Nick Gibb on Grammar Schools and Secondary Moderns

June 13, 2017

Since Theresa May became prime minister, the Conservative Party has turned back to its 1990s policy of returning to a grammar/secondary modern system. I suspect this created difficulties for Nick Gibb, the schools minister, who had previously opposed the policy, who would have been given a choice: support the policy and continue to influence policy or oppose it and return to the back benches. I’ve never particularly wanted to point out his previous record of opposition to grammar schools, as while this could be used to embarrass him, it would hardly make things easier for those hoping to dissuade the government from going down the route of selective education.

Now, however, following the loss of the government’s majority, it is unlikely that the government has any hope of passing legislation on the matter and it has already been reported that the policy has been torn up. On top of that, I suspects that the Prime Minister can’t last much longer and, if we are fortunate, her replacement will be less interested in the issue. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves how far the Conservatives had moved on before May turned the clock back.

This is what Nick Gibb had to say in 2012, back during his first stint as schools minister, when asked about grammar schools on Any Questions:

When people talk about the grammar school issue, I never get people asking the question “why don’t you bring back the secondary modern?” And in fact most people would go to the secondary modern – most children would go to a secondary modern school – if we brought back selection at the age of 11.

Now our job is to improve the standards in the three thousand comprehensive schools in this country and I believe it’s not getting rid of the grammar schools that was the issue. It is some of the progressive teaching methods that came into the country in the 1960s and 70s such as mixed ability teaching; moving away from traditional subjects rigorously taught; the way reading has been taught in  primary schools that doesn’t use the traditional phonics method of teaching children to read, so now we have…one in ten boys leaving primary school with a reading age of 7. These are the issues we are trying to grapple [with].

…we have to go on the evidence and the evidence that we have when we look around the world at those high performing jurisdictions that have high quality education systems producing young people who will be competing for the same jobs that our young people will be competing for in the global job market. What those countries have in common is that they have teachers from the top quarter of their graduate output; they have autonomy for their schools so that the teachers can run their schools as they see fit, and they have very rigorous external accountability and testing. When you look around the world – Finland, South Korea, Japan – they don’t have selective systems and yet they have very high performing education systems… The things they all have in common – the top jurisdictions – is those three things I’ve just said and that’s where our education policy is geared.

…Our whole raison d’être in our education policy is to close this attainment gap between those from wealthier and poorer backgrounds. We want to improve the standard of behaviour in those comprehensives that the questioner thinks can’t provide the kind of education that some children need. We want to ensure that our three thousand comprehensives do provide that kind of education.

We are changing the curriculum. We are changing the exams. We brought in the English Baccalaureate to try to undo the damage done over the last ten years where students have moved away from things like modern languages and these more traditional subjects. Now we’ve seen a huge uptake in history geography and languages as a consequence of that policy.

I thought then, and I think now, that this is the right answer. Let’s hope that as things settle down after recent events, no more energy is wasted on finding escape routes for the middle class, rather than providing an academic education for all.


The Chartered Teacher Programme: Another stick to beat teachers with

June 5, 2017

Yesterday, the following details of the latest from the Chartered College Of Teaching were leaked to me. I assume these are genuine, if not, please let me know and I will remove this post as quickly as possible. This is, as I understand it, a draft of the principles that will be used when awarding the status of “Chartered Teacher”.

The Chartered Teacher Programme – Professional Principles Framework – Draft

The Professional Principles Framework will define the level of accomplishment across three key domains which teachers will need to achieve in order to be awarded Chartered Teacher status. The framework will:

  • provide clarity to all teachers of the competencies that underpin excellence in teaching as supported by a body of evidence;
  • enable all teachers to self-assess their values, knowledge and practice against the competencies and use this to guide their professional development;
  • provide a structured career path for those teachers who wish to progress within their career whilst remaining in the classroom;
  • encourage collaboration between teachers and their peers, and between teachers and the wider teaching profession.

The three key domains of the Chartered Teacher Professional Principles Framework are:

  1. Professional values.
  2. Professional knowledge and understanding.
  3. Professional practice.

These domains are set out below.

Professional values

Chartered Teachers embody five core professional values:

  1. Sustained commitment to critical self-evaluation and career-long professional learning.
  2. Commitment to, and advocate for, all learners, their learning and their wellbeing.
  3. Commitment to education for social justice.
  4. Demonstration of the highest level of integrity and professionalism.
  5. Professional engagement to create a strong community for learning.

Professional knowledge and understanding

Chartered Teachers have a developed knowledge and understanding across five key areas:

  1. Pedagogical knowledge.
  2. Subject knowledge.
  3. Learner development and context.
  4. Enquiry and research.
  5. Curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

Professional practice

The classroom practice of a Chartered Teacher is characterised by five key elements:

  1. Extending pedagogical knowledge continually through engagement with evidence and research.
  2. Creating an optimal environment for teaching and learning for all learners.
  3. Planning and preparing effective, inspiring learning opportunities.
  4. Teaching high-quality, engaging lessons for learner progress.
  5. Critical evaluation of own practice for improved impact on learner outcomes.

Most of this is what you’d expect when a bureaucracy writes about education: lists of aims and values without any sense of priority. If theories of learner development conflict with research evidence about pedagogy, then which should chartered teachers follow? If “an optimal environment for learning” isn’t one with “inspiring learning opportunities”, which should come first? Like the old lesson observation checklists with 4 dozen items on, where contradictory principles are piled together like this, we get a situation where all judgements can be justified. Anyone could be judged to have met or to have failed to meet these principles, just on the basis of which principles those making the judgement prioritise.

On top of that, a number of items are heavily loaded.

Do we really want teachers to be judged on whether they have a “Commitment to education for social justice”? How could that ever be anything other than a judgement as to whether they have the right politics? How about being “advocates for” the “wellbeing” of all learners? “Wellbeing” can refer to being an amateur therapist or substitute parent (and why are they “learners” not students, pupils or children?) Finally, there is a huge step backward towards judging lessons for their entertainment value. “inspiring learning opportunities” and “engaging lessons for learner progress” sound like something from an OFSTED report from 2012. Why would any teacher whose priority is the learning of their classes want to be judged on that basis? I’ve written before about the misuse of engagement (as have many other bloggers) and inspiration. These terms have been used to condemn teachers for not being entertaining enough.

Of course, at the heart of this is a problem with a professional body set up by non-teachers. It is a body that will seek to judge, classify and assess teachers rather than support them. Like many teachers, I always want to learn more about teaching and would welcome a professional body that can provide knowledge and support, but I will oppose any body that tries to judge teachers. Being a “chartered teacher” will have the same value as having your lessons rated “outstanding” by OFSTED or qualifying as an AST did, it will mark somebody out as “playing the game”, having a willingness to do and say what some authority figure wanted them to do or say. It is not what teachers need; it is a stick to beat teachers with.

Update 5/6/2017: I have now been sent, but not given permission to release, a later draft of this, with most of the contentious parts removed. The later version and some explanatory material can be found here.



Have 65% of future jobs not yet been invented? – @BBCMoreOrLess on the BBC World Service

May 28, 2017

I recently featured in an episode of More Or Less on the BBC World Service.

You can find this here.

This is the 3rd time I’ve featured on a BBC radio programme (the other two are here and here).

This interview was about the myth of huge numbers of jobs that haven’t been invented yet. I wrote about this most recently here and this programme supplements that post rather well.

I have to say I was a bit rubbish this time; it turns out it’s a lot harder to talk about something technical in an interview than something more based on opinions. Fortunately, they have edited me into coherence and brought in the far more eloquent Daisy Christodoulou to make it a great programme, that is well worth a listen.

Hopefully the podcast version will be available soon. Update 30/5/2017: The podcast can be found here.


A Guide To Scenes From The Battleground

May 27, 2017

I have updated this guide for the holidays.

This blog is about the state of secondary education. There is an introduction to it here:

And some reflections on it here:

Here is a summary of my main points:

Here are a few posts written purely for a laugh (although some of them perhaps make a point at the same time):

The following posts sum up what is typical in schools these days in various respects:



Teachers and Managers:

Special Needs:

School Life:


As well as the advice for teachers included in many of the other posts, I have written advice specifically for new teachers:

These deal more directly with my own personal experiences, or the experiences of others:

I have also written a number of posts exploring and explaining how this situation came to be, discussing the arguments in education and suggesting what can be done.


Apologia and arguments:

Progressive Education:



Education Policy and Current Affairs:


The College of Teaching:

Children’s Mental Health

Schools being shamed on social media

Teaching and Teachers:

Educational Ethics and Philosophy:

Education Research and Academics

Here are some videos I found on the internet which I thought were interesting, or relevant, enough to present in a blog post. Some will probably no longer be available, I hope to correct this where possible when I get the chance.

I wrote about some of the myths that are spread to teachers, often in INSET or during PGCEs:

I have also outlined what I would expect from schools willing to do put things right:

Here are my book recommendations:

This may be of interest if you are considering writing a blog or are looking for blogs to read:

You may also have found me…

I have also written sections in the following three books:

Please let me know if any of the links don’t work.

Finally, I can be found on Facebook (please “friend” me) or Twitter (please “follow” me).

If you want to keep up with education blogging other than mine, or to see some of these same concerns discussed by others, then you should follow my sister blog, The Education Echo Chamber. The blog is here. The twitter feed is here. The sister blog to the sister blog is The Echo Chamber Uncut which automatically shares all UK education blogs. The blog is here. The twitter feed is here. There are details of some “mini Echo Chambers” here. I’m also the editor of the Labour Teachers blog, which can be found here.


Are teachers filthy, rotten liars?

May 20, 2017

Another Twitter poll, and a result that surprised me. It actually came out of a conversation about SEND interventions and was used to defend interventions that had no evidence of effectiveness, but might work as placebos. I think that lying to kids, particularly kids with special needs, is not really on. I was surprised to see it justified with the appeal to the claim that deception was part and parcel of what we do. I didn’t refer back to that context with the poll, because I was more interested in the general principle. I was not expecting so many people to say “yes”.

The charitable interpretation is that a lot of the “yes” votes were basically honest people who have a very heightened sense of what it means to deceive and a willingness to consider “part and parcel” to refer to events that would not happen every day. Although the dictionary does say the word “deceive” means deliberately misleading somebody, particularly for personal gain, some people interpreted “deception” to include such things as teaching simplified models in science, or not letting your students know when you are unhappy. Teaching is often viewed as a performance, and some took that to mean a deception. Others seemed to think some types of encouragement were deception. Additionally, there are times when it might be right to lie to protect children (for instance to maintain confidentiality about another child), and although these might be exceptions perhaps people who are sensitive to these things see them as “part and parcel” of teaching rather than the exception to the rule.

All of these are fair enough, although it does concern me if they lead to teachers thinking it is okay to routinely lie, particularly when, as in the case of bogus SEND interventions, it is pretty close to a confidence trick. Another issue around lying is one I blogged about here when some hoax event (alien landing, murder, pencil case theft) is staged  in a primary school to prompt writing, something that has backfired a number of time when it has led to kids complaining about being scared

My least charitable interpretation of what is going on here is to remember all those teachers and managers who condemn the use of sanctions and  explicit rules to control behaviour, and instead talk of motivating and inspiring the kids. I wonder how often in practice this actually amounts to dishonest manipulation? If teachers are expecting to win kids over, rather than be an authority figure, could this not lead to teachers feeling they can say anything, true or not, to get them to go along with what teachers want them to do? The complaint that child directed education might actually mean subtle manipulation of children towards adult ends is one that was often made of Rousseau. The best expression of this idea is probably in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie where a manipulative teacher forms a destructive bond with a group of students. It worried me about how casually some teachers talked of deceiving kids in order to motivate them or give them confidence, as if we are meant to be controlling their feelings rather than their actions in school. I don’t think it is healthy if we feel guilty about punishing kids, or telling them what to, but perfectly comfortable with getting them to comply with our wishes through lying and manipulation.


Why you shouldn’t complain about being patronised online

May 14, 2017

Tone Policing. The only motive is to end debate.

I’ve written before about tone policing – when people get annoyed at the way people speak on social media. The problem with tone policing is:

a) Often, particularly on Twitter, the tone exists only in the head of the person taking offence at it.

b) It distracts from the content of arguments.

One particularly common complaint is being patronised. Roughly speaking, you think you are being patronised when you deduce that somebody you are speaking to thinks you are an idiot.  Now, this may be a problem if it is real life and if it’s somebody you will have ongoing interactions with. But if you are arguing with a stranger on social media it’s really not worth complaining if you suspect they think you are an idiot, because nothing good can come from drawing attention to that.

This is because there are only 4 possibilities:

  1. You are not an idiot and they don’t think you are an idiot. In this case, you have nothing to complain about.
  2. You are not an idiot and they think you are an idiot. This may be annoying, but it means they are under-estimating you. This means that if, instead of taking offence, you continue the debate, you are likely to get the better of them. You will look good, they will look bad. Why stop that happening?
  3. You are an idiot and they don’t think you are an idiot. By complaining you have now drawn their attention to your idiocy. They are now more likely to think you are an idiot. You have made the problem worse.
  4. You are an idiot and they think you are an idiot. Now you’ve drawn everyone else’s attention to the fact.

Now it is an entirely different matter if they have said you are an idiot, or they have made an untrue claim that implies you are an idiot. You should object to being insulted or misrepresented. But if you try to convict them for the thought-crime of having a low opinion of you, then the best you can hope for is that you don’t prove them right.


Teachers are divided by values, not just methods

May 13, 2017

A while back (which is my way of saying I always intended to reply to this, but somehow 6 months passed) I saw this post: Teaching is not two distinct theories. This is a lie promoted by the echo chamber of social media and thought it was a really clear statement of a wrong, but plausible, position that deserved a reply. (Except perhaps for the idea that the debate, which is well over 100 years old, is somehow centred on social media.)

The basic thesis of the post is a common one (although many who put it forward are less sincere than this author): Most teachers are above the debate between progressives and traditionalists.

It starts be describing the 2 approaches:

Group A (often called Traditionalists) – This group promote the fact that we should just give knowledge to our students. In their world the teacher is the font of all knowledge and their job is to pass this to the kids and their lessons are knowledge rich. Progress is kids knowing more stuff. According to them we need more academic rigour and less focus on skills. They don’t like discovery learning. This group is all about the subject.

Group B (often called Progressivists) – This group is all about the skills and the fun and the engagement. They want kids to know stuff but that isn’t their primary purpose. Instead they want to create engaging learning experiences where they learn life skills and lessons are often focused purely on getting them through the exam. They really like discovery learning. This group is less about the subject.

I think this is fair enough in most respects, although it is noticeable that both definitions, particularly the progressive one, are heavily weighted towards what teachers do, rather than what they believe. The post then goes on to argue that we can critique both approaches and instead do a bit of both. This is a really common approach for those trying to transcend the debate and comment on it from above. Often those who do this are blatantly progressive, and this seems like an excuse for not defending what they do, but I don’t think that this is the case here.

I do think that a number of people who claim to do a bit of both are actually bog standard progressives.

The critique of the two approaches then follows. Here is the critique of traditionalism.

Why is a purely Group A approach limited?

  • Knowledge is important but it is not the be all and end all of teaching.
  • How much ‘stuff’ do kids actually remember at the end of the year? My lesson is three hours out of fifty per fortnight. It isn’t possible for them to remember that much and I am good at my job (I think). This raises an elephant in the room – if they aren’t going to remember that stuff why should I focus purely on them remembering stuff?
  • Kids have to sit exams. If we don’t explicitly teach them skills and how to answer an exam question (whether we like it or not) they won’t do as well. And if they don’t get their grades we are affecting their university choices and job prospects.

The first point is a statement about values, but it is a very vague one. The other two points are actually utterly reliant on the traditionalist teacher not being good at being a traditionalist teacher. Why focus on knowledge if kids won’t remember it? The whole point of focusing on it is so that they do remember it. If they don’t: do it better. That’s not a problem with traditional aims, that’s a problem with not achieving them. Similarly with exams, the traditionalist case is that a focus on knowledge helps kids with their exams. No traditionalist will refuse to explicitly teach or practice exam technique (even if the author does insist on calling that “skills”), and actually traditionalists tend to be more positive about exams and tests.

Why is a purely Group B approach limited?

  • Making a model out of pipe cleaners is a laugh but what you taught them in an hour you could have just told them in five minutes.
  • A stop motion film is fun but where is the learning about the intricacies of your subject. Where is the grappling with the academic rigour of your subject?
  • Skills are needed but you cannot teach skills without knowledge. You have to know something to test your skills. It can’t therefore be all about skills.
  • Beating students with the exam stick takes out any fun or bits that are unique about your subject.

As you can imagine, I have more sympathy with this critique. But even more than the description of traditionalism, it is all about what the progressive teacher does, not what they believe.

This helps the author make the following argument:

What concerns me about the situation I have described above is that this is not what the majority of us do. In fact I have a suspicion that both Group A and B are the very loud but extreme minority of teachers. If you just teach like A or B I would also suggest that you don’t do a very good job. Teaching needs a bit of both A and B. Sometimes you need to just give them the facts, other times you need the kids on your side and creating an engaging learning activity that might be quite light hearted is needed.

My fear is that new teachers join social media and see the proponents of A or B who have a huge numbers of followers and think that therefore they should be like them and teach only like A or B. They shouldn’t. You need to be both A and B.

It is noticeable that until the last sentence, all of this is about what teachers do. It jars that the last sentence suddenly switches to what teachers should be. By focusing on what teachers do the author is able to describe their own week and claim:

…some lessons were more heavily weighted toward A, some were heavily B, most were a mixture of both. This is normal. In each scenario I planned for what is best for the kids. I did not let the very loud but extreme minority influence my planning, I used the technique that that led to the best learning.

The trouble with this is that by this point the debate has entirely ceased to be about values. I’m a hardcore traditionalist, and I might sometimes teach lessons that are entirely traditionalist, but overall I also use a mix. Group work, discussion, investigations, real-life problems, even word searches are not off limits, they just aren’t, in my opinion, techniques that often lead to the best learning.

The reason this doesn’t make me a “bit of both” is because these are educational philosophies, and the methods associated with them are only progressive and traditionalist in as much as they reflect underlying philosophies.

And this is why we struggle to be “a bit of both”. When we are in the classroom, we don’t ask “shall I be a bit progressive or a bit traditional” we think about what we want to achieve (which is informed by our philosophy) and we think about how best to achieve it (which is informed by our philosophy). Techniques are not incidental, but they vary a lot between subjects, (a traditionalist drama teacher would still do plenty of group work) and they are important only because of what they reveal about our beliefs.

When I say I am a traditionalist, it means I reject non-academic aims for education. It means that I believe learning knowledge improves the intellect more than anything else does. It means that I think children should be obedient. It means that I will pick methods because they maximise the acquisition of, and fluency in, knowledge. It also means that I favour explanation and practice but only because they are the best means to these ends.

The real challenge to this view of educational philosophies would not be the person who “does a bit of both”. A minute interrogating them about their beliefs would reveal which philosophy (if any) they follow, far quicker than any lesson observation would. The real challenge would be somebody who managed to espouse one set of values consistently (not just nod to them, insincerity is not difficult to explain) and yet somehow ended up using techniques that are more in line with a different philosophy and justifying it. Fortunately, I’m yet to meet anybody like that.


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