Archive for June, 2014


Blogposts for the Fortnight Ending 29th June 2014

June 29, 2014

The International Language of Edu-Platitudes

June 23, 2014

Here’s something to take you back. Here are the aims of the 2007 National Curriculum:

The curriculum should enable all young people to become:
• successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
• confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives
• responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown (not that I suggest you read it all):

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 19.59.00 - Edited

Somebody on Twitter recently pointed out to me that this is not dissimilar to the aims of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (written in 2004 but officially implemented in 2010). Its purposes were as follows:

Our aspiration for all children and for every young person is that they should be successful learnersconfident individualsresponsible citizens and effective contributors to society and at work.

And in more detail:



And just, in case you thought this sort of thing was only found in the British Isles, here is the Australian version, from the Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals, made by all Australian education ministers in 2008.

These goals are:
Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes  equity and excellence
Goal 2: All young Australians become:

  • successful learners
  • confident and creative individuals
  • active and informed citizens

And in more detail:

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.13.05 - Edited

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.14.53 - Edited

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.16.27 - Edited

I have commented on the English version before (here and here) but I will summarise the problems here.

  1. There are far too many aims, particularly if you break them down. As a result nobody could ever use it to make decisions. Almost any option would be covered by something. Inevitably, no school could directly implement these principles as written, and it is left open to a multitude of “experts” to interpret them.
  2. Most of the aims fail to reflect that the primary purpose of education is academic. They are about attitudes, opinions and feelings not about learning.
  3. The one academic category, i.e. “successful learners” contains more items about how students should learn and their attitude to learning than about what is learnt.
  4. A lot of this is vacuous or circular jargon. For instance, being “successful” isn’t an aim, you can only succeed if you already have an aim.

None of these problems seem to have stopped the cut and paste merchants. None of it seems to have offended the politicians. None of it seems to have been seen as contentious by the educational establishment. In the Scottish case I read here that:

…CfE (in respect of those core principles) retains all-party support in parliament. Furthermore, our research, and my recent professional interactions with teachers suggest that the teaching profession remains largely in support of those same core principles.

It’s a shame if that’s how people feel in any education system. It’s a loss of confidence in the ability to identify and directly teach what is worth knowing. But, of course, these are all from the progressive tradition in education. There is an alternative. Here, by way of contrast, are the aims of our new National Curriculum (yes, this is the entire section):

3.1 The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human
creativity and achievement.

3.2 The national curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications. The national curriculum provides an outline of
core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum.

Not perfect, but a direct endorsement of the academic purpose of education. In my view, it is official permission to teach.


Drawing the Line Between Research and Propaganda

June 18, 2014

One of the complaints most often made about the education research community is that large parts of it are disinterested in objective research and more interested in ideology. At times this is taken to the point where no distinction is drawn between promoting personal opinion and promoting research. I came across an interesting example earlier. I found a new blog called “Respecting Children and Young People“. It was unusual in that its posts were written by academics. However, although they mentioned research they were clearly writing about opinions rather than evidence.

For instance, one wrote:

We need to achieve a balance between different aims of education: not only economic but cultural, ethical, personal and democratic. We need to move beyond segregation by ‘ability’ and towards personalisation based on agreement with learners, individually and collectively, on how best to move forwards – ‘learning without limits’.

We can learn from less restricted European countries, including new forms of learning which involve problem-solving, enquiry and creativity. We need to balance written exams with more authentic (and challenging) forms of assessment based on research, design and projects. This way we can at last create a common curriculum which is both accessible and challenging, experiential and intellectual, which relates to immediate realities but opens new horizons, which aspires to equality and quality together.

Another wrote:

Classrooms need to be transformed from the stressful, task-driven, target-led overly competitive environments they are currently. And while the 3Rs are important, teaching children to be caring, respectful, cooperative, knowledgeable about their own and others’ histories, and well informed about contemporary global issues are equally, if not more, important. There is a great deal of scope for widening currently narrowly conceived teaching and learning opportunities, and for developing ‘disruptive pedagogies’ that encourage student to question,  as well as develop social and political awareness. A revalorizing of vocational and working class knowledges and a broadening out of what constitutes educational success beyond the narrowly academic is long overdue.

So far this is no different than what can be found in the educational pages of The Guardian on a fairly frequent basis. But what intrigued me was that the website’s about page included the logo of BERA, the British Educational Research Association. This is meant to be part of BERA’s contribution to the debate about education policy. As is so often the case in education, a (so-called) research agenda is indistinguishable from a political one. After I tweeted about this, there followed a twitter discussion with the person apparently responsible for the site:

Perhaps the conflation of research and propaganda should take nobody by surprise, although even I am a bit taken aback to hear that opinions can be given weight by “debate” with people who don’t disagree with them. But let’s face it, there are world famous professors of education who act as little more than propagandists for their favoured ideology, so political activism on the part of a “research” organisation should not be a surprise. However, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of the following text on the BERA website:


We believe that the development of a world-class education system depends on high quality educational research. But this is field where policy decisions are often driven by ideology rather than evidence.

BERA seeks to counterbalance the politicisation of education by carefully presenting the findings of the best in independent and critical research, through our projects, publications, responses to official consultations and other work on current issues.


Radio 4 Interview

June 17, 2014

Although apparently my house is “small”.

I seem to spend a lot of time these days apologising for not blogging regularly enough. Since I ceased to be anonymous I keep getting requests to do things that, while being a result of being a blogger, actually take up much of the time I used to spend blogging. One of these, from a few weeks back, was an appearance on a Radio 4 programme called “One to One” that was broadcast this morning.

The programme can be found on iplayer here or downloaded as a podcast here.

I’ve been a bit surprised at the level of response I’ve had to this, far greater than the last time I was on Radio 4 (i.e. here) perhaps reflecting what time people listen to Radio 4. People I know in the real world, rather than the niche world of online teachers, seem to have noticed it without me telling them, and this is even though my real name is not actually mentioned in the programme.

If you are new to this blog, having just found it after hearing the radio programme, I will be reposting a guide to the contents of the blog later this evening.


Blogs for the Fortnight Ending 15th June 2014

June 16, 2014

How to Argue for Progressive Education

June 10, 2014

A few weeks back, just after the publication of Progressively Worse, I noticed how few serious attempts there were to argue for progressive education on the basis of anything resembling empirical evidence, or coherent reasoning. Out of frustration, I tweeted a guide to arguing for progressive education in the way is it normally done on Twitter and in blogs.

Here is the full list:

  1. Disagreement with a progressive is a personal attack.
  2. Personal attacks on traditionalists aren’t personal attacks.
  3. If all else fails, object to the tone of somebody’s argument.
  4. Claim nobody really disagrees with you and anyone who says they do is wrong.
  5. Anyone who disagrees, hasn’t understood (but make no attempt to remedy the misunderstanding)
  6. Disagreement is only acceptable from certain types. Non-teachers or new teachers are not allowed.
  7. Anyone who disagrees with you, just doesn’t care as much as you do. Which is a lot.
  8. Education debate should be beyond politics.
  9. If you disagree with me, then you have the wrong sort of political views.
  10. Claim anyone who disagrees is oppressing, harassing or restricting professional autonomy.
  11. Claim that your views are based on science.
  12. Claim science doesn’t apply here.
  13. Object to a word used in an opposing argument, but reject all alternative words for expressing the same idea too.
  14. Observe that anyone disagreeing thinks they are right and imply this is a bad thing.
  15. Claim to agree with the opposing argument, than continue to act and talk as if you don’t.
  16. Have a conversation with another progressive about how wrong the opposing argument is.
  17. Have a chat with another progressive about how vile the person disagreeing with you is.
  18. If anything you said was too offensive to defend, claim it was satire or irony.
  19. Complain that, while logically correct, the opposing argument is not really persuasive.
  20. Deny all knowledge of the debate you are having (including your own position and arguments).
  21. Claim, without justification, that the flaws in your argument apply to the opposing argument.
  22. Claim it works for your students. (Provide no evidence).
  23. Accuse anyone who is not convinced that it works for your students of calling you a liar.
  24. Lie.
  25. See below:


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