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Book review of ‘Learning and Teaching in Secondary Schools’ by Viv Ellis, Learning matter, 2011

Learning and Teaching in Secondary Schools (4th edition)

Viv Ellis

Learning matters/Sage, 2011

Paperback ISBN: 9780857253033

Edited by Viv Ellis, Learning and Teaching in Secondary Schools (4th edition) aims to support and guide trainee teachers in their push to be awarded QTS. Four sections lead the trainee through desirable professional attributes, skills and knowledge, set against the backdrop of the QTS professional standards that many trainees seek to ‘tick off’. However, Ellis clearly intends the book to be much more than a helpful aid in jumping through hoops. Various contributors emphasise that the QTS standards taken by trainees are not there to be merely ticked off, but that we need “to be clear about these values in order to make them our own”. It is here that the book becomes a thoroughly thought-provoking read, inviting trainees to reflect more deeply on their expectations, not just of things such as pupil behaviour, but their own attitudes to being called a teacher. I found this fascinating to reflect upon, having recently gained QTS, but I am unconvinced about the helpfulness of this depth of reflection for trainees, despite clearly being desirable for a qualified teacher.

The authors state in the preface that the book’s purpose is “not to replace face-to-face interactions with mentor teachers and tutors but to supplement them”. The numerous ‘practical’ and ‘reflective tasks’ provided in each chapter are excellent tools for young teachers to use and consider when planning, assessing and reflecting on learning and teaching. However, I can’t help feeling that if I had read the book during my teaching practice, I would have struggled to assimilate the wealth of information available within each chapter on top of the feedback from my mentor and tutors. I found that the intense nature of the Cambridge PGCE course caused me to lurch, at times, towards what Katz (1972) refers to as ‘survival’, and I think that supplementing the rigorous subject-specific seminars and detailed professional lectures with this book might have been critical-engagement overload. Interestingly, various contributing authors recognise this issue in their sections, and thus the book’s intention seems implicitly flawed: the QTS standards should obviously not be merely ticked off, but with extended teaching practice combined with faculty-based assessment, sometimes the process of reviewing how you achieved a standard has to be limited in order to continue surviving in a high-pressure environment. Thus, while the book seeks to encourage trainees to immerse themselves even further in the process of their own learning, not just that of their students, it also suggests that trainees need to survive their first year and then seek to continue their development after qualification.

Despite this inherent paradox, the book is well written, although some contributions do seem a touch patronising. It offers an accessible insight into the current political context for teaching, before detailing various professional knowledge-based topics such as literacy and numeracy, ICT, EAL, SEN and the 14-19 curriculum. These chapters are all linked clearly to the QTS standards framework, and therefore the reader is acutely aware of the point of each strand, and the process behind achieving it. This is helpful; while the ‘further reading’ sections in each chapter offer yet more advanced literature on these topics. Having been advised to read a number of these papers for faculty assignments, they are clearly well chosen.

In summary, this work is well structured and often thought-provoking. As a new teacher myself, I feel the book might prove “a bridge too far” for overloaded PGCE trainees, but I would recommend it to teachers who have recently been awarded QTS, especially those who wish to progress onto an MEd or other master’s course. This idea has perhaps, been recognised by Ellis himself, who has added a chapter on “teaching as a Masters’ level profession” to this fourth edition.

Katz, L.G. (1972) Developmental stages of preschool teachers. Elementary School Journal, 73 (1), 50-54.

Humphrey J. Waddington