With a Little Help from my FriendsApril 23, 2009
I met up with a few old friends recently.
One of them is a councillor with responsibility for education (thankfully not “children’s services”) for a medium size unitary authority. He told me that he thought his authority was doing well, at least according to exam results. I pointed out that results cannot really be compared over time due to changes in exams and he accepted that it was the figures relative to other schools that showed progress had been made. He was also quite keen to point out that there were various groups, such as those responsible for The Cambridge Primary Review who were opposed to testing even though it was the only way to reliably judge whether kids are learning or not. I told him my view that schools were massively failing due to poorly thought out aims, such as inclusion, and idiotic patronising initiatives from both government and from private companies selling snake oil.
He agreed that SEN provision was a mess, but said that it all came down to money; Special Schools cost more. With regard to initiatives telling teachers how to teach, he asked if I was claiming teachers should have more autonomy, because if so then I needed to realise how terrible a lot of teachers were. I pointed out that my real issue was that the initiatives were nonsense. The people who implement initiatives are not any more competent, and certainly not better educated, than ordinary classroom teachers. There are classroom teachers out there with PhDs in psychology being told to implement “expert” ideas that actually contradict everything psychologists know about learning. He suggested academic qualifications were no guarantee of teaching ability. I pointed out that they normally suggest at least some ability to identify bullshit.
Later I met up with a friend who is training to be an accountant and had just been to a training course alongside a number of people who were (or were training to be) “consultants”. He told me that even in business they are expected to start their training with nonsense about learning styles and groupwork. When he looked up some of the ideas he’d encountered online he had noticed that even Wikipedia is wising up to this nonsense. “Learning styles” and the “Belbin Team Inventory” can easily be found to have been widely criticised by those who have researched them. Could it be that school managers might now have no excuse for not simply accepting such fads uncritically?
My friend also told me that a lot of the consultants he met were engaged in work in Further Education. A quick search for “further education consultants uk” on Google reveals that this is indeed a growth industry. Perhaps it’s just me, but when any part of the public sector is spending a fortune on consultants to tell them what to I start to worry that something is going wrong. Perhaps, people who read this who work in FE can reassure me?
Finally, I met up with an old school friend.
“Stop talking about your work all the time”.
Fair comment really.