BOOK REVIEW

Assessment in Child Care: Using and Developing Frameworks for Practice edited by Martin C. Calder and Simon Hackett, 2nd edn, Russell House Publishing, 2013, ISBN 978 1 905541 85 0, 384pp.

This is a new, revised edition of an established textbook. Working with children and young people in need of care and protection is complex and demanding work. Assessment is one of the major keys to effectiveness in this type of work, as it is a process of laying a foundation of understanding, a framework of meaning or narrative that helps us make sense of the situation we are dealing with. Developing a sound, helpful, accurate and reliable assessment is a highly skilled process, and so a well-resourced, wide-ranging book like this is to be welcomed.

In these bureaucratic, managerialist days I have seen far too many examples of assessment reports that do not do justice to the complexities involved, which do not achieve the level of professional understanding required for high-quality work. It is as if some people see assessment as just a process of filling in a form, when of course the reality is far more complex than that. This book is effective in getting across the message of just how complex and how important assessment is. It provides quite a comprehensive overview of the subject with chapters on a wide range of aspects.

Given that the book contains so many different chapters by different authors, it is perhaps inevitable that some chapters are better executed than others, but overall this is a well-written book with important things to say about important issues. It is not the sort of book that is likely to be read from cover to cover – although no doubt some people will, and will be all the better for doing so. It is more likely to be used as a reference source, and one that could and should be available to teams of staff charged with undertaking assessment work with vulnerable children and young people.

When it comes to concern about well-being, the well-being of children and young people can often be forgotten. The growing literature on well-being and happiness has little to say about children and young people, but this book provides an important contribution to our understanding of the needs of children and young people in need of care and protection.

 

Book review: Roots and Wings: A History of Outdoor Education and Outdoor Learning in the UK

Ogilvie, K. C. (2013) Roots and Wings: A History of Outdoor Education and Outdoor Learning in the UK, Lyme Regis, Russell House Publishing. ISBN 978-1-905541-84-3: £39.95 + £1.50 delivery: www.russellhouse.co.uk.

This is a mammoth of a book, with over 800 pages in total. As its title indicates, it has a strong historical focus – and that focus is also very wide, locating outdoor education in the context of wider human history, beginning the story over ten million years ago. As someone who is interested in history, I very much enjoyed that wide sweep and the effective way the history of outdoor education was woven into the picture of human history. However, I fear that those who want to know about the history of outdoor education specifically without much interest in the wider picture will feel unhappy with the page after page of historical detail approach that the author has adopted.

Outdoor learningBut, if you can get past that, there is much of value in this book. It shows how approaches to outdoor learning have changed over time and yet have a strong sense of continuity. It could be argued that you don’t need to know the history of an approach to learning to be able to practise it effectively. However, I would want to argue that having a grasp of the historical context will enrich our understanding and therefore put us in a stronger position to make use of the learning opportunities outdoor education presents.

Fundamental to this book is the recognition that different people learn in different ways. While traditional, classroom-based learning can be very effective in the right circumstances, it is not the only way of promoting learning. Outdoor education focuses on the whole person and recognises that there is much to be learned from activities, particularly those that involve engaging with nature. The author argues convincingly that it is important for children to develop an awareness of, and appreciation for, nature. Much the same can be said of adults, of course, especially those whose fast-paced urban lifestyles can leave them out of touch with the natural world. Perhaps, as a species, we would have more respect for our habitat and pollute it less if we were less disconnected from it.

One of the longstanding criticisms of classroom-based education is that it encourages a narrow, conformist approach to learning and to life more broadly. Outdoor learning, by contrast, has the potential to encourage a broader, more adventurous approach to learning and indeed to how we rise to the challenges our lives throw at us. No one is claiming it is a panacea, but a clear message from this book is that it has much to commend it, much that can be of great value in promoting learning.

This is an important book that documents an important history. It deserves to be widely read by educators of children and adults alike.

Links:

Neil Thompson: www.neilthompson.info 
The Avenue Learning Centre: www.avenuelearningcentre.co.uk
The Avenue Professional Development Programme: http://tinyurl.com/apdpneilthompson
Russell House Publishing: www.russellhouse.co.uk