Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

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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.

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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?

From http://smichael920.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/curriculum-in-a-coma/

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.

From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNutcmyShW4

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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Nobody Believes in Learning Styles Any More, Do They?

April 22, 2015

If you are a connected teacher, reading blogs and following Twitter, you could be forgiven for thinking that nobody believes in learning styles any more. It’s been discredited again and again. I was dismissing them 5 years ago. Just a few minutes searching online (and knowing that adding the word “debunked” to a search for an educational idea is always worth a try) shows that while there might still be material out there promoting them, learning styles are no longer the mainstream idea they were a few years ago. They are often used, perhaps along with brain gym, as an example of nonsense that we don’t believe any more.

To think they have gone though, is a mistake. Whenever this comes up teachers can give recent anecdotal examples of observation forms or teaching and learning policies that still push them. I can find recent blogs that promote them (e.g. here or here) and or that mention them in passing as if they were still credible (e.g. here). They are the walking dead of pedagogy, still shuffling about long after they should have been buried.

However, we shouldn’t be surprised at finding a few mentions in blogs (although we perhaps should be surprised I found several just from this month). Blogs are just one person’s opinion and are not always up to date. Last year I seem to recall discovering that at least a couple of blogs of the blogs I read about learning styles were by people who had gone overseas for a few years, and missed the fact that learning styles were no longer in fashion. Nor should we be surprised that some schools take longer to get over old fads; they may also have been the last to adopt them. What is of more concern is where learning styles are still being taken seriously by those whose influence is felt more widely.

For starters, a source sent me a copy of material used for a course at the University of Warwick for undergraduates wanting to become teachers. Here’s the details of a session held in January of this year:

Screenshot 2015-04-22 at 20.57.56

However, the most incredible example of the continuing existence of learning styles is in the one area of education most conspicuously left alone by Gove, Early Years. In the statutory framework for the Early Years, in effect from September 2014, the section on assessment requires the following (by law):

Assessment plays an important part in helping parents, carers and practitioners to recognise children’s progress, understand their needs, and to plan activities and support. Ongoing assessment (also known as formative assessment) is an integral part of the learning and development process. It involves practitioners observing children to understand their level of achievement, interests and learning styles, and to then shape learning experiences for each child reflecting those observations. In their interactions with children, practitioners should respond to their own day-to-day observations about children’s progress and observations that parents and carers share. [my emphasis]

So here we are, 5 years after the blogosphere cottoned on to learning styles being nonsense, and they are still being taught by educationalists in a top university, and it is required by law they be assessed by EYFS practitioners.

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The arguments against the phonics screening check have been discredited

April 2, 2015

I had the inevitable holiday run in with phonics denialists on Twitter. Not really worth rehashing any of it here; none of the arguments are new. However, I hadn’t realised that a lot of them, including primary teachers (and presumably this may also apply for a lot of primary teachers who are not denying the evidence for phonics on Twitter) are not actually aware that the main arguments used to deny the usefulness of the phonics screening check have now been discredited.

We now have the results from the students who took the phonics check in 2013 and did their key stage 1 reading assessment in 2014. And (from page 12 here) we learn that:

Pupils who do well in the phonics screening check do well in reading at the end of key stage 1. 99% of pupils who met the expected standard of phonic decoding in year 1 went on to achieve level 2 or above in reading at the end of key stage 1. 43% of these pupils achieved level 3 or above in reading. 88% of pupils who met the expected standard of phonic decoding at the end of year 2 achieved level 2 or above in reading. Only 34% of pupils who didn’t meet the expected standard of phonic decoding by the end of year 2 achieved level 2 or above in reading.

Looking at the more detailed results from here (Table 14) we can break down performance in the KS1 assessment by the results of the phonics screening check. The differences between those who passed 1st time (blue), those who passed 2nd time (red) and those who didn’t pass (orange) are striking.

image (1)

If you were around for the debates over the introduction of the check, you’d know that the following claims were made at the time:

  • Good readers would do badly in the phonics check.
  • The check would not tell us anything useful about their ability to read.
  • Teaching students to pass the phonics check would harm students’ ability to read later.
  • It would tell us nothing that teachers did not already know.

If you know anything about testing, you’d know that a test that identifies loads of pupils (in fact a big majority of the cohort) who will have a 99% chance of succeeding at the next level, is incredibly useful. And even the 66% figure for indicating those who will do poorly in the reading assessment is remarkable for a 5 minute check. Which teacher would not want to know if students were in the blue, red or yellow distributions above? This is remarkably extensive information about probable future performance gained in really very little time. It also tells us the first 3 claims above made by opponents of the phonics check do not match up with what generally happens. Those who do badly in the phonics check (particularly twice) are rarely good readers. Check performance tells us a lot about subsequent reading scores. Those students who have been most effectively prepared for the check, also appear to be better prepared for the reading test.

Of course, the last claim of the opponents, that teachers already knew all the stuff the check told them, could be true. But given the impressive figures for the predictive ability of the phonics check, I think the burden of proof now lies squarely on those who claim that teacher assessment would be more accurate.

Update 2/4/2015:

I was perhaps a bit naive with this post. I didn’t guess that the general response for phonics denialists would be to claim that everybody already knew that performance in the phonics screening check would be closely correlated to reading ability and effectively deny that any of the claims above (except perhaps for the claim that teacher assessment would be more accurate) had ever been an issue. So just in case there is any doubt that people claimed that the phonics check would cause problems for those who could read and would tell us nothing about reading ability, here’s a link to a letter opposing the phonics check from June 2012.

Please note it contains the following claims:

we [don’t] believe that this will help parents know how well their children are learning to read…

They will not show whether a child can understand the words they are reading, nor provide teachers with any information about children’s reading ability they did not already know…

The use of made-up words …. risks … frustrate [sic] those who can already read

…using unrealistic, arbitrary benchmarks in the checks plucked out of the air is of benefit to no one.

The signatories included:

  • Mary Bousted (General secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers)
  • Russell Hobby (General secretary, National Association of Head Teachers)
  • Christine Blower (General secretary, National Union of Teachers)
  • David Reedy (United Kingdom Literacy Association)

It also included Stephen Twigg and Lisa Nandy who were both Labour frontbench education spokespeople and the prominent anti-phonics activist Michael Rosen.

This was not some fringe group. These were the loudest enemies of the phonics screening check. And they were all utterly wrong.

Anybody know if any of them have acknowledged this?

 

 

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Politicians Competing To Be The Most Clueless About Education

March 20, 2015

Today it was announced that the government will fund the “Claim Your College” coalition of vested interests and their scheme to create a professional body for teachers that’s actually open to “anyone with an interest in education”.

Either the government hasn’t read the proposals, or simply does not care what they are funding as long as they can say something about education during the election campaign. They are promising to make “significant funding available to the ‘claim your college’ consortium – a coalition of leading organisations in the education sector – to support them in their endeavour to establish an independent college of teaching, which will be owned and led by the teaching profession” [my italics]Where this ownership is meant to come from given who is setting this group up and who is allowed to join it is beyond me. But now they seem likely to have something like £12 million of public money to play with. Worse there is the suggestion that:

It is expected that the new college of teaching might take on greater responsibility for areas such as professional standards and continuous professional development, should it so wish, thus moving stewardship of the profession out of the hands of the government and to the profession.

So that’s not just money, but also power over our professional development, in the hands of a body that has no mandate from the profession, only one from vested interests including (as I pointed out here) at least one private company selling professional development training.

Now, this sort of thoughtless spending of public money would be challenged by a competent opposition spokesman. In fact, in any other sector, it probably would be. Could you imagine Andy Burnham standing by if the government proposed giving power over doctors to an organisation set up by pharmaceutical companies? But in the Bizarro World that is education, the opposition seem as dead set on this quango as the government. In a speech today Tristram Hunt implied that the College of Teaching, rather than being a product of vested interests holding meetings on weekdays, lobbying for public money, was a grass roots product of social media:

…we need an element of trust. To reject an affliction which seems to bedevil Westminster culture. I call it the cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see public policy through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.

But you only have to see how social media has sent a shockwave through the teaching profession and its conversation about a new College of Teaching, to see how profoundly out of date this attitude really is.

… the days of education by diktat must come to an end. More than ever before change in education must come from the bottom-up. Through decentralisation. Through devolving power.

Yes, that’s right. He thinks that chucking money at vested interests to regulate, sorry, to assume stewardship of the teaching profession is decentralisation. If he’d actually read the conversations on social media about the College Of Teaching, he’d know how few of those involved are actually teaching now and how little say those of us in the classroom have had.

That said, Tristram Hunt was probably focused on trying to deliver the worst speech on education from a British politician I have ever read. In what seemed to be an attempt to give an aneurysm to anybody trying to play Bullshit Bingo, he managed some outstandingly cliché-soaked passages of which the following extract gives a flavour:

But I don’t think anybody here would argue with me if I suggested we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what we could achieve. 3D printing; Augmented reality; Coding; Robotics; Big data; Interactive textbooks; Adaptive learning software; The technology is truly remarkable. So whilst I know it has been prematurely prophesied many times before, I do believe this is finally the moment when technology changes the way teachers carry out their craft. We will see schools where every lesson can be simultaneously tailored to the needs of each individual pupil; schools where data about the effectiveness of different pedagogies can be shared with teachers in real time; and schools where software has liberated teachers from the yoke of marking exercise books.

However, the needs of the economy will dictate a rebalancing of what we teach as well as how we teach it. After all, a creative age demands more creativity. A digital economy demands advanced digital skills such as coding and big data analytics; And a world class STEM sector demands we finally consign our deeply engrained cultural snobbery towards technical education to the dustbin of history. But as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has argued – our schools system must also“prepare young people for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise.”

Between government ministers unable to tell the difference between the teaching profession and the CPD industry, and an opposition spokesman sounding like Shift Happens, this is a grim day for the politics of education. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but I don’t remember even Ed Balls being this hopeless, and the Gove era is a much-missed golden age compared with this shambles.

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The College Of Not-Actually-Teaching

March 14, 2015

An article in the Independent yesterday reported that:

Mr Laws [the schools minister] said funding for a Royal College of Teaching would be announced before the election, to put teaching on an equal footing with professions such as law and medicine. “This has the potential to finally give the teaching profession the recognition, respect and high status it deserves,” he said.

It has always been a likely prospect that clueless, but publicity-hungry, politicians would be making announcements about this in the run up to the election, although there is some irony that that plans to subsidise the education establishment were announced in an article claiming that Michael Gove still had lots of influence over education policy.

I’ve argued repeatedly against the latest plans for a College of Teaching, largely on the basis that they are plans for a body that non-teachers can join which would, nevertheless, seek to speak for or even regulate, the profession. The latest plans seem to have been built around the idea that any group currently involved in CPD, including trade unions and at least one private company, should be involved in the initial structure, and that any recognition of current practising teachers should be put off for at least 4 years and only apply to some subsection of teachers approved by those setting the organisation up.

There are several reasons such an organisation cannot be trusted to spend money intended for the professional development of teachers.

1) The College of Teaching needs to be free to argue for, and organise, changes in how professional development for teachers is provided even if that does not fit the agenda of those already involved in the CPD industry. That cannot happen if the organisation is full of appointees of current vested interests. The involvement of SSAT, a private company providing CPD, is particularly suspect. Imagine if a pharmaceutical company had set up the Royal Society of Medicine. This is not an independent body.

2) The College of Teaching needs to be able to speak for those actually teaching in schools and colleges. It is that lack of power and a voice from the frontline that has deprofessionalised us. If the membership is dominated by educationalists, consultants and non-teaching headteachers it will do the exact opposite of what it is meant to do. It will reinforce our powerlessness.

3) The model of professional development being put forward is one that, I believe, many teachers will object to. It is currently being suggested that teachers be assessed and classified as associates, chartered members, or fellows. This is the old model, where teachers were considered experts depending on where their game playing had got them, i.e their position as managers, ASTs, or even as “outstanding/good/requires improvement/inadequate” teachers based on their latest appraisal. This is not what teacher expertise looks like. We should be recognised for our different types of expertise in different areas, not ranked. The only teachers who would join an organisation dedicated to saying that one teacher is a better teacher than another, are those who think they are better than their peers, or who are chasing promotions or other opportunities to teach less. It will have no appeal to those who actually just want to get better at teaching. And this problem would have been utterly obvious if the movement to set up a College Of Teaching had been teacher-led, not led by vested interests.

Of course, without public subsidy or a means to coerce teachers to join, this organisation will get nowhere in its present form. But if politicians are looking for the appearance of supporting teachers without any of the substance, they are going to throw money at this. So let’s be ready to say loudly and publicly that money paid to the proposed College Of Teaching is money spent undermining, not supporting, the teaching profession. Let politicians know they will face difficult questions if they throw public money at this proposed quango and then claim they are doing something for teachers.

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The International Language of Edu-Platitudes (Updated)

March 3, 2015

I’ve just skimmed through Successful Futures, the report of the Donaldson “Independent Review” of the Welsh Curriculum. It recommends the following:

The purposes of the curriculum in Wales should be that children and young people develop as:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

There is also a longer breakdown of these ideas, listed under the heading “Purposes of the Curriculum”. 

Welshcurriculumaims

I get the impression that this review is:

  • intended as a fresh response to recent issues with Welsh education;
  • based on extensive consultation;
  • likely to have cost more than a couple of quid to put together.

However, it will look remarkably familiar if you have read a post of mine from June last year, which I will present again, in full, below:


 

h1

The International Language of Edu-Platitudes

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:

CfE

 

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.


 

To be fair to the Welsh government, there is some new stuff about knowledge in their curriculum aims which suggests some attention has been paid to how the debate has moved on, but their “independent review” clearly was not independent enough. The same stuff has been recycled yet again, and I doubt any of the cut-and-paste merchants were working for free.

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