*** DEBUG END ***

Education: books round-up

24 May 2024

Dennis Richards takes his pick of the latest education titles

TEACHERS recently appointed, or about to be appointed to, school leadership for the first time in September 2024 face an unprecedented number of challenges. Appointment panels, having congratulated the successful applicant, could well include with the appointment details a copy of New School Leader: What now?

The immediate attraction of the book is its easily navigated four-part structure. Section One, “Navigating Doubt”, is the crucial one, at least at the start. A newly appointed head will be very fortunate if doubt — panic, even — doesn’t manifest itself in the first month. In my case, it was the buildings, especially the older ones. Had they been properly inspected recently? Or ever? Nightmare. For Neil Renton, it was standing up in front of 400 people with an inner voice telling him that he was about to freeze.

In the ingeniously entitled chapter “Working Without Praise”, he muses that praise in schools is catching. The words “Well done” are etched on every teacher’s heart. Teachers can be heard saying “Well done” to all and sundry: shop assistants, the window cleaner, airline stewards, and the rest. In school, middle leaders are generous in their praise for junior colleagues working their socks off to impress.

Then you become a head, and the positive strokes for you simply dry up. And then the doubts kick in: impostor syndrome, for a start. The remaining three chapters lead on to the next stages of headship.

Anecdotal and refreshingly honest, the book explains how easily mistakes can be made, and, even better, how to avoid them. A good example: telling an angry parent, with no real effort to find out why they are so upset, “Perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong school.” Ouch. We’ve all done it. Each chapter then finishes with a reflection: So, how do you deal with a hostile complaint? So, how do you learn when to say yes or no? To keep you on task, he uses the most intriguing chapter headings imaginable: “Benches”, “Echo”, “Kopfkino”, “Tuning Fork”, “Threads”. This is an intriguing and invaluable resource for any new head.

The God Made Activity Book is the first of a series of books from the Cambridge-based Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, an academic research organisation created in 2006, in partnership with SPCK. The Youth and Schools team describe their remit as “to explore questions about the interactions of science and religious faith”. They start from the belief that God exists, and from that point onwards the science takes over.

Beautifully produced, this slim volume would make an ideal gift for any young child aged four to seven who is showing an early interest in science — or a winner of a quiz on science — or for consistent work.

The attraction for young children is, quite simply, the stickers: they are easier than a jigsaw, and just as much fun, if not more. Observation is the key: look far away for the stars, outside for the weather, and in the park for a nature walk. It is a top-class resource.

The same institute is working with another religious publisher on some science titles, but for older year-groups.

In God’s Cosmic Cookbook: Your complete guide to making a universe, we have moved on to creation, and are asked to use our imaginations while looking at the evidence.

There is not a smidgeon of creationism here: the book confidently talks in terms of millions, and even many billions, of years. This is the familiar teleological argument writ large — “design argument”, if you prefer. The writers imagine how God could have created such a complex and exciting universe. The approach is light-hearted in tone, but rigorous in its science. The authors quote Psalm 8.3-4, and their book exudes their faith. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers. . .” If ever science can be said to be fun, this volume will go a long way towards convincing you.

But, in the light of the above, we might well at some stage feel a touch uneasy about starting science lessons — or in any subject, for that matter — with a presupposition based on personal faith. The Teacher’s Personal Faith in the RE Classroom is yet another example of Grove Books’ uncanny ability to produce an incisive analysis of an obvious dilemma for a Christian in education: namely, how can a teacher maintain the right balance between the expression of personal beliefs and the parameters expected of a professional taxpayer-funded educator?

Such research that has been done, currently unpublished, seems to indicate that Christian student teachers are anxious that overtly stating their beliefs could be seen as unprofessional. Meanwhile, their atheist or agnostic peers believe that sharing their lack of belief could make a positive contribution.

A series of eight case studies examine very different issues that may arise. The authors conclude that personal knowledge and belief are powerful tools; so they are best used wisely. And that will mean using them only in circumstances in which the expression of these views is a “resource to advance, and add depth to learning”. Get that balance wrong, and you will do more harm than good.

Mind Fuel for Young Explorers is a practical guide to mental well-being directly aimed at young people, and it could not be more timely. The fact that Bear Grylls has co-written it will add to its appeal. Justifiably described in the preface as “one of the world’s most recognised adventurers”, he expresses his Christian faith overtly when talking about vision.

He quotes the prophet Micah, and the book is packed with quotations from other inspiring figures. Sport of all kinds is very much to the fore: Preet Chandi is a British army officer who skied the 700 miles to the South Pole. She did not take up skiing until three years ago. And how about Matt Stutzman, a silver-medal-winning Paralympian archer, who has no arms, and competes with his toes and his jaw? He holds the world record of a 283m accurate shot.

Sceptical readers can easily find it on YouTube. There is assembly material on every page. Head teachers will love it.


New School Leader: What Now? Simple lessons to navigate doubt, embrace challenge and lead well every day
Neil Renton
Critical Publishing £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.99


God Made Activity Book
Lizzie Henderson and Steph Bryant
SPCK £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.29


God’s Cosmic Cookbook: Your Complete Guide to Making a Universe (Young Explorers)
Elizabeth Cole
Patrick Laurent, illustrator
Hodder & Stoughton £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.89


The Teacher’s Personal Faith in the RE Classroom (eD 58)
Robert A. Bowie and Ann Pittaway
Grove Books £4.95


Mind Fuel for Young Explorers: Simple ways to build mental resilience
Bear Grylls and Will Van Der Hart
Hodder & Stoughton £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.69

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)