Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category


Those Backing the College Of Teaching Still Don’t Get It

September 25, 2015

You may recall that some time back I expressed concern that an attempt to set up a new professional body for teachers (the College Of Teaching) was being hijacked by non-teachers, vested interests and in one case a private company (SSAT) who sell consultancy services to schools. Particularly scandalous was the proposal to let anyone with an interest in education join the College Of Teaching, regardless of whether they were a teacher. Every so often they cross my radar again, although it’s been ages since I blogged about it, so I’ll catch up now.

The first bit of news (now somewhat out of date), is that the Claim Your College Coalition held an event last June to inform people about the College Of Teaching. Again SSAT were heavily involved. More surprising though was that, despite previous bad publicity, they decided to hold it on a school day. To be fair, they didn’t pretend this event was for teachers, and listed the intended audience as:

Those who work closely with local networks of teachers and schools, and who are keen to facilitate teacher and leader engagement with the College of Teaching discussions. For example, Chairs of Headteacher Associations and School Partnerships, Strategic Alliances, CEOs of MATs.

I suppose this could be interpreted in many ways. Perhaps we teachers love our bosses so much that they are the first people you would contact if you wanted to reach out to us. Or perhaps the intended audience of the College Of Teaching are those who control schools rather than those who teach in them. Or perhaps if you are a private company selling consultancy services to schools there are going to be much greater commercial opportunities in talking to headteachers and CEOs of MATs than talking to somebody who would spend their Wednesday in a classroom with children. Please feel free to suggest other explanations.

The second piece of news is that the make up of the board of trustees of the College of Teaching has just been announced. Remember, this is the body governing an organisation that is supposed to represent teachers. 5 of the trustees are non-teaching “experts”. This means a management type, a surgeon (with experience of professional bodies) and 3 people from existing educational charities. While I’m sure the idea is that these three will have the expertise needed to govern a new educational charity, it essentially means that far from representing a shift in power from existing institutions to a profession-led body, existing institutions are well represented in the new structure. Worse though is the selection of teachers. Of the 8 “teachers”, 3 are heads, 3 hold management positions (that could well be SLT) and only 2 are classroom teachers without a promoted post. None, as far as I can tell, are known for challenging the existing power structures in education (although perhaps the fact that one works in a special school is a positive development). Again, some are heavily involved in existing quangos, educational bodies and sources of “expertise”. Far from being a shift in power, this seems to be an attempt to replicate existing power structures. Those who currently tell teachers what to do are to dominate an organisation that was meant to help teachers reclaim their autonomy.

Yes, I am aware of the counter-arguments. Sure, it looks like only one of the trustees is a teacher with a full teaching timetable, but where would such teacher find the time? Sure, the committee is a bit management heavy, but aren’t the trustees meant to be managers? Sure some of the non-teaching experts are familiar establishment figures, but don’t you want people who know how to run a large educational charity? However, the problem with all these arguments is that they are not only assuming that frontline teachers do not have the capacity to govern a professional body for teachers, but that the sort of body that frontline teachers could not govern is the sort of body teachers should have representing them. If teachers cannot govern the professional body that all those vested interests designed, those vested interests got it wrong. Let’s try a different model. Or not try at all. Anything would be better than the professional body for teachers being governed on the basis of teachers not being professional enough to govern their own professional body. This cannot empower us or improve our status as professionals.

What both these bits of news have in common is the flawed thinking behind the plans for the College Of Teaching. People are signing off on the idea of professionalisation without realising that any autonomy given to teachers, any power given to the profession, has to be taken from somewhere. For us to regain our professionalism we have to be able to tell consultants that their expertise is not required; micro-managing bosses have to be told that some decisions are best left with autonomous professionals, and a whole bunch of vested interests have to be told that they do not speak for the frontline of the teaching profession. Instead of claiming more power for teachers, the current plans for the College Of Teaching are based on building around those who already have power over education and making sure they keep it within the new structure. A so-called “professional body” that actually just replicates existing power structures, while keeping teachers in their place, has been tried before; it was called the GTCE and it didn’t work. Until those behind the College Of Teaching stop trying to repeat the same errors, they can add nothing to our professionalism.


The Trendiest Current Arguments For Progressive Education Part 2

July 30, 2015

Yesterday, I began writing about some of the ways I’ve seen people justifying progressive education recently. Here are the other two ways.

3) The Argument from Political Correctness. The last year or so has seen a real resurgence of a type of left-wing politics that was common in the 80s and went out of fashion in the mid 90s. We used to call it “political correctness” back then, and it largely consisted of accusing unsuspecting, and often entirely innocent people of racism, sexism and homophobia. Often it was for not using the latest terminology; sometimes it was for not having the right politics, and at other times it seemed entirely arbitrary. If you are not familiar with the 80s version there are some great examples in the video below (“Anti-Racist Maths” being my personal favourite):

The newer version is, so far, more of a presence in universities than in schools, but it is being pushed by some education researchers and EAL “experts”. The basic idea is still that of thought-crime, condemning people for prejudices that they have never openly expressed or obviously acted on, but that they can be assumed to have on the basis of being white, male or straight. In the 80s version, “black” became the general term for all possible victims of racism (even, say, the Irish or Jews). In the more recent version “white” has become the general term for people who aren’t assumed to be victims of racism. But the effect is the same, you are either oppressor or oppressed and if you are in the wrong category then no matter how good your argument is, or how much the evidence supports your case, expressing your opinion or getting your way in any matter that also involves people who aren’t classed as white is an oppressive use of “privilege”.  This becomes an argument for progressive education where it is applied to the curriculum. A curriculum can be condemned as “white” if it passes on knowledge and ideas valued in British or European culture. The suggested replacement curriculum can be built around political indoctrination, or teaching obscure, but politically approved, knowledge. However, in the most obviously progressive version, the attack on a “white curriculum” is also an attack on the idea that teachers can be experts in subject knowledge that is to be passed on. In this case, the alternative is the idea that students should set the priorities for learning and that what is taught has to be “relevant”.

4) The Free Market Conspiracy. This is another argument from the left. The idea is that education is actually a fight between neo-liberals who wish to turn education into a business opportunity, and those who will resist these plots. Sometimes this is simply a form of denying the debate and discussion of progressive education is dismissed as irrelevant to the “real” political issue of creeping privatisation. We should be careful here to distinguish between opposing a specific market-oriented policy, say PFI for building schools or having private exam boards, and condemnation of a wider variety of non-progressive positions on education which have no, or only incidental, consequences for private companies. And it should definitely not be confused with wanting teachers to have better pay or working conditions. The argument is not about specific policies. It is a form of “virtue-signalling”,  i.e. when people advance an opinion in order to show their own ideological credentials rather than because of the merits of the position. The virtuous left-winger is supporting progressive education out of high-minded, altruistic reasons, while only self-interested, right-wing conspirators (and their dupes) would support more traditional ideas.

Almost any traditionalist ideas in education can be condemned as part of the neo-liberal conspiracy with enough ingenuity. Testing is really just a way of getting schools to compete for market share. Criticism of progressive education is actually a way of bashing teachers, in order to worsen their working conditions. Academic aims in education are a way to prepare students for exploitation in the workplace. Traditional teaching methods are a scam for making money for publishers. Nobody can actually prove they are not part of the conspiracy, or at the very least, that they haven’t been fooled by the propaganda of the conspirators. As with all conspiracy theories, it is usually impossible to persuade the adherents that they are wrong with evidence. It doesn’t matter how far the Tories move away from letting private companies run schools, or how many years they spend in power without introducing it, it can always be claimed that is their ultimate goal. It doesn’t matter that academy chains are charities, they are somehow private interests looking to make money. It doesn’t matter that parents might not want their kids to go to a particular school, the only reason parents may be given a choice between schools is in order to create a market.  Sometimes the argument is then expanded to being one about who should have power in education. Apparently the only non “neo-liberal” way of running education is to put power in the hands of local authority bureaucrats and educationalists in universities, who conveniently, just happen to have been the traditional advocates of progressive education.

As I said last time, the four arguments in these two posts are not meant to be an exhaustive list of the arguments for progressive education, nor even the most common, they are simply the ones that seem to have become more common recently. As I also said, by not linking to examples I am opening myself to claims of inventing straw men (although freeing myself from those who want to quibble over interpretation of those examples), so I will just ask you to watch out for them. If you see them, please feel free to provide links in the comments; if you don’t, then I guess it doesn’t matter.


The Trendiest Current Arguments For Progressive Education Part 1

July 29, 2015

One of the best analyses of progressive education is “The Crisis in Education” by Hannah Arendt. An online copy can be found here and you should read it. It was written in the early 60s, and as well as analysing the progressive movements of the time, it made the following prediction about the chances of reversing the progressive tide in education:

…wherever the crisis has occurred in the modern world, one cannot simply go on nor yet simply turn back. Such 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.

While not every movement towards progressive education that has occurred since then has claimed to be scientific, very many have; but the point that progressive education will keep reappearing has been spot on. Many of the arguments for it are fairly timeless. Technology is always about to make traditional education obsolete. Schools (despite the influence of the last progressive invasion) are always presented as an out-of-date product of a past era (usually the 19th century, sometimes the 50s, occasionally Roman times or something similarly exotic). Another country is always showing us the way with their latest experiment in project-based learning or discovery learning. There is always some list of aims of education that go far beyond the academic. However, some arguments appear for a time, then fall out of favour. For instance, only the most behind-the-times progressive would argue that we need more progressive education to satisfy kinesthetic learners, or to enable girls to compete academically with boys.

In this post and tomorrow’s, I aim to mention some of the arguments for progressive education I have been seeing lately (mainly in blogs) that I don’t remember seeing much of 10 years ago. I didn’t note them down when I saw them, and it is only as they are repeated that they’ve made an impression, so I’m not able to conveniently link to examples and, no doubt, somebody will accuse me of creating straw men. At the very least, if I mention them we can all watch out for them and see them in the context of an attempt to present an ideology of teaching from over 100 years ago as a novel response to contemporary concerns.

1) The Argument from Mental Health. I don’t want to dismiss concern about children’s mental health, although I am, as ever, sceptical when medically unqualified adults claim to be able to make amateur diagnoses of medical conditions in other people’s children. The access (or lack if it) to mental health services for children is an important issue and we should take mental health seriously. However, I have seen increasing attempts to blur the line between actual mental health issues, and any kind of emotional discomfort for children. I have seen bullying described as a mental health issue. I have seen people take the leap from concern about mental health, to the importance of “wellbeing” , or “resilience” as an aim of schooling and then to a downplaying of the academic purpose of schooling, or the need for knowledge. Most commonly though, I have seen “stress” and “anxiety” join “self-esteem” as an argument against various traditional practices, from strict discipline to setting exams. Indeed, the idea that children are traumatised by exams seems particularly popular at the moment, often tied to the bizarre claim that the amount of exams children sit is being increased by politicians.

There are two key assumptions in the mental health argument. The first is that teachers should absorb ever more responsibility for other people’s children, effectively usurping parents. This is then combined with the assumption that the liberal, middle class parent who is concerned only about their child’s day-to-day happiness and autonomy, rather than their long-term interests, will have children with better mental health. As I am fond of quoting, R.S. Peters described the first assumption as the idea that schools should be “orphanages for children with parents” and can be best challenged by a defence of the rights of parents to raise their own children. As for the second assumption, it’s a debate that I can’t really go into here too much, but it is highly dubious and worth considering in the light of the attitudes of different cultures. Despite the claims of progressives, it is not the most authoritarian countries that have the highest youth suicide rates, nor is it obvious that those raised by liberal parents are beacons of good mental health in their youth or later.

2) Debate Denialism. The argument between traditional and progressive education are ancient (a case can be made that they date back to at least Plato) and have been expressed in those terms, i.e. “traditional” and “progressive”, for at least 100 years. There are good arguments that “traditional”, “progressive” and other terms like “child-centred” are misleading, and what they stand for can change over time. However, they have been the standard terms for the debate over many decades and represent real divides.  In the period between 2001 and 2010 when the traditional side was largely suppressed, many progressives thought the debate was over and they had won. It came as a shock to the system for many that values that were unopposed for almost a decade were once more being challenged in public. One of the responses has been to simply deny that the debate exists and, therefore, the “progressive” domination of state education is a myth and so any challenge to it can be dismissed. So we see people claim that terms like “progressive” and “traditional” are meaningless; that this debate is stale and irrelevant, or that “progressive” is an insult and should not be used to describe people who champion the ideas that, historically, were described in that way. Progressives have always been coy about the history of their ideas, invariably the old dogmas are presented as new innovations, but this takes it to a new level by denying that the argument about their ideas ever existed.

Of course, there is something absurd about the idea that the language that allows us to distinguish between different values and methods in education should be discontinued or that the debate is over. There are variations of that idea used to make it more plausible. Sometimes it is combined with the suggestion that the words only apply to teaching methods, not the values we use to choose between teaching methods. This means that one can claim to use a mix of methods, or observe that most teachers use a mix of methods, and then can claim to be neither “progressive” nor “traditional” ignoring the philosophies that guide how we choose our mix. Sometimes it is combined with talk of evidence and “what works” as if we can judge this in the absence of a view about what we are trying to achieve. Perhaps there can be confused positions; progressives do go through periods of claiming that their methods are the best ways of achieving traditional, academic ends (periods that usually end when promised improvements in academic performance don’t materialise). But if one cannot identify clear and genuine disagreements between those in the traditional and those in the progressive camp, then one simply needs to read up. Perhaps Left Back – A Century of Failed School Reforms” by Diane Ravitch might be a good place to start.

Continued tomorrow. 





FLOATING VOTERS WEEK Revisited (From @LabourTeachers)

July 25, 2015

I wrote this post a few weeks ago For the Labour Teachers blog, where it appeared here. However, enough of it is about my views about education that it seems also appropriate to share it here as well.

Back in half term, we followed up the election defeat with a series of posts by teachers who hadn’t voted Labour in at least one of the last two general elections, but would consider it in the future. The request was that they comment on education policies which might convince them to vote Labour, although people often wrote more broadly. The posts can be found here:

  1. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Why I spoiled my ballot | @jcoleman85
  2. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Floating Away | @HeatherBellaF
  3. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Labour Dos and Don’ts | @stephanootis
  4. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: I’m not that bothered about Labour losing because I’m most interested in education | @StuartLock
  5. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Teacher Recruitment | @miss_trainee
  6. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Dyed in the Wool but Angry | @kennypieper
  7. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Confessions of a Swinging Voter | @HoratioSpeaks
  8. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Educational policy should be devised at the front line | @leonardjamesuk
  10. FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: A bonus post | @Miss_Snuffy

Obviously these posts are in no way a representative sample of any real demographic other than, perhaps, bloggers I personally happen to get on with. But I thought it might be worth drawing out some of the recurring themes and giving my personal response to some of the issues raised.

Firstly, there were several references to moving power over aspects of education from politicians to experts (although one post also talked about taking it away from experts and giving it to teachers). This is also something that is constantly being suggested in posts submitted to Labour Teachers from Labour supporting teachers. There is a real problem if those in education have given up on the possibility that representative democracy can deliver the right outcomes in education, and only some form of technocratic dictatorship can work. However, I’m not inclined to sympathise. As political activists we should stand up for politics as a means to get things done. The answer to a loss of faith in politics has got to be further efforts to be get politicians listening to teachers, not to give power to bureaucrats and vested interests. That is largely what happened between 2001 and 2010, and while many managers, bureaucrats and consultants see that as a golden era, it was an era where classroom teachers were actively deterred from doing anything but following orders and keeping their mouths shut about what was going on in schools. Thanks to social media, I don’t think we can ever go back to that as the power of vested interests in the system to silence teachers is now gone. The enlightened dictators would get as much hassle as the politicians do, and if they couldn’t respond to it, the politicians would soon take power back.

Secondly, there were a number of teachers willing to defend some of Gove’s reforms. It is probably one of the great mythical narratives of modern politics, that teachers as a whole, opposed all of the education reforms since 2010. There have always been genuine disagreements in the teaching profession and backing the education establishment is not the same as backing teachers. As teachers get used to living without Ofsted lesson grades, worthless vocational qualifications and controlled assessments and find nothing inherently frightening about working for schools that aren’t closely tied to local authorities, the enthusiasm to turn back the clock is only likely to diminish. Labour needs a way to respond to education reform that does not alienate those who supported it, or divide schools and teachers into “goodies” and “baddies”. Perhaps a starting point for this would be to look at parental aspirations first, then ask how they can be delivered, rather than looking at what people with power in the system want to deliver and trying to persuade parents (and voters) they should want it.

Thirdly, there were posts that seemed to skip talking about educational policy and expressed a loss of faith in the Labour Party. They talked about a disconnection between Labour and its traditional voters. I think such a schism cannot be denied. A Labour Party that was less middle class and London based might go some way to resolving this. What I would warn against is the idea that we can recover lost support by swerving to the left. If that was the case, and that disillusioned ex-Labour voters were all left behind by a right-wing party then, as the graph below shows, we should have been picking up votes over the last ten years, not losing them.


Finally, and again this is a point that is not specifically about education (although it has parallels there), a number of contributors commented on the tendency of Labour supporters to denigrate those who don’t immediately agree with them. Whilst I don’t have a problem with a fairly combative debate, we must be aware that proclaiming our moral superiority over our opponents is far from persuasive. We are too keen to assume that, where others differ with us, it is because they lack our compassion or a raised consciousness, rather than because our arguments have failed to persuade. Moral purpose is fine, but not if it leads us onto our high horses. No party ever won an election without being able to talk to voters about their own interests; not because voters are terribly selfish, but because politicians are deeply unconvincing as arbiters of morality. We need to be a choice people make because they want competent government, not because they want to demonstrate their laudable character.

If you have a different opinion on the issues here, or any others raised in the Floating Voters Week posts don’t hesitate to comment below. If you are a Labour supporting teacher and would like to submit a 700 word blogpost [for the Labour Teachers blog] in response, please get in touch.


Does teaching philosophy to children improve their reading, writing and mathematics achievement? (Guest post by @mjinglis)

July 14, 2015

I’ve been getting a bit concerned that the EEF’s evaluations of educational methods, which were meant to help provide a more solid evidence base for teaching, are actually leading to the same sort of unreliable research and hype that we have seen all too often in educational research. The following guest post is by Matthew Inglis  (@mjinglis) who kindly offered to comment on a big problem with the recent, widely-reported study showing the effectiveness of Philosophy for Children (P4C). 

On Friday the Independent newspaper tweeted that the best way to boost children’s maths scores is to teach them philosophy. A highly implausible claim one might think: surely teaching them mathematics would be better? The study which gave rise to this remarkable headline was conducted by Stephen Gorard, Nadia Siddiqui and Beng Huat See of Durham University. Funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), they conducted a year-long investigation of the ‘Philosophy for Children’ (P4C) teaching programme. The children who participated in P4C engaged in group dialogues on important philosophical issues – the nature of truth, fairness, friendship and so on.

I have a lot of respect for philosophy and philosophers. Although it is not my main area of interest, I regularly attend philosophy conferences, I have active collaborations with a number of philosophers, and I’ve published papers in philosophy journals and edited volumes. Encouraging children to engage in philosophical conversations sounds like a good idea to me. But could it really improve their reading, writing and mathematics achievement? Let alone be the best way of doing this? Let’s look at the evidence Gorard and colleagues presented.

Gorard and his team recruited 48 schools to participate in their study. About half were randomly allocated to the intervention: they received the P4C programme. The others formed the control group. The primary outcome measures were Key Stage 1 and 2 results for reading, writing and mathematics. Because different tests were used at KS1 and KS2, the researchers standardised the scores from each test so that they had a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1.

The researchers reported that the intervention had yielded greater gains for the treatment group than the control group, with effect sizes of g = +0.12, +0.03 and +0.10 for reading, writing and mathematics respectively. In other words the rate of improvement was around a tenth of a standard deviation greater in the treatment group than in the control group. These effect sizes are trivially small, but the sample was extremely large (N = 1529) , so perhaps they are meaningful. But before we start to worry about issues of statistical significance*, we need to take a look at the data. I’ve plotted the means of the groups here.

EEF article (1)

Any researcher who sees these graphs should immediately spot a rather large problem: there were substantial group differences at pre-test. In other words the process of allocating students to groups, by randomising at the school level, did not result in equivalent groups.

Why is this a problem? Because of a well known statistical phenomenon called regression to the mean. If a variable is more extreme on its first measurement, then it will tend to be closer to the mean on its second measurement. This is a general phenomenon that will occur any time two successive measurements of the same variable are taken.

Here’s an example from one of my own research studies (Hodds, Alcock & Inglis, 2014, Experiment 3). We took two achievement measurements after an educational intervention (the details don’t really matter), one immediately and one two weeks later. Here I’ve split the group of participants into two – a high-achieving group and a low-achieving group – based on their scores on the immediate post test.

EEF article 2


As you can see, the high achievers in the immediate post test performed worse in the delayed post test, and the low achievers performed better. Both groups regressed towards the mean. In this case we can be absolutely sure that the low achieving group’s ‘improvement’ wasn’t due to an intervention because there wasn’t one: the intervention took place before the first measurement.

Regression to the mean is a threat to validity whenever two groups differ on a pre-test. And, unfortunately for Gorard and colleagues, their treatment group performed quite a bit worse than their control group at pre-test. So the treatment group was always going to regress upwards, and the control group was always going to regress downwards. It was inevitable that there would be a between-groups difference in gain scores, simply because there was a between-groups difference on the pre-test.

So what can we conclude from this study? Very little. Given the pre-test scores, if the P4C intervention had no effect whatsoever on reading, writing or mathematics, then this pattern of data is exactly what we would expect to see.

What is most curious about this incident is that this obvious account of the data was not presented as a possible (let alone a highly probable) explanation in the final report, or in any of the EEF press releases about the study. Instead, the Director of the EEF was quoted as saying “It’s absolutely brilliant that today’s results give us evidence of [P4C]’s positive impact on primary pupils’ maths and reading results”, and Stephen Gorard remarked that these philosophy sessions can have a positive impact on pupils’ maths, reading and perhaps their writing skills.” Neither of these claims is justified.

That such weak evidence can result in a national newspaper reporting that the “best way to boost children’s maths scores” is to “teach them philosophy” should be of concern to everyone who cares about education research and its use in schools. The EEF ought to pause and reflect on the effectiveness of their peer review system and on whether they include sufficient caveats in their press releases.


*The comment about “statistical significance” reflects additional concerns others had expressed about the methodology, for instance: here.


The Latest SEN Fad Diagnosis: Attachment Disorder

June 21, 2015

A few years ago I used to write a lot about SEN on this blog. The bloated SEN systems in mainstream schools which consisted of proliferating paperwork and amateur diagnoses were sucking money away from the main responsibilities of schools and spending it on form-filling and “interventions” that, at best, didn’t work and, at worst, undermined teachers. While a lot of bad practice still exists in the SEN world, progress has been made since then. There is far greater awareness that it is not enough to simply assign TAs to a kid labelled “SEN”; that tolerating bad behaviour does nobody any favours; that SENCOs should be properly trained and qualified, and that the genuine expertise of those in special schools has an important role to play. I don’t want to suggest the problems are solved, but I have seen fewer fashionable diagnoses being invented and greater appreciation of special schools in the last few years, and a move away from the old “SEN racket” that kept many people employed in making bogus diagnoses for perfectly unexceptional students without actually helping anybody.

However, in the last few months a new fad diagnosis has appeared. I first noticed it on blogs but have since encountered it in real-life. Here are a few examples:

I’m looking at whether the use of key adults helps children get from our turnaround class, it is designed as a short term intervention where children who are exhibiting challenging behaviour can be taught with a high ratio of very experienced staff to children… Many of the children who attend this class show behaviours which are typical of, amongst other things, an Attachment Disorder. We know these children and their backgrounds, an attachment disorder would not seem unreasonable in many cases. We have had the Educational Psychologist come and look at some of these children (with necessary parental permissions) and they have said the children need to learn to make attachments and become dependent so that they can then become independent, it sounds so easy on paper!

From a blogpost by a SENCO.

There are different types of attachment disorder, with differing ways of responding to the condition explained in the books below.  At its most extreme, a student may have a statement of special educational need which specifies the condition and so staff are forewarned.  More likely, are the students who have never had their behaviour and attitudes looked at through the lens of attachment, and who simply present as puzzling, challenging or unusual.  These types of students are often recognised as the  5% who don’t generally respond to the usual behaviour management techniques, such as rewards and sanctions or ‘the language of choice’.

From a blogpost by an educationalist.

Young people who experience a negative attachment cycle can often end up with heavily compromised social, emotional and cognitive development. It is also important to note that the nature of attachment changes during secondary school years from child-caregiver to relationships with a romantic orientation and peer relationships. In this transitional stage, more challenging behaviours such as stress response and aggression manifest themselves, producing a different set of educational challenges in the secondary setting…

From an article in the Teaching Times

Have you had a child with Attachment disorder within your class? Suspected? How do they present?

  • Violent behaviour towards staff
  • Violent behaviour towards children
  • Throwing objects directly and/or indirectly
  • Swearing
  • Spitting

…The list is endless. Children share these behaviours sometimes mindlessly, without even realising that anything was going to happen. There is a lot to be said for patience during a situation like this. It isn’t easy but knowing what situation an attachment disorder can enable is important in keeping patience.

From a blogpost by an “SLE in behaviour”.

From reading these you might be under the impression that Attachment Disorder was a recognised medical disorder, that could be diagnosed in children of any age, and often manifests itself as extreme bad behaviour.

There is a recognised medical condition called “Reactive Attachment Disorder”. You can find the list of diagnostic criteria here. This condition, a relatively rare social disorder resulting from extreme circumstances of neglect, is linked to “irritability”, but not any other form of poor behaviour, and is only diagnosed when signs of the condition have manifested themselves before the age of 5. It does not resemble the conditions described above, and the existence of RAD cannot be assumed to be evidence for the existence of the “Attachment Disorder” described in the various passages above.

A taskforce of the The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) compiled a report clarifying the issues around attachment. Although it accepts the possibility of attachment disorders beyond RAD it states:

…the term attachment disorder has no broadly agreed-on or precise meaning. The term is not part of any accepted standard nosology or system for classifying behavioral or mental disorders, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Officially, there is no such disorder.

It notes the possibility that disorders could exist, and describes RAD and observes that attempts to apply it beyond the diagnostic criteria have taken place and that some clinicians have suggested the existence of broader attachment disorders. It warns that there is no consensus about these disorders and observes:

There are no studies examining diagnostic accuracy among the increasing numbers of children who are maltreated being described by clinicians as having an attachment disorder. It is not clear how many children described as having attachment disorders suffer from actual disorders of attachment, from transitory sequelae of maltreatment, from stress related to shifts in placements or cultures, or from other disorders with shared characteristics. The simple fact that a child may have experienced pathogenic care, or even trauma, should not be taken as an indication of an attachment disorder or any other disorder. It also is important to bear in mind that a child entering the child welfare system, foster care, adoption, or other settings is almost invariably experiencing acute stress. Behavior problems or relationship problems shown during periods of acute stress do not automatically suggest any disorder. This is a particularly important point for evaluating children in cross-cultural or international adoptions. Different cultures have different normative social behaviors, which could easily be misconstrued as a disorder. For example, failure to make eye contact is included on some checklists as a sign of attachment disorder; however, this may be a normative social behavior in many cultures (Keating, 1976). Establishing that an attachment disorder, or any other stable disorder, actually exists requires some familiarity with the child’s long-term behavior, including behavior in multiple settings, and should not be limited to behaviors occurring with a foster or adoptive parent. Assessments based on a single point in time snapshot of the child may be particularly vulnerable to misdiagnosis

The reports warns that “Mental health and related fields have a long history of diagnostic fads, when rare or esoteric diagnoses become fashionable and spread rapidly through the practice world, support groups, and the popular press” and suggests that:

The standard diagnostic aphorism that “when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras” is important to bear in mind for a number of reasons. First, more prevalent conditions are less likely than rare conditions to be misdiagnosed; their criteria are better established and agreed on, sound assessment procedures are more widely available, and classification accuracy is always higher with more prevalent (i.e., higher base rate) conditions. Second, the appropriate intervention for a common disorder is likely to be different from that for an uncommon disorder. Finally, there are richer literatures and better established evidenced-based treatments for more common conditions. For example, scientifically well-supported and effective treatments exist for ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder, and PTSD (Kazdin, 2002).

It goes on to describe some of the many crank “therapies” invented for attachment disorder, including a number (such as “holding therapy”) that are abusive and have even resulted in the death of children. If you have a (sceptical) interest in crank psychology and unproven interventions, I would recommend reading the whole report. I would also direct you to the excellent blog Child Myths that covers many of these issues on an ongoing basis.

While I have never heard of holding therapy or similar treatments being used in schools here, we should be aware that any material found online about “Attachment Disorder”, particularly material that claims it is the cause of poor behaviour, could well be written by advocates of such interventions. The APSAC report accepts that those children diagnosed as having “Attachment Disorder” may have genuine conditions requiring interventions and that some interventions, particularly those that are well-established in other contexts, may work. However, (non-RAD) Attachment Disorder is usually pseudo-science or speculation and if there is one thing we should have learnt as teachers during the era of the SEN racket, it’s that neither poor behaviour nor genuine mental illnesses are best dealt with by the diagnosis, particularly by amateurs, of conditions that may well not exist.


A Myth for Teachers: Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet

May 27, 2015

About 4 years ago I wrote a post about myths for teachers. This post has continued to grow over time as one of the myths was altered and manipulated and appeared in different forms. It has now reached the point where it needs a post just for that one myth. So here it is, with a mix of old and new material, the myth about jobs that don’t exist yet.

The original version was the claim that the  Top Ten in Demand Jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. Here are some examples.

For many, school is still a place where you go to have your head filled with ‘certainties’, a core knowledge base which grows increasingly irrelevant to the world we live in. According to New Brunswick Department of Education, Canada, the top 10% of jobs last year didn’t exist in 2004!  Is the best way to prepare our youngsters for this level of uncertainty to continue feeding them a diet of shallow learning experiences dictated by political presumption?


According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley . . .The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.

We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . .

Using technologies that haven’t been invented . . .

In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.


This is a claim used to justify dumbing-down, the idea being that if technology changes working life really quickly then there is no need to teach content as it will be irrelevant by the time our students get to the workplace. The widespread use of the claim in educational environments can almost all be traced back to the “Did You Know?” or “Shift Happens” videos that went viral among fashionably minded educators some time back. These consisted of a variety of poorly sourced and dubious claims about the future accompanied by enough bright colours and loud music to hypnotise the congenitally gullible. The sources were available here (but no longer, let me know if you have an up to date link) and when they were they indicated that it can be traced back to a claim attributed to a US politician in an obscure out of print book. This would be reason enough to discount it, however (just in case you think the second hand utterances of the political classes are a reliable source of information), I should also point out that the book was published in 2004 and was a prediction and not a fact. Did it turn out to be true? Well I know of no definitive list of the most “in demand jobs”, but I can find several attempts to find something similar. HR magazine published a list (from a now defunct website) of the Top 10 “in demand” occupations in 2009:

1. Registered nurses

2. General and operations managers

3. Physicians and surgeons

4. Elementary school teachers

5. Accountants and auditors

6. Computer software engineers

7. Sales representatives and managers

8. Computer system analysts

9. Management analysts

10. Secondary school teachers

In January 2008 forecasters looking at economic development in Calgary predicted the following (obviously some of this list reflects specific aspects of the economy in Calgary, but there is no reason to think that Calgary is going to have significantly fewer new occupations than anywhere else in the developed world) :

In the 2007-2010 period, the top ten occupations with the highest total number of new jobs demanded are forecast to be (in order) retail salespersons, financial auditors and accountants, retail trade managers, information systems analysts and consultants, general office clerks, petroleum engineers, geologists geophysicists and geochemists, computer programmers, restaurant and food managers, and administrative officers.

Calgary Economic Development (2008)

In April 2012 a Wall Street Journal Report based on a study by a careers website (okay, possibly not the most reliable source) came up with the following list of best jobs of 2012:

While this list includes less traditional jobs than the others it still falls far short of identifying any jobs which could reasonably be considered to have appeared between 2004 and 2010.

This still leaves open the possibility that the statistic refers to the occupations that children themselves most wish to pursue. Is it possible that our young digital natives aspire to new jobs, even if the labour market hasn’t yet provided them? Apparently not. An article in the Telegraph listed the dream careers of children as follows:

The top ten dream careers for children:

1. Professional Athlete
2. Performer
3. Secret Agent
4. Firefighter
5. Astronaut
6. Veterinarian
7. Doctor
8. Teacher
9. Pilot
10. Zoo Keeper

Of course, these lists aren’t telling us anything that two seconds of thought wouldn’t already tell us, Without serious research, could you name 10 occupations in 2010 which didn’t exist in 2004? There must be some; there may well be new occupations dealing with 3D cinema technology, or treating people for addiction to Twitter, but there is no reason to think these occupations are the most “in demand” in any way. The claim is absurd. There is also an additional irony in that it is people who are complaining that teachers pass on facts without encouraging critical thinking, who are themselves uncritically passing on this false information as fact.

The newer variation of the myth adds a spurious statistic to the mix, while making the time-frame vaguer. The original version of it I encountered was Dan Jarvis MP on the Labour Teachers blog in a post that (mercifully) was deleted from the site by accident.

One of the first things I learned when I became the Shadow Culture Minister was that 60% of the jobs that my three children (aged 9, 7 and 2 months) will go on to work in have not yet been invented.

Although I’m fairly certain I told him at the time that this was not plausible (in fact I think I may have used the word “bollocks”), he was still saying this in 2014:

We need to think how we give that to all our young people –

How we them every opportunity to compete in a complex, fast-moving and ruthlessly competitive world.

A world in which many of the jobs they will go on to do don’t currently exist.

And while I’m despairing at Labour politicians, I should mention that Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh, have also recently talked about jobs that don’t exist yet in speeches and interviews.

I have tried to find a source for the 60% version. This blogpost claims:

There is an established piece of knowledge peddled around the educational conference circuit that says that 60% of all the jobs that young people in school today will do have not yet been invented and more importantly, they are going to have to invent those jobs.

There is also this feature by Debra Kidd, which attributes the claim that “60% of 11 year olds will leave school to do jobs which have not yet been invented” to Collard, P (2008) Key Note Address to conference CITE (Creativity in Initial Teacher Education ), 4/03/2008, Chorley”. I have been unable to find this source online, but somebody on Twitter pointed me to this video of Paul Collard making the same claim about “kids in school” in 2012 and describing its origins in this way: “there’s a British government statistic, and nobody knows how they calculated it, but you know that fundamentally it’s true”.

A recent version of the myth I discovered here (and also on a now deleted webpage) is yet another variation: “65% of todays grade school kids will end up at a job that hasn’t been invented yet.” The source given is “United States Department of Labor: Futurework – Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century” which refers to a report from 1999 which does not contain any such claim. I found a version of the claim yesterday on this blogpost ” 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet” which references it to this 2011 New York Times article about this book which does indeed make the claim (page 18), although presumably for a different year. However, the book’s only reference for this claim is this blogpost (great scholarship there!) which doesn’t actually mention any such statistic.

It is not obvious how one would go about debunking the 60% or 65% statistic because it is not obvious how anyone could ever have believed it was true. I could try to list jobs that are unlikely to vanish any time soon (teacher, doctor, refuse collector,  gardner, nurse… ) but I’d be here forever. Anyone certain that new technologies will provide lots of new jobs could do worse than reading Cowen’s “The Great Stagnation”, written around the time some of these claims first appeared:

Web 2.0 is not … supporting many families, even though it’s been great for users, programmers, and some information technology specialists. Everyone on the Web has heard of Twitter, but as of Fall 2010, only about three hundred people work there.   Let’s go down the list and look at the (approximate) employment figures for some of the top Web companies:

Online Industry Employment Levels

Google— 20,000

Facebook— 1,700 +

eBay— 16,400

Twitter— 300

You get the picture. Again, these companies generate a greater amount of employment and revenue indirectly, but still our major innovations are springing up in sectors where a lot of work is done by machines, not by human beings.   A recent study found that the iPod— a nearly ubiquitous device— has created 13,920 jobs in the United States, including engineering and retail. That’s a pretty small number. Again, we should applaud the iPod for creating so much value with so little human labor, but again you can see that a lot of our innovation but again you can see that a lot of our innovation has a tenuous connection to revenue. Note, by the way, that digital music has eliminated many jobs in the music industry, as listeners buy single songs (or obtain the music illegally) rather than purchasing entire albums. The 13,920 figure doesn’t count those lost jobs at all, and arguably the iPod has had only a very small net positive impact on job creation.

And one final point, and perhaps the most telling one about the inability of education to escape bad ideas. In Progressively Worse, Robert Peal quotes the following from a book written in 1966:

The idea that our schools should remain content with equipping children with a body of knowledge is absurd and frightening. Tomorrow’s adults will be faced with problems about the nature of which we can today have no conception. They will have to cope with the jobs not yet invented.


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