From the cradle to the classroom

I realize the Covid pandemic has had many profound consequences for schools, but the striking headline Obstetrics for schools made me, at first glance, wonder how seismic the changes had been.

Fortunately, on page nine, the author answers the question that many of his readers will ask themselves: Why the reference to obstetrics in the title of the book? If the reasoning is not particularly subtle, it is certainly powerful.

The foreword makes this clear. The book is rooted in another historical perspective. Infant mortality allowed in the Victorian era (40%) is virtually eliminated today (0.4%). Scientific discovery and a combination of advances in surgery — and, yes, vaccines and cures for infectious diseases — have made rapid and, indeed, uplifting progress possible. Yet, she says, “there is an expectation and acceptance of ‘cooked’ academic failure for around a third of 16-year-olds in UK schools each year”.

Rachel Macfarlane is driven by her passion for “leveling the playing field and tackling the gap of disadvantage through my role as an educator”. Key factors that distinguish schools where the achievement gap has narrowed significantly are at the heart of the book. And if, like me, you’ve wondered why London’s non-selective schools have transformed the life chances of so many disadvantaged students, you’ll find plenty of clues in this volume.

The book is delightfully jargon-free and a wonderful source of quotes: sometimes profound, sometimes ironic, but always relevant. When I interviewed Rachel for this review, she was direct and honest. She, along with many of the headteachers cited, understands the pressure.

“If my readers can find at least one practical suggestion that is helpful for self-improvement, I will have achieved my goal.” Job done, Rachel.

Since I can’t resist an “idea whose time has come”, here it is: NOTew 9-1 GCSE AQA A Religious Studies: Christianity and Islam Revision Question Cards. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined buying GCSE RS material for my grandson’s birthday. It’s one of those “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” moments.

Of course, students have been creating their own review flashcards for decades. Now CGP has done it for them. Designed to accompany a review guide from the same publishers, the cards are released in a beautifully produced pack, a match for any pack of playing cards or games. For those who are now addicted to computer-based learning, there is also an online edition. Sixty-four cards in total, excellent value for money, with a double-sided format. Basic facts and key terms on one side, along with key quotes and sample questions. Flip the cards and you will find complete answers to each question.

You may also note that CGP prides itself on having books and resources, “carefully written, impeccably presented, and dangerously close to humor”. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a slogan like this in an RE resource. Walsingham and Lourdes are often referred to as the best known pilgrimages. I’m not sure the “I make a daily pilgrimage to the cookie jar” in the review sheet will convince reviewers. But my grandson liked it. And the discussion was good. “Can I put in a weekly pilgrimage to the Anfield stadium instead?” Good question. Simply brilliant or brilliantly simple. As you like.

In more familiar territory, Trevor Kerry, an experienced educator and teacher familiar on these pre-Covid pages, has produced a typically readable guide to ethics in schools in Ethics for Teachers and Middle Leaders.

The style is anecdotal, and it is a superb resource for teacher trainers. A number of scenarios are presented, where the outcome and the reasons for it are often unclear and controversial. It’s hard to imagine scenarios more relevant to 2022 than the ones Kerry chooses: befriending students appropriately or inappropriately on social media; a school principal in an underprivileged neighborhood allegedly falsified his students’ annual SAT exams; a successful principal who seems to have created a position for a member of his family.

And another that I am posting without comment: a school medical advisor made two trips to a secondary residence during confinement; he received a police warning when photographs emerged; the doctor had been the public face on the school’s website, urging compliance with the rules. Ouch. Fortunately, no question of testing his sight. To discuss. The author has another surprise in store for us. He concludes by quoting “The Seeker” by Dolly Parton. It’s a song in which she looks back on her own dark childhood, then creates a successful charitable foundation for underprivileged children.

The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE) is linked to its own publishing house. Fresh off the press, here is the fourth in a series of colorful brochures for primary schools: Big Questions Big Answers Volume 4: Investigating the Cult. The full-color cartoon illustrations will appeal to all ages from 5-11.

The main character is a very obvious detective type figure with the obligatory magnifying glass. Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim worldviews are covered. Non-religious New Year festivals are also included. Volumes 1 to 3 are also available. The whole series would complete an excellent comprehensive RE curriculum for all primary schools, urban and rural.

NATRE magazine spring 2022 RE todayedited by Lat Blaylock, also available from RE Services Publications. Post-pandemic deals seem to be on the way. Well worth a look.

Obstetrics for schools
Rachelle macfarlane
Crown House Editions €19.99
(978-1785-835407)

New 9-1 GCSE AQA A Religious Studies: Christianity and Islam rreview question cards
CGP €8.99
(978-1-78908 572-3)
Bookstore of the times of the church 9,99 €

Ethics for Teachers and Middle Leaders
Trevor Kerry
Routledge €16.99
(978-0-367-682484)
Bookstore of the times of the church 17,99 €

Big Questions Big Answers Vol 4: Investigate the Cult
Fiona Moss, editor
RE services today £10
(220102)
retoday.org.uk

About Stuart M. McFarland

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