“Changing Schools: Perspectives on five years of education reform”, Edited by Robert Peal

June 1, 2015


Changing Schools: Perspectives on five years of education reform has just been published. (Update 2/6/2015: It is now available for purchase in paperbook or for Kindle if you follow the link above.) This is a book on education policy which I contributed to. Here’s the info:

Changing Schools is a collection of essays by teachers, researchers and administrators who have been on the frontline of the dramatic changes taking place in state education over the last five years.

The authors assess the rapidly changing educational landscape and offer thoughts on where we go from here.

Chapters include:

  • Academies and chains: When competition meets collaboration, James O’Shaughnessy
  • Free schools: Making success sustainable, Katharine Birbalsingh
  • Qualifications: What constitutes real qualifications reform?, Dr Tina Isaacs
  • Assessment: High stakes, low improvement, Daisy Christodoulou
  • Social media: Did blogs break the Blob?, Andrew Old
  • Policy: Ten challenges for any government from 2015, Jonathan Simons
  • Teaching: Teacher professionalism, training, and autonomy, Tom Bennett
  • Charter schools: Lessons from America’s experiment with autonomy and accountability, Doug Lemov and Joaquin Hernandez

My chapter is about the world of education blogging, whether it has influenced policy and, if so, whether that is a good thing. I’d tell you about the other chapters, but I haven’t even got my copy of the book yet.

Other books with (smaller) sections by me are also available:

  1. Progressively worse: The Burden of Bad Ideas in British Schools
  2. Don’t change the light bulbs: A compendium of expertise from the UK s most switched-on educators

A Guide To Scenes From The Battleground

May 31, 2015

I have updated this guide for the holidays.

This blog is about the state of secondary education. There is an introduction to it here:

And some reflections on it here:

Here is a summary of my main points:

Here are a few posts written purely for a laugh (although some of them perhaps make a point at the same time):

The following posts sum up what is typical in schools these days in various respects:



Teachers and Managers:

Special Needs:

School Life:


As well as the advice for teachers included in many of the other posts, I have written advice specifically for new teachers:

These deal more directly with my own personal experiences, or the experiences of others:

I have also written a number of posts exploring and explaining how this situation came to be, discussing the arguments in education and suggesting what can be done.


Apologia and arguments:

Progressive Education:



Education Policy and Current Affairs:


The College of Teaching:

Teaching and Teachers:

Educational Ethics and Philosophy:

Education Research and Academics

Here are some videos I found on the internet which I thought were interesting, or relevant, enough to present in a blog post. Some will probably no longer be available, I hope to correct this where possible when I get the chance.

I wrote about some of the myths that are spread to teachers, often in INSET or during PGCEs:

I have also outlined what I would expect from schools willing to do put things right:

Here are my book recommendations:

This may be of interest if you are considering writing a blog:

You may also have found me…

I have also written sections in the following two books:

Please let me know if any of the links don’t work.

Finally, I can be found on Facebook (please “friend” me) or Twitter (please “follow” me).

If you want to keep up with education blogging other than mine, or to see some of these same concerns discussed by others, then you should follow my sister blog, The Education Echo Chamber. The blog is here. The twitter feed is here. The sister blog to the sister blog is The Echo Chamber Uncut which automatically shares all UK education blogs. The blog is here. The twitter feed is here. I’m also the editor of the Labour Teachers blog, which can be found here.


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.


Floating Voters Wanted

May 17, 2015

I do apologise for neglecting my blog recently. It has been getting used more and more infrequently. It is mainly because I have a habit of agreeing to do other things, then getting overwhelmed. Hopefully I will catch up in the half-term holiday.

However, before I do, I thought I’d draw attention to one of those other things. As you may know, I am now editor of the Labour Teachers Blog. I am often asking around for Labour supporting teachers to write for it (please get in touch if you are interested) but I haven’t tended to ask here because I know this blog has a wider and less partisan audience. However, in half term I intend to be running “Floating Voters Week” on Labour Teachers and actively seeking out a wider range of writers. Basically, if you are a teacher who didn’t vote Labour this year (or even if you did but didn’t in 2010) but could be persuaded to in the future with a change of education policy then I’d like to hear from you and publish your views. Full details are here (and you really must read this beforehand, otherwise you might be wasting your time).

I hope to hear from you.

Also, please share this post to help me reach everyone who might be interested. Thanks.


Top Blogs of the Week : Schools Week (May 2015)

May 11, 2015

Schools Week have published my review of the best blogs of the week.

Andrew Old picks his top blogs of the week 04 May 2015

Do you want a learning revolution?

By @greg_ashman

A teacher reflects on the times he has encountered attempts to revolutionise teaching and learning by removing the walls of the classroom. The first he recalls from his own childhood, and the last from a recent newspaper story.

Continued in


Yet Another Andrew Old Round Up

April 24, 2015

A couple of things I really should promote before it’s too late:

Firstly, I am speaking on a panel discussion at an event tomorrow based around “Character vs Knowledge? What is the purpose of education?” This is organised by the East London Science School and The Education Foundation. Details (and still the chance to buy a very cheap ticket) can be found here.

Secondly, assuming my contribution survives the editing process, I should have a chapter in Changing Schools: Dispatches from the Front Line of England’s Rapidly Changing Educational Landscape This book, which is now availble for pre-order, is edited by Robert Peal and should also have contributions from, among others, Doug Lemov, Daisy Christodoulou and Tom Bennett.


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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