Book reviews

The Passing of a Country Grammar School
Peter Housden (2015)
Living on the Edge: rethinking poverty, class and schooling
John Smyth and Terry Wrigley (2013)
Education under Siege: why there is a better alternative
Peter Mortimore (2013)
New Labour and Secondary Education, 1994-2010
Clyde Chitty (2013)
Politics and the Primary Teacher
Peter Cunningham (2012)
School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education
Melissa Benn (2011)
Children, their World, their Education
Robin Alexander (ed) (2010)
Education Policy in Britain
Clyde Chitty (2nd ed. 2009)
School behaviour management
Lane, Kalberg and Menzies (2009) and Steege and Watson (2009)
Supporting the emotional work of school leaders
Belinda Harris (2007)
Faith Schools: consensus or conflict?
Roy Gardner, Jo Cairns and Denis Lawton (eds) (2005)
The Professionals: better teachers, better schools
Phil Revell (2005)
Education Policy in Britain
Clyde Chitty (2004)
Who Controls Teachers' Work?
Richard M Ingersoll (2003)
Faith-based Schools and the State
Harry Judge (2002)
The Best Policy? Honesty in education 1997-2001
Paul Francis (2001)
Love and Chalkdust
Paul Francis (2000)
State Schools - New Labour and the Conservative Legacy
Clyde Chitty and John Dunford (eds) (1999)
Experience and Education: Towards an Alternative National Curriculum
Gwyn Edwards and AV Kelly (eds) (1998)
Bullying: Home, School and Community
Delwyn Tattum and Graham Herbert (eds) (1997)
Bullying in Schools And what to do about it
Ken Rigby (1996)
A Community Approach to Bullying
Peter Randall (1996)
Teacher Education and Human Rights
Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey (1996)
Troubled and Vulnerable Children: a practical guide for heads
Shelagh Webb (1994)
Supporting Schools against Bullying
Scottish Council for Research in Education (1994)
Bullying: a practical guide to coping for schools
Michele Elliott (1992)
Financial Delegation and Management of Schools: preparing for practice
Hywel Thomas with Gordon Kirkpatrick and Elizabeth Nicholson (1989)
Reforming Religious Education: the religious clauses of the 1988 Education Reform Act
Edwin Cox and Josephine M Cairns (1989)
Re-thinking Active Learning 8-16
Norman Beswick (1987)
Two Cultures of Schooling: The case of middle schools
Andy Hargreaves (1986)


Love and Chalkdust
Paul Francis, 2000
Liberty Books (Much Wenlock Shropshire TF13 6JQ)
256pp paperback 8.00 ISBN 0-9520568-1-X

Review by Derek Gillard
August 2000

copyright Derek Gillard 2001
This book review is my copyright. You are welcome to download it and print it for your own personal use, or for use in a school or other educational establishment, provided my name as the author is attached. But you may not publish it, upload it onto any other website, or sell it, without my permission.



JL Carr's book The Harpole Report was first published in 1972. Frank Muir described it as 'the funniest and perhaps the truest story about running a school that I ever have read.' I was reminded of it as I read Love and Chalkdust by Paul Francis. Like Harpole, it follows a year in the life of a school, documenting the interpersonal tensions, the institutional crises and the bureaucratic nonsense with which schools and teachers are bombarded, now on a daily basis. Like Harpole, too, it does so with great humour and humanity. There are differences, though. Harpole is a report on the work of the temporary head of a village primary school and takes the form of extracts from his journal for the year, together with various other documents, including memos from staff members and comments by an older head.

Love and Chalkdust is a novel set in the Rab Butler Secondary School. Terry O'Mara, a young teacher who has just spent a term at a neighbouring school, the rival (and rather up-market) King Edward's, now has a temporary post at Rab Butler. Will he be successful? Will he obtain a permanent post at the end of the year? Will he want a permanent post at the end of it?

Rab Butler's Senior Management Team consists of Head Teacher Colin Parnaby, (who spends most of the year trying to decide whether to retire), and his deputies Rod Spencer and Chris Macdonald. Rod's priorities are school security and marketing, having a dig at Chris and trying to make sure he's in with a chance if Parnaby does decide to go. Chris Macdonald is more interested in education and equal opportunities, having a dig at Rod and trying to make sure she's in with a chance if Parnaby does decide to go. The row about Rod Spencer's new school gates (which Chris Macdonald had known nothing about until they appeared) and the hilariously detailed arguments about how they are to be kept locked, will strike a chord with anyone who has ever worked in a school. This is just one example of the problems the two deputies cause Colin Parnaby. His usual strategy seems to be to interview them alternately - and agree with both of them!

One of Chris's responsibilities is personal and social education. In the light of government diktats on the subject, she views her aim as being 'to put the children off sex and drugs without admitting the existence of homosexual attraction, extra-marital sex or pleasant sensations from drugs.' All this, 'without offering an opinion of any kind, other than a blind, passionate faith in the unique perfection of the married state, a faith which for Chris was not borne out by experience; neither by her own, nor by the parents of pupils with whom she came into contact. Still, that was the politics of education: never mind reality, feed the myth.'

The book is full of many other delicious comments about the state of education today. A teacher reads 'another glossy account of the government's latest triumph in education policy.' An Ofsted inspector says of the lay inspector's role, 'you had to have at least one inspector who didn't know anything.' Terry tells a student who can't attend his lesson because he's got to help Rod Spencer with his video marketing the school, 'Ah, marketing! Well I can see how that must take precedence over anything so peripheral as lessons.' And of one of Rod's memos, about the National Curriculum, a teacher comments, 'Rods' paper is a circular from the planet Zarg.'

Terry plans a special drama lesson, only to find that the hall is being used to paint scenery for the play and that a PE class has to come in because it's pouring with rain outside. There's an argument about the new traveller children Rod Spencer has recruited. Chris Macdonald wants them thrown out but Rod insists they keep them on the roll until after Form 7, then 'ditch them if you must.' Dale and Muptaz, two Year 11 students, start up a business selling fake burglar alarms and drum up custom by organising some local house-breaking, thus demonstrating a level of entrepreneurialism of which Thatcher could have been proud.

And so the year rolls on. 'July began with a heatwave. Second half of summer term, no year elevens in school, exams almost over and holidays in sight. A few year tens strutted their stuff, practising for next year, but no-one was very impressed. There were clear skies, bright sunshine and a warming glow, as assignments gave way to assignations and the serious work of tanning got under way. By tacit agreement, the demands of school shrivelled in the heat, homework became a rarity, and a sense of exhausted well-being spread almost everywhere.'

Love and Chalkdust is a brilliant portrayal of the life of just about any school, as funny and true as Harpole was in its day. And it has some serious messages about the nature of education, without ever becoming preachy. The characters are well-observed and the dialogue - and it's almost all dialogue - is well written. It would make a great TV drama.

I won't spoil the ending by telling you whether Colin Parnaby finally decides to retire, nor whether Terry O'Mara decides to stay in teaching and is offered a permanent post. Read Love and Chalkdust and find out for yourself!

  • This review was published in Forum 42(3) Autumn 2000 119.