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Oranges & Lemons

February 17, 2006 1 min read
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The roof leaks. There is no library. The hall doubles as the school cafeteria. New teachers, overwhelmed by working conditions other professionals can barely imagine, drop out, burn out, or flake out.

This could be a description of life in an inner city school somewhere in the United States. But it isn’t. It’s a snapshot of Edith Neville School in King’s Cross, a run-down patch of central London. Wallace, a senior feature writer for the Times Educational Supplement, visited Edith Neville for more than a year and chronicles with articulate empathy the efforts of its faculty and staff to counter the many gaps in the impoverished background of their students, four-fifths of whom speak languages other than English at home.

Although American readers might find some of the terminology in the book strange— substitutes, for example, are called “supply teachers”—they will find the issues confronting English schools all too familiar. Educators there as here struggle with incessant government directives, erratic and shrinking budgets, lack of parent involvement, and the stress of mandatory tests. But the wonder, Wallace suggests, isn’t that the job is so hard; it’s that there are still bright, able, dedicated people who would rather do this than anything else.

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