How the tide has turned…

February 17, 2014

I’ll admit before I begin that this is simply how it seems to me and I’m more than willing to accept the unreliability of my recollections before I begin.

For the first few years of blogging, up to at least 5 years ago, the most common complaint (aside from the accusation that I hate kids, of course) were that I was the only one with my opinions and what I said was utterly unacceptable. I should stop expressing it. The evidence was all against me. Sometimes people would even quote from the latest government or OFSTED approved documents to demonstrate that my values were incompatible with what we were supposed to be doing and I should leave the profession. There was a right way to do things and, as could be deduced from the word “old” in my username, I was a relic of a bygone era resisting the modern world and there was nothing to debate.

Perhaps about 3 years ago, it became accepted that other teachers, perhaps staffroom moaners, had my opinions, but that anything I described was rare and what was being said was unrepresentative of what was happening in schools. In particular I remember being taken to task at about that time for suggesting that teachers found INSETs boring and had little respect for consultants, something which, if you read teachers on Twitter last September, cannot now possibly be doubted. My views were a curiosity, but even if offensive they weren’t necessarily unprofessional and people did start referring to me. But I should realise that it is unhelpful to be negative about anything in teaching and show more respect for the true experts and do nothing to divide the profession. My arguments were interesting, but there was no need for a wider debate and certainly no need to criticise (except, of course, if the object of criticism were politicians, as they really didn’t understand anything).

About a year ago, and for many months afterwards, I became used to the accusation that I was leading a “gang”. That there were a small number of teachers who agreed with me, who were, nevertheless vocal on social media,  and we were teaming up too much to promote our views and argue our case. One complaint was that too many of “the gang” were youngsters who had less than five years teaching experience and didn’t really understand what was happening. We were being cocky and arrogant, and didn’t know our place in thinking we should try to persuade our betters that things could be changed for the better. Debate was, of course, to be welcomed, but we had to respect the authority and expertise of those we wished to challenge.

Now? What do I hear now? Well the most common complaint is that nobody really disagrees. The noise from me is all just straw men and being argumentative for the sake of it. Nobody really doubts the essential points in what I’ve been saying, I’m just failing to understand the nuances of other people’s positions. And partly this problem is because, from our position of great power on social media, people like me are oppressing and silencing opposition. We dictate how to teach and intimidate opposing views. We keep trying to push what the evidence says (presumably not the same evidence which 5 years ago proved I was wrong) rather than respecting the diversity of individual approaches. If anything, I need to be taken down a peg or two.

Now is this progress? Is this the tide turning? I like to think so, but the weight of opinion in social media is not the weight of opinion in the system. Apart from the influence of the same old progressive ideology in schools, universities and among the inspectorate, it also seems likely that whatever new institutions are set up, from new ways of training teachers, to a College of Teachers, will also be used to push that agenda given half a chance. Progressive teaching will not go away. As Hannah Arendt claimed about the apparent retreat of progressive education in the 1950s:

…a reversal will never bring us anywhere except to the same situation out of which the crisis has just arisen. The return would simply be a repeat performance–though perhaps different in form, since there are no limits to the possibilities of nonsense and capricious notions that can be decked out as the last word in science.

The same old battles will still have to be fought. But, in relatively few years, the advocates of progressive education on social media have gone from proclaiming the obvious unacceptability of the opposing view, to fretting that they are being marginalised by the “pedagogy police“. It would be great to see a similar shift in the arguments in schools where, in too many cases, the same old certainties still hold sway.


  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Great post. Hope this can happen in efl as well

  3. I remember being so pleased when I came across your blog. I’m a young teacher but with enough cynicism to know that much of “progressive teaching” is a fad and to be tired of having it shoved in my face at INSET.

    Would much rather listen to you than progressive teaching lovers more concerned with selling their books and retweeting the praise given to them than engaging in actual educational debates. It doesn’t mean I don’t find these people useful at times but it is nice to have a bit of balance in a world of yes people.

  4. Heartfelt thanks, Andrew.
    One example of why the progressives will be back with a vengeance comes is the government approval for the establishment of a 630 place primary school by Cambridge University’s Training School to open a 630 place primary school. It will be used to train teachers undertaking their PGCE training. It is well worth looking at John Walker’s fine blog – in particular the 11th February entry The Philistines are upon us. http://literacyblog.blogspot.co.uk/

  5. Thank goodness for the internet that has given you/us a voice at all.
    Keep up the good work.
    By the way, there is a time and place for all-singing, all-dancing activities in schools – but not just all the time and for every single subject and/or lesson.

  6. I’m exhausted after 22 years of coping with the fads and gimmickry of primary education. Thank you for exposing the truth about Ofsted.

  7. I have not been on twitter for very long (since 2011), and I’m not in education (so have no axes to grind, nor a professional position to defend). I do, however, think that education is a truly important endeavour, and that teaching is one of those few jobs that can make a significant contribution to society. It is also a particularly tough employment option, that isn’t helped by constant change and constant scrutiny.

    It seems to me that we want the teaching profession to exhibit those core characteristics that we also want our children to develop, which includes a questioning attitude that isn’t content to accept everything at face value. Of course teachers should be prepared (and encouraged) to look carefully at how they teach, and how they are being asked to teach; regardless of the prevailing orthodoxy. One of the most notable aspects of educational theory is how little appears to be certain – schools are very complicated environments.

    In this context, the courage to stand up and question orthodoxy is to be applauded. Gathering evidence to support that questioning is also to be encouraged. Power structures very quickly develop around any orthodoxy, and these can be very negative, with the power abused for selfish gains and in support of the status quo.

    Andrew’s efforts should be applauded, and appreciated. This doesn’t preclude applauding and appreciating other people’s efforts. Whilst it is natural to be miffed and defensive when our own views and practice are critiqued (even indirectly), the way we respond needs to take place in the context of the wider educational endeavour. Blogs and Twitter are public spaces, and whilst it is true that the timbre of debate and disagreement in the edu-sphere is nowhere as objectionable as in other parts of the social media universe, the edu-sphere should be held to a higher level of behaviour. There have been examples of unsavoury responses to critiques recently, which would have been better to have remained in the private sphere. The educational endeavour is a totality, where one aspect can undermine another aspect.

  8. Andrew, as someone who started blogging about these issues in 2008, the words “chickens” and “count” leap to mind! http://www.agent4change.net/ict-policy/government-strategy/2180-etag-ict-policy-group-told-be-bold-and-ambitious.html

  9. Your post sounds like a description of the regime in a banana republic – which is what working in education often feels like. I’ve had the same experience of being cast out, seen as an eccentricity and finally (somewhat) listened to within my own school. A sad advertisement for a profession that supposedly champions the value of thought.
    I only found your work recently, but it was certainly a necessary and valuable job.

  10. “I’ll admit before I begin that this is simply how it seems to me and I’m more than willing to accept the unreliability of my recollections before I begin.”
    OK. Probably for the best.

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