them. The books are great fun, beautifully produced, and excellent value.

No surprise to anybody that the redoubtable Grove Books label has not let the pandemic halt its production line. At the heart of School-Shaped Ministers is a comment from one of our most experienced church-school educationists, Howard Worsley, that “those who come forward to train for ordained ministry from being school teachers are often in a strong place.” The implication is that the converse is not true.

The gist of this well-argued, evidence-based pamphlet is that clergy are often “at sea” in the school environment, through lack of training. From the diocese of Chelmsford’s scheme Curates’ School Placements, which has been operating for the past five years, the evidence shows that, at the very least, the clergy contribution in schools is now more “appropriately judged”. It may not sound much reward for five years’ effort; but, having been in an assembly hall and shuddered with embarrassment, as a church minister droned on incomprehensibly and, even worse, interminably, I think that the idea of the scheme is clearly a winner. Well done, Chelmsford. Well done, Grove Books. Again.

And now, finally, as they say, for something completely different. Lockdown reading? Sixth-form RE wider reading? From the author who created the TV series Vera and Shetland comes The Long Call, with a newly created detective, Matthew Venn. The blurb says of him: “The day Matthew left the strict Evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family, too.” The leader of the community is called Dennis. Well, he would be, wouldn’t he? Irresistible.



Digital Life Together: The challenge of technology for Christian schools
David I. Smith, Kara Sevensma, Marjorie Terpstra, and Steven C. McMullen
Wm. B.Eerdmans £24.99
Church Times Bookshop £22.50


God Made the World
Steph Bryant and Lizzie Henderson
Lion Hudson £5.99
Church Times Bookshop £5.40



God Made Space
Steph Bryant and Lizzie Henderson
Lion Hudson £5.99
Church Times Bookshop £5.40



School-Shaped Ministers: Shaping a new generation of church leaders (eD42)
Andy Griffiths and Lallie Godfrey
Grove Education £3.95




The Long Call
Ann Cleeves
Panmacmillan £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

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