(Click on the title to be taken to the review or simply scroll down the page)

Performance Management in Education - Reviewer Stephen Bray

Three titles by Lucky Duck - Reviewed by Mark Edwards

D is for Directions - Reviewer Michael J. Mallows

Solution-Focused Groupwork - Reviewer David Jaques

Learning in Groups - Reviewer Joe Sinclair

Transactional Analysis Approaches to Brief Therapy - Reviewer Michael Mallows

Rethinking Classroom Management - Reviewer Mark Edwards

Life in the Fat Lane - Reviewer Mike Baynes


Performance Management in Education: Improving Practice, by Jenny Reeves, Christine Forde, Jim O'Brien, Pauline Smith, Harry Tomlinson.  Paul Chapman Publishing. 208 pp, Paper (0-7619- 7172-6) 16.99, Cloth (0-7619-7171-8) 49.50

It was a rather difficult task undertaken by the authors,  to describe in a mere 200 pages what truly requires at least 1000.   


Topics include performance management, continuing professional development, rewards, work-based learning, assessment, schools policy and practice. Qualifications for headship and mentoring are also discussed. The authors are mainly academics who are attempting not only to deal with behaviours in the classroom but also social-educational policy and research.  


That said there is much to commend this book. The diagrams are very clear and lift the text so that creative thought, rather than mere comprehension, becomes possible. The differences between the systems of England, Wales and Scotland are explored, and emerging and encouraging findings from the Americans, especially in relation to school based achievement awards, are contrasted. The Scottish system also places a greater emphasis on school self-evaluation.  


Effective teachers are solution focused, able to interpret often widely contrasting data, and resolve dichotomies such as the needs of individuals vs. those of society. Importantly they take time to do so, rather than simply reacting. It is thought that this is because they have a highly developed system of goals, principles and values.


Its clear from the book that teachers and their managers work within a complex system of constraints, which would benefit from simplification. Who was responsible for launching performance management in English schools a year prior to introducing a national continuing professional development strategy? Could they really anticipate that performance would improve, when treating people thus? I would dearly like to appraise them!  

Stephen Bray  


Lucky Duck publishing have been in the business of producing innovative resources for personal, social and special needs education since 1988. The following reviews feature three titles from their current catalogue:


All For Alex: Barbara Maines/George Robinson             Video/Booklet 28.00

Children Can Learn With Their Shoes Off: Barbara Maines Video/Booklet  40.00.

The Feelings Diary: Gillian Shotton, 12.00


All For Alex has been recently re-issued by Lucky Duck Publishing and comprises a video and accompanying booklet. It is an intentionally brief introduction to the Circle of Friends concept and is based on a model developed in Canada by Tina Axup. Psychologist and teacher Barbara Maines explains how a project was developed in a Bristol primary school to support a year six child who was experiencing behavioural difficulties.


The authors are at pains to point out the difference between this concept and that of Circletime, and stress that it is a process that is aimed at supporting a particular child in a specific way. As Tina Axup states in the booklets introductory section : The Circle of Friends process attempts to help children make a link between feelings and behaviour and that it is done by utilising the power of the peer group. The video and booklet give a step by step account of how the peer group was selected, what each meeting involved and what the outcome was. Alex was not present at the majority of meetings; the group would report back at each weekly meeting and Barbara Maines also had one-to-one sessions with Alex in which he was asked how he thought things were going. The evaluation at the end makes it clear that the project was felt to be successful. Alex felt calmer in school and learned some useful coping strategies from his peers.


What I like about this is that the focus is on the groups development, rather than on Alex. It is easy for us to excuse behaviour difficulties because of domestic circumstances and Alex, in fact,  had to deal with his mothers diagnosed cancer at the start of the project. But ultimately, while we might understand what is behind the behaviour, excusing is does not empower the child. Creating a circle of friends does.


This is a good resource for schools interested in developing innovative ways of working with children, and interested Special Needs Coordinators should ensure that they order a copy.


The observation should also be made that the Government is currently investing money in a much trumpeted multi-agency Behaviour Improvement Plan. Apparently they are going to spend much of it on the employment of expensive behaviour management consultants. I would suggest that a few hundred copies of this video is a far better investment.


By contrast, Children Can Learn With Their Shoes Off is a lengthy video, with a number of filmed episodes of teachers working with children diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.


Although it is tempting, I wont use space here to discuss the merits of the Governments inclusion policy. Suffice to say that the video is going to be useful to those working in the field of special needs, whether as a special needs teacher or learning support assistant. Most of the video sequences show an adult working with small groups of children and they provide an insight into the behaviours of such children. Overall, however, I found the sequences somewhat tedious to watch - more on the research history of Aspergers Syndrome would have been useful, particularly if linked to the different sections on the tape. I would have liked to see more examples of how different teaching styles could be employed, using visual, auditory and kinaesthetic approaches.  The accompanying booklet has lots of useful information but is clearly aimed at the specialist rather than the classroom teacher. 


This is not true of The Feelings Diary which provides a six-week structured scheme of work for introducing emotional literacy work to children in Key Stages Two or Three. Or so it says on the cover - as an experienced teacher I would say it was better suited to Key Stages One and Two.  A different topic is introduced each week - Anger, Calm, Lonely, for example - and a structured half hour lesson concludes with a worksheet. A good resource if emotional literacy is new to you and you are wondering how to start. 

Mark Edwards



D is for Directions, by Lesley Wilson.  Mary Blair and Pat Armstrong.  Russell House Publishing, 72 pp in A4 wiro,  14.95 ISBN 1-903855-18-7

 [Subtitled: A guide to running confidence-building courses for men of all ages.] 

Lesley Wilson, Mary Blair and Pat Armstrong, co-authors of this personal development manual for group work facilitators, draw on their many years working as group facilitators in a wide variety of community projects.


This experience and expertise is obvious in the content and structure of the manual, which offers a useful and flexible template for anyone wishing to develop their own training courses.


The authors say one of their motives for putting the book together was  that : Any one who has felt a bit lost on lifes journey knows that a little bit of help from the occasional passing stranger or signpost is greatly appreciated.


What they have put together are tried and tested material such as really useful exercises, and handouts that will help facilitators to plan and organise confidence building courses. They also identify some key readings to understand better the personal development of men. Their belief, based on their long experience, is that men are more comfortable working with realities than concepts.


 Confidence is a concept and means different things to different people. Directions are real. There are relevant questions to be asked about them and choices to be made.


Although I do not entirely agree with what they say, I do accept their illustration as valid.


There are six stages for the course, which can either be dipped into or worked through from start to finish. There are clear but not prescriptive instructions for the various exercises and about 20 per cent of the 80 pages can be photocopied for handouts.


The first stage of the course, which the authors run for two hours a week over ten weeks, focuses on sharing as a way of countering the powerful barriers to change that are sustained by isolation of thought and experience. The second stage enables participants to challenge their perceptions and assumptions, examine the roles they play in society and to recognise the powerful tools already available to them.


I would not recommend this manual to somebody who was not competent to respond effectively and appropriately to any upsurge of individual emotions. If tension, friction or conflict flare up between members of a group or even between a group member and the facilitator, it will also be essential, I think, that the facilitator can move easily between facilitation and leadership. Not in order to power-play, but to maintain the sense of safety and cohesion within which group members feel empowered to take the risks that this manual invites: stepping out of the comfort zone, letting go of habit, untying the straitjacket of routine and facing the future not with the D of Diffidence but the D of Direction.


Except for that proviso, because this manual both invites and enables confidence and gives clear directions, I would recommend it to people who have a fair amount of experience in running groups. I would also recommend it as a refresher and a reminder to those who have been running groups for some time who may feel a bit jaded.


And for people who have extensive experience with other groups and are thinking of starting groups with men, this guide will serve you extremely well.   

Michael Mallows



Solution-Focused Groupwork, by John Sharry.   Sage Publications 2001, 162 pp,  17.99 (paper)  ISBN 0-7619-6780-X; 60.00 (cloth) ISBN 0-7619-6779-6.

The dynamics of groups is one of those eternal and wondrous mysteries. There is no predicting them, even from one meeting of a group to another.   They can be a source of light and of darkness, these two elements often rotating and interchanging. One might even say "f you havent got any problems in your group, then something must be wrong". The focus on what has happened, rather than what could happen, has possibly contributed to the fear that many people have about joining a group for any kind of self-improvement.

So, it is refreshing to read a book which takes a more optimistic view of human nature. While it accepts that problems as such cannot be ignored, and that groups need skilled and careful handling, it persuasively makes the point that a positive focus on what can be achieved through the hidden talents and resources of the group can be extremely productive and rewarding. Both individually and collectively group members can, by focusing on positive outcomes and using present aptitudes and strengths, rather than problems and pathologies, achieve significant goals and solutions to what might have seemed impenetrable problems.  "Theres nothing wrong with you that what is right with you couldnt fix", as Baruch Shalem says in one of many telling quotes in the book.

The principles of Solution-Focused Groupwork are
* focusing on change and possibilities
* creating goals and preferred futures
* building on strengths, skills and resources
* looking for whats right and whats working
* being respectfully curious
* creating cooperation and collaboration
* using humour and creativity

Each of these holds a set of options. For instance in Being respectfully curious one could ask goal-setting questions: What would you like to be different by the end of the group?
Miracle questions.   If a miracle were to occur overnight, what would it be and what would be the first signs that it had happened?
Exception questions:  Tell me about the times when the problem does not occur.
Coping questions: How do you manage on a day-to-day basis?
Scaling questions: On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you place yourself today in respect of the problem?

Problems can often be taken so seriously that the very existence of the problem becomes a problem in itself. Humour and creativity can release both members and the group as a whole from becoming bogged down in problems and generate a lot of self acceptance and energy in the pursuit of goals that are both meaningful to and usable by the client.

You will see from this that problems are not ignored or by-passed; rather they are used as a stepping stone to the future. Indeed Sharrys rule of thumb for the group is a balance of 20:80 between problem talk and solution talk.

Each of these is illustrated in examples, case studies and quotations and the many references give further richness and opportunity to the reader.

An early example of the solution-focused approach in the book is provided in the following dialogue:

Client: Ive felt so low over the past few years. Things got so bad that I lost my job.
Therapist: Sounds like your job was important to you.
Client:  It was, and it was something I was good at.
Therapist:  You were good at it?
Client:  Yeah, Ive always been a dedicated worker and responsible provider (......) but in the last few months I havent been able to work. Ive been too low and busy trying to get myself and my family sorted.
Therapist: Sounds like youre doing a different kind of work the past few months you have taken on the very important job of sorting yourself and your family out.
Client: Thats right, I need to get things sorted.

Sharry rightly points out that an interaction like the above, which may feel didactic and hierarchical when conducted on a one-to-one basis, can be more dispersed in a group where ideas can be shared and debated and where members can learn from each other.  The book is replete with such dialogues and with charts drawing contrasts not only between both individual and group approaches but also between problem-focused and solution-focused approaches. It is thus a practical "How-to-do-it book" as well as one that puts the specific method in perspective. In one sense this is both its strength and its weakness. In order to be accessible and in itself solution focused, it has not looked at the range of approaches to group therapy such as Group Analysis, Gestalt, Tavistock and some of the assumptions that underpin these: the unconscious processes, transference, countertransference and so on. But then, why should it?

So what are the other differences? In Solution-Focused Groupwork facilitators initially take what one might call a gently directive role through which they gradually delegate responsibility to the group both by modelling the relevant techniques and by inviting group involvement in issues such that the therapeutic relationship becomes dispersed and members gradually adopt a co-leadership role. They place a strong emphasis on the planning, design and selection processes for each group, on the induction of members, on building cohesion, and in conclusion, on action planning and the celebration of change. And, lest it be thought that the author believes that such groups are always suffused with sweetness and light, he has included a salutary chapter on Managing Difficult Groups.

The books style is very "up-front". Sharry clearly wants the reader not merely to be convinced of the value of solution-focused groupwork, but almost ready to practise it. The book falls fairly comfortably between a well-argued textbook and a persuasive training manual.  And the chapter "creative exercises to enhance group process", though designed to energise and enable Solution-Focused Groups, is of use to anyone running  groups for learning purposes.

My only serious cavil about this book of democratic strategies is the section on evaluation where the author seems more concerned with measurement  than the potential for formative and reflective learning in the group. There is a big difference in the impact of evaluation through criteria that are created, formulated and agreed in and by the group than through those that are generic and pre-formulated. This seemed to conflict with the overall philosophy of collaboration and shared exploration that infuses the rest of the book. However, if this is intended for practitioners to gain reliable evidence of the outcomes of their work, it would be nice to know what evidence has been delivered thus far on the method.

All in all, I found this to be an enlightening book, clearly written, helpfully presented and, dare I say it, educational. It makes many proper and relevant references to the literature, is very easy to dip into and provides a logical and purposeful progression in its organisation.


Whatever context, background or approach its readers bring it will cause them to reflect, by comparison, on the many ingredients that form the recipe of groupwork. The book echoes what Solution-Focused Groupwork is all about - being practical and optimistic about human potential.


David Jaques


Learning in Groups, by David Jaques.  Kogan Page, 310 pp,  19.99 ISBN 0-7494-3091-5

What a splendid book this is!  


It always was . . . but this third edition has expanded the information and improved the presentation way beyond my recollection of the edition that I first saw in the mid-eighties.


Having begun with that piece of fulsome praise, I guess it is appropriate to admit to some partiality.  I have known David Jaques for the best part of 20 years, have shared many activities with him, and have learned more from him - in and outside groups - than I have previously acknowledged.  And since we first met via the Group Relations Training Association, and our friendship grew (and survived!) despite several years of sharing membership of the committee of that - now sadly defunct - organisation, I was able to observe his own unique brand of group leadership and the techniques that he employed and that now inform the pages of Learning in Groups so very well.


Learning in groups enables students to compare and share ideas with others in a way that both expands and enhances their understanding of a subject.  It also helps to develop skills in the students that would not be available outside groupwork, such as the benefits of cooperation and teamwork.  Of inestimable value too is the opportunity it affords for observing group dynamic and process while studying.


Group dynamic and process, however, can be deeply traumatic, not merely to the students but also to the teachers who may have had little or no prior experience of this learning environment.  It involves a disturbing departure from the traditional roles of student to student, student to teacher, and teacher to student.  But, as David Jaques is able to demonstrate in his book, the potential rewards are substantial.


There are other books on this subject, but Learning in Groups is so clearly written and so comprehensive that one might wonder why anybody else has bothered.  It begins with the theory and research into group behaviour and learning.  Then deals with communication in groups.  Subsequent chapters cover the structure of group activities in a learning environment, the job of the teacher or group leader, and training and development.


What I particularly like is the way Jaques has introduced ideas and examples from a variety of models without aligning himself with any one of them, but taking the more relevant features from each and applying them to the learning in group thesis.  Thus he uses the Ego States and the Life Positions of Transactional Analysis - but no more of that psychological model, to make some valid points.  Similarly with Rogers' client-centred philosophy which, inevitably, has considerable relevance in a group-learning context.


Best of all, to my mind, is the wealth of practical examples, case studies,  and exercises.  I found my memory being well and truly jogged back to some of the GRTA committee meetings chaired by Jaques 15 years ago; he rarely started one without a short exercise for the group to engage in, and always to really useful effect.


The chapter on communication in groups begins: No amount of understanding of group behaviour is sufficient for successful participation in groups unless each person in the group has the capacity to communicate effectively.  It is through communication that people achieve an understanding of one another and are thus able to influence, and be influenced by, others.  The author has certainly demonstrated his own ability to suit actions to words.


Joe Sinclair



Transactional Analysis Approaches to Brief Therapy by Keith Tudor.  Sage Publications 2001.  238 pages.  17.99 (paper) ISBN 0-7619-5681-6, 60 (cloth) ISBN 0-7619-5680-8.



This book, edited by Keith Tudor (who is also one of the ten contributors) is excellent reading for a number of reasons: for those who know nothing about TA, it is a highly informative and readily accessible introduction. For those who read or studied it some time ago, it is an excellent refresher.


And for those who would like to add to the skills they already have, whether or not they are TA based or biased, the overlaps and integration with other therapeutic myths and models is illuminating and, I find, somewhat inspiring.  The chapter headings in Part One give an indication of various theories and schools that inform and enrich TA, including: Brief Psychotherapy using Psychoanalytic TA; TA as Short-term Cognitive Therapy and Redecision Therapy as Brief Therapy.


Knowing that some people, professionals and clients, can be dubious, even sceptical about the merits of both Brief Therapy and Transactional Analysis (which, since you ask, has not gone out of fashions), the status and qualifications of the contributors should give pause for thought: Psychiatrists, Family, Drama, Integrative, Gestalt, and thought Field Therapists. They number among their ranks, social workers, professors and welfare officers, and their clients include violent sexual offenders, people with post-traumatic stress disorder, students, teachers, and survivors of abuse, adolescents and many others.


I am impressed by the diversity of people and applications of TA, and the developments outlined in this book are, certainly for me, cause for hope because, as well as offering frameworks for making simple sense of humans in action and human inaction TA is a complex and profound system that offers people a way of solving the problems of the present, re-evaluating the struggles of the past, and reshaping the future with permission and power based on a greater sense of self.


Although most of the examples, transcripts and case studies in the book refer to work with individuals, one of the great virtues of TA is that if can be used by small to medium sized groups for counselling, therapy or decision making, by large groups, e.g. in organisations, by couples and families, and also by individuals who want to understand themselves or other people better. It can also be taught to and used by children as young as seven.


TA, in essence, involves analysing the personal, interpersonal and intrapersonal transactions that go on between people.


Michael Mallows



Rethinking Classroom Management (subtitled: Strategies for Prevention, Intervention, and Problem Solving) by Patricia Sequeira Belvel and Maya Marcia Jordan.  Corwin Press (Sage Publications) 244 pages.  23.00 (paper) ISBN 0-7619-4523-7.  51.00 (cloth) ISBN 0-7619-4522-9.

This is the sort of book that should be given free to every teacher as they walk through the door of their first classroom. It is both inspirational and practical and will be lapped up by teachers who have still not forgotten that their pupils are people first and SATS levels second. The book is well-presented and incorporates childrens work into the text (I love the idea of using a two-inch voice when working in a group) very effectively.

The fact that it is American doesnt bother me at all. What bothers me more is that the fact that it is American will be used as an excuse by some educators in the UK to at best ignore the book and at worst attempt to ridicule it. Back in the 1960s, someone called Lady Plowden chaired a committee that reported on primary education. The Plowden report, as it became known, championed child-centred education and encouraged the idea that the teacher should always start from where the learner was. Unfortunately, some sloppy applications of the recommendations meant that some children stayed there with both teacher and child happy to just stand still and admire the view. Hence the Education Reform Act - throwing out of baby with bathwater, and a pendulum swing of humungous proportions. As a result we are now going through bad times educationally in England, and it worries me that many young teachers may become enthused by this book, and then find that implementing its ideas is a struggle. I am not being unduly cynical here; I speak from experience as one who has tried for sometime to develop the holistic approaches described here in todays educational climate - its feels a bit like whitewater rafting - upstream!

Never mind. This does not detract from the fact that the book has some excellent practical advice geared toward producing a learning environment that is humane, focused, structured and stimulating. Basically, a place where a child would want to be! There is much attention given to creating this kind of classroom and it is refreshing to see so much emphasis given to encouraging the children to actively participate in the process, through the contribution of ideas and the practical production of materials. Its nice to see a list of group rules produced by  children rather than by  a word-processor. The general layout is clear and makes the book easily accessible - using bullet points for summarising, for example. There is a good, lengthy section on behaviour management which makes a clear distinction between punishment and discipline. The authors use the phrase interventions and draw heavily on what Neuro-Linguistic Programming has discovered about communication through body language and use of voice. The principle of acting from values and beliefs rather than feelings is crucial and I can testify to the effectiveness of this. Teachers will need to practice, though - in front of the mirror of necessary.

The book helps this learning process (for the teacher) by providing exercises in the form of questions to reflect on and respond to. The section on discipline borrows heavily on assertive and humanistic approaches which is a refreshing change from the strongly behaviouristic reward/consequence techniques so prevalent in UK schools at the moment, although these are referred to. (They can be effective with some, though not all, students.) The final section of the book outlines strategies for joint problem-solving that could be used in a variety of ways - by teacher and class, schools councils and peer-mediation groups.

So - all good stuff, in a nutshell; a book which is basically about empowering children to have a say in their own learning. Lady Plowden must be cheering in her grave.

Mark Edwards  


Life in the Fat Lane by Donna Valerie Brandes. Laughing Gravy, Australia. 172 pages;

Paperback, price not known.  ISBN 0-95792-2-1


This very readable autobiography consists of significant episodes in Ms Brandes life.  These are described with utter frankness and uncomfortable honesty, enlivened by what purports to be total recall of her conversations with significant others in her life decades ago. The recurrent theme is her search for acceptance and love, stemming from an unhappy childhood with diligent parents who conscientiously followed the barbaric precepts of the then child expert Truby King: rigid feeding timetables, no cuddling or solace for a crying baby, etc. We find out how this early regime made her particularly vulnerable later to men who frequently seemed merely to offer the desired solace. She also learnt early to eat food to excess as an alternative source of satisfaction; with the vicious cycle of too much food becoming fat feeling unattractive more food.


Before an early divorce, she had two sons of whom she is inordinately proud, though sad that she sees less of one of them who became a Sannyasin.  She followed him to Poona, was presented to the Bhagwan who commented on the apron strings still binding her son to her, and gave her good advice You need to have a fight (with him).  By then she was a teacher and a therapist, her success in these roles being due to her championing of and writing books about 'student-centred learning.  Possibly this reflected her own early experiences.


Following her divorce, she constantly hankered, like so many of us these days, for another partner and wittily describes happy and unhappy experiences on that odyssey.  She even reprints a list she made (pp139-140) of 19 different ways to achieve this, again familiar to many of us.  Now in her late sixties, living in Perth, Australia, she has produced this vigorous and bawdy book which reminds those of us fortunate enough to have been members of groups she led 25 years ago (at GRTA conferences and elsewhere), of her perceptive and loving character.


Mike Baynes



John Ewing is a Systems Engineer who has worked in various domains ranging from implantable cardiac devices to the measurement of low-intensity radioactive emissions.  He currently runs his own company in Alsace, France.

Stephen Bray's career spans thirty years, beginning in social work and encompassing Adult Education, Business Consulting, Counselling, Journalism, Photography and Psychotherapy.  He is Nurturing Potential's Consultant Editor.

Joe Sinclair is a writer, editor, publisher, and non-executive director of a shipping line . . . amongst other activities . . . one of which is the publishing of Nurturing Potential.

Michael Mallows is a management consultant, therapist (specialising in adoption), an author, a healer and a workshop facilitator.  He is also, incidentally, a sub-editor of this magazine.

David Jaques is an independent educational and organizational consultant and an experienced groupwork and teamwork trainer.  He was previously Head of the Educational Methods Unit at Oxford Brookes University.

Mark Edwards was a headteacher, who still teaches part-time but combines this with writing articles, educational consultancy and entertaining people who like to hear badly performed rock, pop and music hall classics.

Mike Baynes discovered groups in the early '70s when he joined Group Relations Training Association.  He has been exploring most of the byways of this movement ever since:  from OD to Gestalt, studying counselling on the way.