Untruths in teacher training

December 6, 2016

There was an event at Michaela School the weekend before last. You can watch videos of it here. One of the points that stuck out for me was when Deputy Headteacher, Barry Smith, complained about the “lies” he was told when he was being trained to teach. I thought this was interesting because, even though we should expect teacher trainers to be experienced classroom practitioners who have also had every opportunity to study education, we tend to assume that when they tell us things that aren’t true then they are being sincere. We don’t question whether they actually believe it.

This lead to a bit of a discussion on Twitter which, with the help of @5N_Afzal, I present below. The general consensus was that teachers are told a lot of untruths by those training them, (I didn’t specify initial teacher training so this could also include INSET) but that we should give those that pass on the misinformation the benefit of the doubt about it being an honest mistake.



  1. Why is it worse to cause harm deliberately than through negligence? From a utilitarian perspective, I suggest that the answer is that the deliberate offender is more likely to continue to cause harm. Someone who enjoys pushing people off tube platforms will end up a mass murderer; someone who does it by accident is unlikely to kill more than once. This distinction does not apply to people in respect of their profession. Someone who consistently follows a mistaken policy (albeit without realising that it is harmful) is just as dangerous as one who does the same thing in the knowledge that it is harmful. They continue to cause harm not because they have an appetite for it, but because it is a consequence of them doing their job.

    The Greeks reasoned that the fact that someone does something deliberately is, ipso facto, evidence that they think it is the right thing to do. Wickedness is therefore itself a sort of ignorance (of the good), very similar to ignorance of another sort of abstract principle, such as that progressive education methods are ineffective. But if ignorance of the nature of what is right is culpable, then why should we not regard ignorance of other principles in the same light?

    On both these grounds, I conclude that for people in positions of authority and professional responsibility, ignorance of relevant principle is no excuse. On the contrary, it is the principle reason for which they should be blamed.

    I follow Aristotle in distinguishing between “ignorance of the principle” and “ignorance of the fact”. Oedipus can be excused for killing his father because he thought he was a bandit while (by Greek standards) we should applaud his understanding of principle: that killing bandits is the right thing to do but killing non-bandits is not, especially if they are your father. Professionals can therefore be excused for mis-diagnosing a particular case; not (so long as the means of discovering their mistake are available) for being ignorant of the principles on which their profession is based.

    Teacher-trainers who ignore challenges to the orthodoxy that they teach are just as culpable as those who deliberately lie.

  2. I’ve taught and now work in ITE and I don’t think I’ve ever lied. When it comes to theory, research or approaches to practice there is a lot of opinion so fair likelihood of disagreement. I’ve had to challenge people in school or uni on topics like learning styles. What may happen is people decide not to be 100% brutally honest. I once told an LA visitor that I thought the planned innovation was a massive waste of money. This did not go down well! Students often prepare ‘show lessons’ for tutor visits, I don’t like it but is it dishonest? I’m not sure. As for deliberate misinformation I can’t really see why someone working in teacher education would do this. But perhaps I’m being naive?

  3. The really interesting question is WHY there have been so many “honest mistakes”, isn’t it…..

  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. […] Untruths in teacher training […]

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