Snake Oil

March 14, 2009

There are a lot of people out there making money from selling schools “big ideas”. Unfortunately, these are never ideas that involve sorting out discipline and reintroducing academic standards. They are more likely to be about “teaching and learning” and in the first instance involve lots of extra meetings and then often fade into nothing. Sometimes they are actually followed for a few years before they fade away.

After a while you begin to notice when your latest initiative is snake oil. There are distinctive features in anything that is designed to convince school managers, and other credulous teachers, to part with money in the hope of miraculous results, rather than to actually do any good.

The latest initiative to come my way is called “Building Learning Power”, a scheme for encouraging students to become better learners. Having read the manual – Claxton (2002) I have noticed a number of the familiar features. The following are the signs that seem to apply to all educational snake oil:

Publications for People who Don’t Read Books

It is no good writing an academic treatise if you want people to part with cash. The BLP manual is glossy, brightly coloured, and set out like a cross between a gossip magazine and an Argos catalogue. The main body of text mainly appears on alternate pages, with quotations, diagrams and anecdotes filling in the gaps. Both this, and the anecdotal style of writing, makes it quite clear that this isn’t aimed at the sort of person who learns by reading books or journals. Or to put it another way, it is not aimed at the well-educated.


Nothing decorates bullshit better than a new vocabulary and mindless slogans. In the BLP manual we find section headings such as “Getting Learning Fit”, “The Four R’s of Learning Power”, “Meta-Learning”, “Reciprocity”, “WILF and TIB” and “The learning power palette”. In the text we have even worse examples. We are to develop “learning muscles”; headteachers are to become “head learners” and in one example we are told about a teacher who now calls her classroom “the mind gym”.

Claims to Scientific and Academic Credibility

BLP scores highly here, with the author being described as “Professor Guy Claxton”. However, no doubt for the benefit of anyone aware how little a position in an education department of an English university is actually worth in academic terms, the book makes every additional effort to claim the credibility it doesn’t deserve. Hence we are told BLP is based on “solid science” and that “BLP is based on an extensive body of research. The new sciences of brain and mind are revealing just how learnable learning is”. Claims are made about research, yet strangely there is no direct reference to the publication the research was published in and no mention of whether the results of the research have been disputed.

Contempt for Academic Education and Expertise

Although snake oil salesman are the first to trumpet their own qualifications, it would be self-defeating to suggest that qualifications are particularly valuable in the present age, or that experts offer the best advice. After all, in a school the teachers most qualified to comment, (e.g those with expertise in relevant fields such as psychology or philosophy, and those who get the best results) might be the first to dismiss the latest fad. The usual line is to stress uncertainty about the future and distrust of what is already known. Inevitably, BLP has to avoid focussing on qualifications, saying “to thrive in the twenty-first century, it is not enough to leave school with a clutch of examination certificates” and those who experience BLP will “take away from school not just a few certificates, but greater confidence, competence and curiosity to face the uncertainties that life will surely throw at them”. Just in case the anti-achievement message isn’t actually clear enough, we are told (incredibly): “Research tells us … High achievers are not necessarily good real-life learners.”

As for experts and their academic knowledge it is suggested that: “Just because Howard Gardner is a Professor at Harvard, it doesn’t mean that there are only seven forms of intelligence in this part of the world. Maybe Year 11 at St Edmund’s can come up with another one.” Apparently, we should spread a similar view of expertise to students, telling them the Theory Of Evolution “… is one way of looking at the situation (and Muslims or biochemists or creationists have a different view)”. Academic knowledge is not too be valued highly; it is bad that in education “The emphasis has remained firmly on the content to be learnt”. As ever the first step to improving learning is to devalue the difficult bits. In the brave new world that BLP is aiming to equip us for “Algebra and parts of speech can seem a little beside the point”. Just as inevitably, this is for the sake of the children’s happiness: “We want them to be able to make successful relationships, to be capable of being (and disposed to be) loving and kind … We want them to live, as much as they can, without fear or insecurity. We would like them to be happy. … Education has to take a step back”.

Statements of the Obvious

In the absence of a clear evidence base, it is usual for the peddlers of drivel to spend plenty of time pointing out the obvious. BLP is no exception, and many of their insights into what makes a good learner will provoke nothing more that the words: “Tell me something I don’t know”. Far more time is spent explaining what would be good, no matter how obvious, than suggesting how to achieve it. That said the “No Shit, Sherlock”-award has to go to this line from the BLP book “Research shows, for example, that people who can make a reasonable estimate of how long a task will take are more likely to finish on time …”

Failure to Confront the Discipline Crisis

Anyone in education with even half a brain knows that the collapse of civilised behaviour in our secondary schools is the main obstacle to children learning. This is not a message Senior Managers are willing to buy into and so it will not appear in the rubbish marketed to managers. Most references to behaviour will be to suggest that it results from a failure to realise the wisdom of the latest fad. As well as many comments which suggest this, BLP actually goes further and suggests students should misbehave if they are not taught in the way BLP suggests: “More adventurous teachers can [even] encourage their students … to refuse to undertake an activity till they know what the purpose and the value are.”

The Usual Nonsense

Invariably the latest piece of rubbish bears a strong resemblance to the last. And so “project work”, “problem-solving”, “collaboration” and “circle-time” pop up like toxic pennies. For some reason new methods of teaching never seem to involve setting work from a textbook, giving a lecture, getting kids to copy notes off of the board or punishing heavily those who won’t do what they are told.

One of these days I should try and market my own revolutionary teaching method. I will call it “The Teacher As Expert” and it will be based on the brilliant scientific insight that kids learn more if they shut up and listen to somebody who knows what they are talking about.


Claxton, Guy, Building Learning Power, TLO, 2002


  1. Sounds like a pile of SHIT. I’m sure it must be an acronym for something…

    Why do you think the people who peddle this sort of rubbish, and a great number of Senior Managers refuse to acknowledge the behaviour crisis in many schools? I’m about to leave one of the schools I work at part-time in order to work full-time at the other one. Both are National Challenge schools, so I’m sort of going from the frying pan to the fire, but at the one school (the one I’m going to), there is definitely a willingness to admit the problem and try to do something about it that is missing from the other.

    I’m also fed up to the back teeth with being told that the kids in my class behave badly because my lessons are ‘boring’. It’s bad enough having the kids moaning at you without the educational establishment endorsing those sentiments! I have pupils come into lessons week after week with the question “are we doin’ somefink fun this week, miss?” Naturally, I reply “my lessons are always fun!”, but when you consider that most KS3 pupils’ idea of fun is spending a lesson huddled over their iPods or mobiles (girls) or running around the room beating the crap out of their “mates” (boys) – the real answer to that question is obviously “no”!

    And I’m sure there was a point to that but I’m buggered if I can remember what it was!

  2. North of the border, we have AiFL (Assessment is For Learning) and the Curriculum for Excellence.

    We have been exorted to start off our lessons with WILF (What I’m Looking For). I gave up on that one the day my third years went into hysterics: they thought I’d written “MILF” on the board.

  3. I’m copyrighting my “WTF?” programme, which guides you through how to respond to the latest initiatives.

  4. Whilst there is a danger of NewIdea overload, I think we have to be careful with this mentality of Snake Oil.
    I’d like to know Old Andrew’s take on, for example, P4C.

  5. P4C?

    I assume you mean Philosophy for Children not Paddlers For Christ?

    I’m against teaching philosophy to young children.

    They rarely have enough Greek.

  6. This kind of stuff is another extension of bad management ideas into education. I remember arguing fruitlessly with people about why they refused to put in job knowledge as a desirable quality for staff. They said you don’t need knowledge you just need to learn quickly. Why, why do you need to learn quickly if knowledge is not important??

    Ask these people the same question. If academic or other formal knowledge is so undesirable, why do we need to teach students how to learn?

    These people want to eat their cake and have it too.

  7. “I’m against teaching philosophy to young children”

    Somehow I’m not surprised. Why don’t you want children to think?

  8. Considering the massive cost of all these initiatives I think a view of them as “snake oil” sellers is safer than “oh look lets jump on another bandwagon”.

    BLP is a joke, which because it’s a joke will be forced top down onto schools. Iniatives that are not laughably bad such as B4L are asked for by schools and staff; oddly often stopped from top down. A number of LEA’s actively fight against using B4L in schools as do some Head teachers.

    Still making up my mind on SEAL.

    But BLP should be called “We’re stupid; the kids are stupid, so lets all swim in ignorance together. But heah I’m a succesful shoelace knotter”.


  9. “Somehow I’m not surprised. Why don’t you want children to think?”

    I do want children to think, I just care what they are encouraged to think about. I want children to be familiar with the best of what has already been thought and known, not encouraged to think any old rubbish and then told it’s good. When people know enough history, literature, science and religion it might be worth thinking philosophically about it all, but not before. Having an opinion is not worthwhile in itself.

  10. Aspadistra- how funny, my Year 10s and 11s said exactly the same thing! They started calling it MILF thinking I wouldn’t know what they meant until I said- don’t be so rude. This bloody walt and wilf has been taken from primary schools. I would like to see the evidence that this increases the chances of children achieving and getting better grades.

  11. What is BLP- thought the P4C post was a joke. Don’t we teach children to voice opinions and critically think in our lessons anyhow? Why do we need initiatives to tell us to do that?

  12. “Philosophy for Children”

    Oh, lordy. We’re on the tedious journey towards critical thinking for junior primary. I’m afraid I think that it’s impossible to think about nothing. Until you know enough stuff – of any kind – to think around and about a topic is pointless. Worse, from an educator’s viewpoint, the effort is wasted.

    These efforts are better directed to learning a poem, some number families, elementary punctuation or the countries of South America, anything. When you have an assembly of knowledge and skills, go for it.

  13. It’s a shame that the philosophy thing has received such negativity. As an English teacher, I want my kids to ask questions about texts and ideas.

    “These efforts are better directed to learning a poem” And how do you go about this? Do you encourage the students to explore it for themselves? Or do you take on the mantle of expert and tell them what to write?

    I always start by getting them to ask a question or a group of questions about the text. It is enquiry that leads to knowledge.

  14. “Oh, lordy. We’re on the tedious journey towards critical thinking ”

    It’s such a shame that you see critical thinking as “tedious”. This is a sad indictment on the teaching community.

  15. “I always start by getting them to ask a question or a group of questions about the text. It is enquiry that leads to knowledge.”

    I think that makes sense. What I object is the suggestion that they learn from this, rather than from being told the answer. Until you have knowledge it is very difficult to think about it.

    Perhaps this excerpt from an interview with the world’s greatest living philosopher will help:

    “Q: Do you think there is a strong case to be made for teaching philosophy in schools? How would you state it?

    A: Introducing philosophy into schools will certainly do no more harm than has been done by introducing sociology or economics or other subjects with which the curriculum has been burdened. But what we need in schools are fewer subjects, not more, so that far greater depth can be acquired. And philosophical depth depends in key part on having learned a great deal in other disciplines. What every child needs is a lot of history and a lot of mathematics, including both the calculus and statistics, some experimental physics and observational astronomy, a reading knowledge of Greek sufficient to read Homer or the New Testament, and if English-speaking, a speaking knowledge of a modern language other than English, and great quantities of English literature, especially Shakespeare. Time also has to be there for music and art. Philosophy should only be introduced at the undergraduate level. And then at least one philosophy course, and more adequately two, should be required of every undergraduate. Of course an education of this kind would require a major shift in our resources and priorities, and, if successful, it would produce in our students habits of mind which would unfit them for the contemporary world. But to unfit our students for the contemporary world ought in any case to be one of our educational aims.”

    “It’s such a shame that you see critical thinking as “tedious”. This is a sad indictment on the teaching community.”

    No, it’s a distrust of silly gimmicks. Here‘s what’s wrong with critical thinking.

  16. “critical thinking for junior primary.” is my concern. If you read ‘Class Warfare’ (I’ve not got it at the office, but it’s by a US university lecturer), you’ll see the concern of tertiary educators. Absolutely livid that they’re teaching remedial reading and spelling to high school graduates while JP teachers play at critical thinking with students who don’t know enough words to understand let alone express simple ideas.

    I also worry about “critical”. Primary students may never understand that it’s entirely possible to write a major lit crit essay – and not say anything negative. Unless someone spends a lot of time and effort explaining the concept of analytical thinking leading to reasonable interpretation leading to ……
    I’t’s too big an ask. Some senior secondary students are well able to do this. Not a lot of primary kids can go beyond finding a criticism based on likes or dislikes. As an intellectual enterprise, not much chance.

  17. Got him! The author’s name is J Martin Rochester. A warning. He may be an enthusiastic proponent of good teaching with structured curriculum, but he is an American with some of the weaknesses that Oz people find off putting – and I presume a lot of Brits would too. But he’s spot on about vacuous activities with no academic content.

    “I always start by getting them to ask a question or a group of questions about the text. It is enquiry that leads to knowledge.”
    Only if good answers are available. You can’t understand Milton unless you know
    1)the KJ Bible, preferably thoroughly,
    2)his miserable marriage and his desire to “return” to old values meaning divorce was preferable to the church’s insistence on lifelong marriage. His “old values” were the pre-Christian ones.
    Rattling on about the common view that even the best poets say that the good old days were always better completely misses the point he was making.

  18. Just found this. It’s not exactly critical thinking. It’s about when, where and how it’s best to think. Some teachers will find this challenging. Many will find it exciting and informative. It is 10 pages, but if you just scan through for the inserts highlighted in different colours, there’s some neatly packaged info.

    Click to access WILLINGHAM(2).pdf

  19. Or we could all just buy Dan Willingham’s book and read it?


  20. Spose so. But I haven’t. For all I know the gems in the magazine are like some ads for films. All the best bits are already out there. And, OA, you know that not many people read whole books about teaching (or anything else) that concentrate on scientifically valid investigations.
    Piaget’s tedious verbatim reports of conversations with his infant subjects may no longer be the model, but still, some of this stuff is heavy going. Articles and abstracts are a good introduction.

  21. Mr Stephen, it depends who you’re teaching.
    I went into teaching having been a therapist, and had all sorts of lovely, wide ranging ideas regarding the philosophy of what we learn together (in my role of facilitator of discovery…)
    And for my own children, who read voraciously, think deeply and discuss ideas/put plans into practice with and without adult help, it may almost have been appropriate. With the children I encounter in the classroom? Forget it.

  22. Mr Stephen, the obvious way, to me at least, to learn a poem is to start off by reading it through, and then reciting it to yourself until you have memorised it. There are of course other methods of memorisation, but saying it out loud means you get to enjoy the sound of the words, so I always prefer that.
    The advantage of memorising the poem is that you always have it with you. For example I found myself reciting Sea Fever while sitting on the front of a boat crossing between Tongan islands and watching a grey dawn breaking, and Carl Sandburgh’s poem “Grass” outside Ypres in Belgium.
    Sometimes the most important questions only come years after learning the poem, and if you never learnt the poem in the first place you won’t know that the poem contains the emotional answer.

    I always start by getting them to ask a question or a group of questions about the text.

    How do they do that before they’ve read the text? And what’s the point of getting them to ask it ahead of time?

    It is enquiry that leads to knowledge.
    Not necessarily so in my experience. Sometimes knowledge comes up and hits you in the face when you weren’t expecting it. On the other hand, I’ve often enquired about something and then after that forgotten it promptly. This is why engineers and scientists are trained to write down their experiments, it is so easy to forget the results of enquiries. In my experience it’s repeatedly paying attention, willingly or not, that leads to knowledge.

  23. In regard to critical thinking – I’ve done some reading on brain development, and (besides your excellent point on needing to have adequate material on which to base an opinion in the first place), there seems to be a great deal of evidence that the adolescent brain is still developing the part of the brain that DOES critical thinking. So, while we want to train them in it, it might be a huge waste of time to expect them to be doing loads of critical thinking when (as another poster said) they’d be better served (and able to accomplish) learning the basics that are needed to use in (later) critical thinking – primarily history, basic elements of science and math, language, etc.

  24. Found your site after searching “Guy Claxton Snake Oil” (true) in total frustration after both my wife and I had read his BLP booklet (both teachers, different schools, same clueless LEA). I commented that he is a clever man. In a marketing sense it’s a wonderful package and it does what all successful packages do: it sells you something you don’t need at a high price. The reason you don’t need it is because you’re doing the good bits already. That’s because you’re a teacher and the majority of us are good at our jobs. The high price paid is by the pupils because while you’re concentrating on this pseudo-science you’re neglecting to actually teach them anything of value. It’s that simple. Next time someone peddles this crap at a staff meeting, stick your neck out and explain that as a taxpayer as well as a public employee you think it’s a shameful waste of our hard-earned cash. Oh, and ask them if they would like their children to learn something at school or have a dumbed-down education instead. After all, the target market audience of Mr Claxton isn’t the bottom 20% of pupils. It’s the top 20%.

  25. Amen! Am so glad I found your site! Every other teacher blog I’ve come across seem to be eating up the drivel hook, line, and sinker. Rochester unfortunately is still in the minority here in America.

  26. “After all, in a school the teachers most qualified to comment, (e.g those with expertise in relevant fields such as psychology or philosophy, and those who get the best results) might be the first to dismiss the latest fad.”

    Would the teachers who qualify to comment due to having the best results also qualify for performance-related pay?

    • Performance related pay is meant to be based on performance not qualifications.

      (The clue is in the name.)

  27. It is easy to disparage teaching philosophy or critical thinking to anybody when it is just taught on its own with no content to work on. Yet nobody has entertained the notion that you can teach it alongside content to improve the way people think about that content. Surely that is exactly what we should be doing, in English, History, and so on.

    Regarding teaching philosophy to children, it is potentially very easy. Many children automatically ask philosophical questions, and most can be prompted to when they are told it is safe. To give examples: children will gladly discuss the fairness of a hypothetical action, will gladly discuss the causes of optical illusions, will gladly discuss the consequential implications and correctness of various hurtful actions. Children already have much content on which to work on philosophically. I agree with many philosophers that children are socialised to stop doing so because it is ‘pointless’.

    I have heard that Einstein loved to teach children advanced Physics using clear and down to earth examples. I get the feeling many people on this thread would find that pointless, maybe even harmful.

    • I think we disagree on what philosophy is. I don’t think expressing an opinion, even about ethics, is really doing philosophy.

      To me it isn’t philosophy until we analyse those opinions rather than simply express them.

      I don’t think anyone has disparaged thinking deeply about content, it is just inappropriate to package it as a separate subject or a separate skill.

  28. “To me it isn’t philosophy until we analyse those opinions rather than simply express them.”

    Excellent! Then we agree, because I said nothing about failing to analyse those opinions that I mentioned when I attempted to answer your original point that children did not have enough knowledge to think philosophically.

    As you clearly accept that children do have opinions to analyse philosophically, we can see that children can learn philosophy.

    • As ever your logic escapes me.

      I am saying that we need background knowledge to analyse these opinions. How can you counter this claim by simply saying we agree children have opinions? I never doubted that they have opinions, I just doubted that they had the background knowledge to analyse them effectively.

      • “To me it isn’t philosophy until we analyse those opinions rather than simply express them.”
        “I never doubted that they have opinions, I just doubted that they had the background knowledge to analyse them effectively.”

        So we need academic knowledge to analyse opinons in all/most cases…

        Please point out the background knowledge that children lack to analyse these opinions:
        “To give examples: children will gladly discuss the fairness of a hypothetical action, will gladly discuss the causes of optical illusions, will gladly discuss the consequential implications and correctness of various hurtful actions. Children already have much content on which to work on philosophically.”

        (Have you read Meno, by the way?)

  29. The philosophy that secondary school students need should be more geared to the existential questions ‘what is the point’ ‘why am I here’ ‘how should I live my life’ rather than the tedious ‘community of inquiry’process led drivel so beloved of the stupid SENCO at my school. I made the point in a meeting a while back that there was no place for a P4C in a lesson on the blast furnace. I was shot down in flames. As a science teacher (with some psychology and neuroscience in my degree)I find it more and more difficult to sit and listen to ‘experts’ teach us these fads without any research to back it up at all. Learning styles, brain gym, P4C and now this s*** makes me so cross.

  30. […] approaches, such as Brain Gym and others that might be lumped together under the heading Snake Oil. (Here are similarly critical examinations of Learning Styles. The dominant philosophy of the times […]

  31. Claims to Scientific and Academic Credibility – BLP scores highly here, with the author being described as “Professor Guy Claxton”.

    Reminds me of “Dr.” Edward Bernays on the David Letterman show.

  32. Why not tell the managers you are going to run a controlled trial of the latest technique?

    Teach one class using the recommended technique, another in your normal way. At half term, swap them around.

    Give the pupils a questionnaire at the end asking them to rate how well the different classes helped them learn.

    That’s what I did when I started to get students to discuss IT and Society on-line, as well as in face-to-face seminars. As that was at a university, we had the resources to measure critical thinking in both settings (through content analysis and through a questionnaire), find significant differences and publish the results.

    But even in schools, it should be possible to demonstrate to the LEA people how little effect many of the recommended techniques make. Do it a couple of times and they might even learn to do some trials themselves before spending money on courses. Just think of LEA staff as another lot of difficult pupils who need to be educated in critical thinking!

    • Hah.

      I managed to avoid using BLP for the first year of its implementation. The median progress of my class was 0.9 national curriculum levels. None of the other 7 classes were above 0.7, most were much lower.

      The result of my success?

      More stringent enforcement of BLP the following year.

  33. Granted, there is a strong element in Claxton’s book of ‘branding’ things unnecessarily – he’s obviously trying to make a bit of cash in a capitalist world, however there is a strong research base for the findings – there is a page of references at the back of the book for starters, then try the references this paper draws upon (http://www.atriumlinguarum.org/contenido/learning%20to%20learn%20what%20is%20it%20and%20can%20it%20be%20measured_ver5.pdf) or any of the 200 odd sources in the book ‘Self theories’ by Carol Dweck. The key idea for me is the idea of a fixed ‘entity theory’ mindset vs a malleable ‘incremental thoery’ of how the brain works. Essentially the idea that no one should feel completely constrained by their ‘god-given intelligence’ so as to fear mistakes and subsequently fear anything challenging. The Dweck book is a far better read than Claxton but it strikes me you weren’t up for trying to see past the branding jargon at the core message, just for slating something as leftist nonsense. I’d be keen to see your references for the efficacy of copying off the board by the way.

    • I disagree. A bibliography is not the same as a research base. I don’t have the book to hand but I well remember the repeated failure to substantiate claims about teaching methods and the role jargon played in obscuring this.

      Have a look at Dan Willingham’s “Why Students Hate School” for a jargon free book full of useful research on how people learn.

      I haven’t read anything by Dweck, but I have noticed that she is widely quoted by people who talk rubbish, even though her most famous claim, about intelligence not being fixed, is certainly supported by the evidence. This, however, does not give support to Claxton’s jargon, attempts to recycle old ideas as new discoveries, or low content approach to learning.

  34. The claims made by Claxton are indeed a little watered down, presumably to make the book more accessible and because if readers wanted to read his related articles from journals they could easily find them. Perhaps this goes back to your ‘publications for people who don’t read books’, but I still maintain, however, that beneath the jargon there is in fact research to support it. If you have the time (or inclination), here is the uncorrected proof of a published article which illustrates this. http://www.guyclaxton.com/documents/bjes_369_LOW.pdf

    The part on ‘split screening’ (seemingly more jargon- I know) may be of particular interest to you and those who fear ‘low content teaching’, after all, no good teacher should sacrifice worthwhile content for anything else.

    Failing that, I can assure you that the Dweck book does also provide ample support. On Dweck, incidentally, surely it is unfair to discredit an author/researcher based on the way people quote them?

    I agree that the ‘discipline crisis’ is not addressed by Claxton, but you can’t expect every educational publication to devote time to this. I also agree that there is little point attempting anything in teaching unless the teacher/institution has behaviour sorted.

    This said, scathing reviews of anything that doesn’t actively promote firm discipline/high content approaches as ‘snake oil’, is a dangerous and cynical practice. Clearly people follow your blogs and many will not seek to engage with the research that underpins theories such as BLP, merely be influenced by your opnions.

    I will have a look at Dan Willingham’s book, and in the meantime, would genuinely like an idea of references for research into any of the strategies you lamented were missing from many new theories of education, namely setting work from a textbook, giving a lecture, getting kids to copy notes off of the board or punishing heavily those who won’t do what they are told.

    • Are we talking about the same book? The one I had (and no longer have) implies that its anti-content approach is supported by the latest developments in psychology and neuro-science. The references for that article leave us nowhere to meeting that claim. (It’s also hard to miss the fact that the most frequently cited academic in that article is “Claxton G.L.”.)

      Perhaps, instead of giving us a vague direction in which to look you can clarify exactly which claims are supported by which research. That would surely help people to “engage with the research” far more than telling me not to criticise the unsupported and unsupportable claims made in the book.

      By the way, I didn’t try to “discredit” Dweck, I simply pointed out why unreferenced claims to her support are very unconvincing. Nor did I criticise the BLP book for not promoting “high content”, I criticised it for explcitly arguing for low content. These straw men don’t help your case.

  35. […] Andrew Old exposes three of the most prevalent: brain gym, learning styles and one particular snake oil salesman. One of the foremost Learning Styles theorists, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner has admitted to […]

  36. […] For criticism of Building Learning Power as Snake Oil, click on OldAndrew’s blog here. […]

  37. […] For criticism of Building Learning Power as Snake Oil, click on OldAndrew’s blog here. […]

  38. […] Building Learning Power is not obscure and is almost there on the absurdity front, but the only really obvious example I can think of something popular, that is as ridiculous as Brain Gym is “Thinking Hats”. David Didau wrote about it here and quickly discovered that few things get more of an angry reaction than pointing out the obvious. Those who have been suckered are going to read anything that says “this is obvious nonsense” as “you are an idiot”. If something is absurd, but people haven’t noticed, then they don’t take well to having it pointed out. Moreover, they can complain that by pointing out absurdity then you are not actually engaging with constructive criticism of the ideas. In fact they can even claim that you haven’t understood the idea. After all, you probably won’t have become deeply engaged in studying something if it is obviously crazy. Even Ben Goldacre, who is probably the most high profile advocate of greater use of RCTs in education has, to my knowledge, never once suggested that we need any RCTs on whether rubbing brain buttons actually works. […]

  39. My school has now become a BLP school. Reports have to be written using the vocabulary of BLP. Report writing is hard enough anyway without dictating a particular literary style. Does anyone know if a head can dictate to this degree? Also I am in the process of requesting from TLO any hard evidence they have that demonstrate that the many BLP schools over the last decade have performed better (or not) in league tables. They may say this would not be a true measure of 21st century skills etc but it is a measure (not a good one granted). Come on TLO – any hard evidence?

  40. As a lead teacher looking to develop a school behaviour and teaching and learning policy, this has been invaluable in securing the thoughts and criticisms I was beginning to have about the BLP programme. I feel confident to go on developing a bespoke approach now rather than buying in to the pre packed ‘solutions.’ Many thanks.

  41. Utterly hilarious and very true.

  42. Unbelievably, nine years after your blog post Bloody BLP is still a thing.
    I recently had to sit through a series of SLT assembles where the children were told they needed to be resilient like elastic bands and migrating swallows, children came to front of the hall to tell the school how they had been exercising their ‘brain muscles’, and one year 1 class stood up and shouted that they were ‘reciprocal raccoons’ !
    All this tripe is being touted by our recently appointed SLT as something ‘new’ and BLP CPD is on the cards.

    That charlatan Claxton must still be raking it in.

  43. […] Snake Oil […]

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