The Big Listen

A big man, definitely listening.

Ofsted’s “Big Listen”, [Ofsted Big Listen – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)] their consultation designed to “inform [their] thinking going forward”, and to gather our views on the “future direction of Ofsted” feels like a hollow exercise in enabling the inspectorate to signal a ‘listening mode’. The fact that the outcome will be decided by the winner of the election this year adds to the sense of scepticism.

However, I generally tend to do consultations. When I came into teaching from another sector, I was amazed to find that teachers and schools don’t often take part in consultations. These play such an important role in other parts of the social, political and economic framework of the country. Since then I’ve come to understand that education consultations are hard to fit in with everything else (even when they’re not timed to make it even more difficult for schools to respond, such as the generous six weeks between end of July and the end of August provided for ITT market review consultation).

Despite this cynicism, there are examples of consultations making a difference. In 2013 the response of the History teaching community (see – You Spoke. We listened. Our response to the History Consultation 2013 / News / Historical Association) to the terrible Gibb/Gove proposals for a reductive, nationalist history curriculum ended with capitulation, and a much better History curriculum as a result.

So, here I am completing the Big Listen. My responses are below. You’ll see what I entered in response to the the very leading survey questions, and the further detail I wrote in an attempt to escape that sense of constantly being asked ‘when did you stop hating quality education?’.


Priority 1 – Reporting

Further detail:

I think it is possible to comment on the quality of the things you mention in this question, but 'clear judgements' are not only difficult to do with any fidelity, but also result in reductive data such as 'good' 'outstanding' etc. Of course you will have thought carefully about how to word these questions to get the results that reflect the policy of the day, so that this distinction is not seen in the data or analysis.


Priority 2 – Inspection Practice

Further detail:

I have found inspection in the second phase of the current framework to be collegiate, challenging but also focused on some valuable things in ITE/T. The first phase, when political influence required that Ofsted was 'let rip' amongst ITT providers, made the organisation look like the tool of the government of the day, rather than an independent inspectorate.

For more on the ‘let rip’ phrase – DfE hopes snubbed teacher trainers will help plug ‘cold spots’ (schoolsweek.co.uk)


Priority 3 – Impact

Further detail:

These questions aren't about impact. They are assertions or descriptions of intentions of impact (ironically, given the most recent framework).

The most important aspect of impact in relation to Ofsted is that the organisation's institutional memory is short, because of it's dependent nature on the government of the time.

This is not a party political point - I objected to enforcement of the gamification, skillification etc of the DCFS as much as I do the cognitive-turn which has been required by more recent policy. Each turn is enforced by Ofsted, which must forget the previous policies. The number of 'outstanding' providers is therefore a measure not of quality. Instead it is partly a reflection of the level of compliance with the policy at hand and partly a tool for more immediate policy goals. Inspections of ITT/E providers under phase 1 of the most recent framework illustrate both of these points - 'good' providers found themselves outside the new 'good', outstanding providers had not reacted quickly enough to the most recent changes in policy (despite previously being told that the process of development and change would be recognised). This process of softening up for the re-introduction of the Market Review and re-accreditation having been achieved, the practice, tone and outcomes of inspections in phase 2 returned to more usual patterns.

The most recent reports are written in ways that reflect this lack of underlying consistency, quality assurance. These bland summaries using standard text make it impossible for reports, evidence, judgements to be critiqued, intentionally so in my view. Ofsted itself publishes little about the impact, or reliability of its judgements. Schools, teachers, and educators know that the system is a game. The persistence of that game avoids and devalues the legitimate interests of the public in a robust inspection system.


Priority 4 – Culture

The experience of inspection is highly variable - it depends too much on the character and style of inspection teams, and on the policy environment at the time of inspection.

Provision of feedback to Ofsted is one thing - but reactions to that feedback are, non-existent. Processes of reaction to feedback, quality assurance of systems and judgements, relations with policy makers are entirely opaque.


Is there anything else you want to tell us?

Two things would make very easy quick-wins in re-establishing credibility and trust of teachers, schools and providers with the inspectorate.

The first is open-access to important processes. Training materials, manuals, ppts, videos etc should be made available to schools and providers at the same time they are used by Ofsted to train inspectors. Quality assurance materials, outcomes and data should similarly be made available.

You might argue that this provision would encourage more gamification, narrow working to the rules and outcomes set by the Inspectorate. There are two responses to that. The first is that Ofsted's processes, outcomes, training etc should not, if they are capable of accurately evaluating the quality of education, lead to gamification. The second response is that removing the high-stakes nature of Ofsted judgements would significantly reduce these incentives. With a lack of evidence that such judgements are effective in school improvement (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09243453.2014.927369) and plenty of evidence from the crisis in our education system to the contrary (Punishing Ofsted regime is driving us out of education, say school leaders | Ofsted | The Guardian), there is no reason not to change Ofsted's role in this way.

So, the second, quick-win change would be to remove one word judgements, and to make reports much more useful in helping schools and providers understand the evaluation, contexts and reasoning of inspection teams - so that reports are readable, read and used.


What’s the point of me (3) – HE fights back!

Zamyatin at the University of Leeds

In previous blog posts I’ve written about the way that HE ITE tutors are caught between practice and theory – and at home in neither, and about the central problems of initial teacher education that interact with the marginal status of ITE HE tutors. Having dug ourselves into a slough of difficulties I think it’s time we thought about the ways that HE brings distinctive and valuable approaches to these issues.

University should be in a position to examine the notions of ‘practice’ and ‘theory’ in ITE. However, this examination might not result in a convenient or stark differentiation between the work of HE and School – and this might be a good thing, considering the difficulty that trainees have in perceiving a coherent PGCE in a course split between university and school. Our position suspended between school and university, between practice and theory might also give us unique perspectives on both.

We need to explore the way that we “theory” is conceptualised. Rather than looking for ‘implementable’ research, derived from the foundation disciplines of Education (and perhaps their successor ‘cognitive science’), we need to recognise that nature of research in education has changed dramatically over the past 100 years(furlong).

Burn and Mutton argue that a ‘practiuum turn’, simply cutting down on the amount of time spent in University, and increasing that spent on ‘practice’, on its own will be ineffective. Learning by doing may ‘imply a rejection of research-based knowledge, rather than a concern to integrate this more effectively in professional knowledge’[1]. They suggest three ways in which theory is brought to bear on ITE programmes, or in which they might claim to be ‘research-informed’:

  • the use of insights from research evidence that seem most relevant to trainees so that these can be brought to bear on their decisions and actions as they begin to practice;
  • the use of research in to the nature of teachers’ professional knowledge to find ways to make that expertise explicit to learning trainees;
  • the use of research into beginning teachers’ learning to inform the construction of learning opportunities and assessment;

This is far beyond the notion of ‘what works’, the agenda that’s been haunting the corridors of policy and of MAT offices. It requires the recognition by teacher educators that context is king – and that whilst there are approaches which across contexts and over time will bring advantages, even these have to be implemented contextually – and crucially brought to bear on the trainees’ practice at the right time. Too soon and these ways of thinking are lost in the struggle of the first weeks of placement, too late and we risk either the resentment of ‘why didn’t you tell me that earlier’ (you can often see this on twitter when experienced teachers talk about their PGCEs), or by that point trainees have discovered work-arounds, or un-critically accepted the practice that they see in their placement schools.

At the same time our understanding of the idea of ‘craft knowledge’ or ‘practical wisdom’ of teachers has also developed. Rather than only considering routine ways of working should we focus on the ways that teachers make judgements about what they do and the range of influences on these judgements. For instance, the use by Burn and Mutton of the term ‘clinical practice’ highlights particular features of effective ‘clinical’ professional training:

  • Centrality of clients needs
  • Knowledge demands on the practitioner
  • Requirement for judgement
  • Conducted in a community of practice with shared standards.

Similarly Korthagen and Kessel seek to bridge the gap between theory and practice, and also want us to move beyond conceiving of placement as an opportunity to perfect technique or implement theory. In their view professionals use ‘Gestalts’, instantly created and deployed mental frameworks, to help them understand and make decisions about the contexts in which they are working. These Gestalts are created in the light of the professional’s knowledge and experience, and their reflection on that experience. We know that trainee’s practice is hard to alter, that their views and underlying attitudes are sustained in the face of contrary experience and evidence. This suggest that it is the role of the teacher-educator to create suitable learning experiences in order for trainees to create and examine their Gestalts[2].

Gestalts offers a powerful way of thinking about the learning experiences that we create jointly with our mentors in School, and the way that we should be using our time in University to work with these experiences developmentally. However, we need to be careful about relying on the notion of ‘Reflective Practice’ in order to achieve this. As Furlong and Maynard point out this ‘slogan’ of ITE needs to be deployed carefully and clearly[3]. Purposeful reflection requires knowledge and a store of experience that trainees simply lack – asking them to reflect often means asking them to fall back on their own resources and experiences, which may make it even harder for their learning to impact on their beliefs and actions [4].

The questions that Korthagen and Kessel provide for helping trainees reflect on their practice in their ALACT model (Action, Looking back, Awareness, Creating alternative methods of Action and Trial) suggest that the value is not in the student’s first reaction or reflection, but in the structured responses designed to open up alternative ways of looking at the situation. Unless we are clear that this is our aim, and without the store of experience that trainees lack, as Anna Pendry points out, we risk asking the trainee to make sense of an incoherent experience, without giving them ‘adequate means to achieve this. At best it seems they will learn to critique practice, but often only in deficit terms’[5]. Burn’s work on the role of mentors in school suggests that such reflection is difficult to do in school, that trainees find it hard to challenge the Gestalts of their mentor or the practices of their school, and that mentors often deflect both questions and challenges of the trainee’s views and practices[6]. Not everything can be done in school.

What comes out of these considerations are the crucial roles that HEI tutors have in providing the knowledge, evidence, tools, and space for reflection on the experiences that the trainees gain in school. By using research informed insights to help trainees reflect on the professional dilemmas they face in practice, and encouraging challenge, discussion and debate these ways of working can be both contextualised and understood in relation to wider issues of policy, ethics, and subject, as well as the often foregrounded question of whether they ‘work’ in relation to those concerns of behaviour, results, practical implementation and resourcing that rise to the surface in schools.

[1] Katharine Burn and Trevor Mutton, “A Review of ‘Research-Informed Clinical Practice’ in Initial Teacher Education,” Oxford Review of Education 41, no. 2 (2015): 217–233.

[2] Fred. A.J. Korthagen, “Linking Practice and Theory: The Pedagogy of Realistic Teacher Education” (Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, 2001), educ.queensu.ca/~ar/aera2001/Korthagen2001.pdf.

[3] J. Furlong and T. Maynard, Mentoring Student Teachers: The Growth of Professional Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1995).

[4] Anna Pendry, “Dilemmas for History Teacher Educators,” British Journal of Educational Studies 38, no. 1 (February 1, 1990): 47–62, https://doi.org/10.1080/00071005.1990.9973834 cited in Hayward 1996.

[5] Pendry.

[6] Katharine Burn, “Promoting Critical Conversations: The Distinctive Contribution of Higher Education as a Partner in the Professional Preparation of New Teachers,” Journal of Education for Teaching 32, no. 3 (August 1, 2006): 243–58, https://doi.org/10.1080/02607470600782252.

What’s the point of me (2) – what’s my position in HE?

I’m using this series of posts as a way of thinking through the development of my professional identity and position. In my last post I talked about moving from teaching to HE. In this post I’ll consider this a little more, but also move on to thinking about the kinds of knowledge that I bring to HE, and the liminal position I feel I have, sometimes.

These are complicated issues, and sometimes it is hard to work out where these vague feelings of discomfort or uncertainty come from, or even where to look to find out more about whether others feel the same. Fortunately, whilst I have been puzzling over these ideas and problems, Jason Todd (https://twitter.com/JJtodd1966) has hoved into view with some reading, thanks to a conversation between him, Alex Ford (https://twitter.com/apf102) and Helen Snelson (https://twitter.com/SnelsonH) in the dinner queue at the SHP conference.  I suspect if there’s a Phd in someone mapping out the informal sources of ‘leaps forward’ in the thinking of History teacher educators, then the SHP dinner queue will feature quite heavily in it.

In the dinner queue they talked, I gather, about what it means to be a HEI history teacher educator, rather than a school-based mentor, the need for a community of practice, and a way of inducting new tutors into this community (I wasn’t there, so may have got this wrong –  Jason, Helen, Alex?).  As a result of this conversation Jason sent round a few bits of reading to a few interested parties.  Earlier this week we joined forces with other fantastic HE history teacher educators (https://twitter.com/mrwbw, https://twitter.com/viccrooks https://twitter.com/rachelfoster08, and https://twitter.com/UoNSoEHistory)

One of the key pieces was Geoff Hayward’s chapter in the venerable but brilliant Mentoring for Science Teachers[1].  He identifies three central issues of Initial Teacher Education, which are echoed in multiple places in the literature as:

  • A lack of coherence and discontinuities between school and HE as sites for learning – and the different characteristics of the knowledge valued in each.
  • Schools are environments not well suited for trainee learning.
  • Student teachers bring their own agendas, which are very resistant to change[2].

Reflecting on this list now, it is remarkable how many of our conversations at Uni, about our trainees, our placements, our training and our knowledge, fit within these three big issues. However, I think there’s the risk that as a teacher who finds themselves at University, we’re not able to access the positions or strengths of a lecturer because we are not aware of the systematic thinking about such issues that people like Geoff Hayward have done before us.

What’s also interesting is the way that these issues interact with the liminal position that HE initial teacher educators also face in their own work. At university long term generalisable knowledge is preferred over the context bound short term effectiveness and action-oriented knowledge valued in schools[3].  In the last post I exposed my own worries about my ‘classroom’ knowledge fading and losing its value for trainees as the years out of school teaching slowly mount.

However, even when an ITE tutor in HE takes steps to carve out a research profile or orientation this can fail to secure their identity as ‘University’ tutor.  Administration in HE and policy makers in government place value on highly generalizable ‘big ticket’ research, often with experimental, quantitative approaches – the kinds of work that is ‘ref’able[4]. This means that the kinds of knowledge, even the kinds of research that practitioners undertake and value as they move into HE mean that they’re occupying liminal positions in Academia.

Finally, student teachers as learners bring with them a legacy of their apprenticeship as pupils, their understanding of their subject and what it means to teach it.  These ideas are really resistant to change in the circumstances of a normal school placement.  Hayward raises the danger that the trainees react by seeing the course as requiring that they meet the different criteria of the different personnel on different occasions”[5] – seeing each as a test to pass, rather than a coherent opportunity for development.

In a policy context which places value on practice and action above thinking this can easily lead to trainees focusing on ‘gathering evidence’ in school. In turn this means that the expertise of the University lecturer is under-valued, deprecated as ‘out of date’ or ‘too theoretical’ – especially where our courses are actually out of date, and are actually too focused on decontextualized theory in the way that lends itself to large, cost effective lectures!

In the next few posts I hope to work through some of the implications for our work of these problems, and to explore some possible solutions.

[1] Geoff Hayward, “Principles for School Focused Initial Teacher Education,” in Mentoring for Science Teachers, ed. T Allson and A Benson (Buckingham [England]; Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1997).

[2] Hayward.

[3] Fred. A.J. Korthagen, “Linking Practice and Theory: The Pedagogy of Realistic Teacher Education” (Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, 2001), educ.queensu.ca/~ar/aera2001/Korthagen2001.pdf.

[4] John Furlong, Education: An Anatomy of the Discipline (Routledge, 2013).

[5] Hayward, “Principles for School Focused Initial Teacher Education.”

What’s the point of me, a HE lecturer in Inital Teacher Training?

Moving from school to university as an ITE tutor is an important personal and professional change. Apart from the weirdness of no-one giving a monkeys about you telling them about what time you go home, or what you’re doing from minute to minute, or the liberation of being able to get a cup of tea or go to the toilet whenever you want, there’s a question of identity. What am I, if I’m not interacting with hundreds of different individuals each week? What do my students value? What should they value?

At first I found that it was enough to play off my cache as hard-bitten (moth-eaten?) classroom hack. Trainees are very keen to hear war-stories and ‘the best way to do x or achieve y’. Overtime I realise that as my INSET uniform of levis, satirical t-shirt and lumberjack shirt fade, my continued authority might require me to develop new forms of expertise and knowledge. Formulating and emphasising a distinctive nature for my role in ITE as a university lecturer, and pointing out the value of this role are key ways in which I can develop and continue to improve my contribution.

However this expertise and knowledge is different from that which we bring with us from our time as teachers in school and needs to be nurtured and developed in different ways from the expertise of teachers. It should also be used in different and particular ways in school and university partnerships, in order to have the best impact. The studies considered in the next few blog posts suggest particular ways of working: pedagogical and pastoral approaches that we need to develop in our practice and in the practice of our mentors and tutors in the wider partnership.

However, I found that a source of such authority and knowledge is not immediately clear on entry to HE Education Departments. HE based ITE has faced constant challenges from policy makers and politicians for decades[i]. Falling numbers of applicants and the entrance of a broader range of competitors into the sector makes it harder for universities to sustain ITE provision[ii]. Changes to regulation and compliance frameworks can make running an ITE programme seem like walking a tightrope. Regulation and competition has increased the diversity of providers and those who work in them, but has flattened the work of teacher education itself. Complexity in particular has been flattened out of the system, leaving HEI Education departments with ITE work increasingly vulnerable[iii]. As an example, in the last couple of weeks we have seen guidance on workload in schools and during Initial Teacher Education which acts as an excellent illustration of this flattening[iv]. In seeking to reduce the pressures of work on ITE trainees the guidance calls (requires) partnerships to allow trainees to use pre-prepared lesson resources, and to eschew planning lessons.

Another aspect of flattening can be seen in the mimetic use of buzzwords and silver bullet searching that have affected the mainstream of education practice and policy in recent decades and which has inevitably infected Initial Teacher Education. Slogans such as ‘partnership’[v], and ‘reflection’[vi] “have revealed a superficiality in theoretical rationales of many of those engaged in professional education which inevitably leave their practice open to attack”[vii]. In addition the policy maker’s quick fix for ITE has been to increase competition between providers and extend the time that new teachers spend training in schools. The underlying assumptions are that more time in practice will lead to trainees becoming better teachers and that the market will guarantee that the best providers will thrive, whilst others go to the wall.

The focus on quick fixes, the practicuum turn and the hope that a market will solve the central problems of professional education of new teachers, suggests that there is an unwillingness to actively engage with what the central problems of Initial Teacher Education. Indeed recent policy decisions about ITE have downplayed these issues, and framed the problem as one of ‘what to teach’ – what items of knowledge should teachers have in their heads that can be deployed as deliberately practiced techniques in the classroom. Many courses favoured by policy makers involve less and less ‘tuition’ and, as Childs predicted in 2013, rely on the mentoring and coaching skills of teachers and the ability of new teachers to learn on the job. The latest call to avoid the complexity inherent in planning learning, by insisting on delivering materials and lessons prepared by others, is perhaps an example of this tendency[viii].

When ITE is delivering a centrally mandated technical curriculum and the vast majority of time on PGCE courses are spent on placement in school, it is not immediately clear what HEI’s distinctive role in the process is, or should be. The implications of Child’s conclusions are that ITE becomes merely an extension of the School Improvement agenda through the sharing and implementation of good practice, using mentors to show new teachers the ‘craft of teaching’, and that HEI’s role is thereby limited only to accreditation.

Being clear as to what this contribution is has the potential to help us outline a clear path to nurture and further develop a distinctive academic capital. University Teacher Educators can provide a unique and valuable range of insights derived from the knowledge not only of ‘practice’ but also of research and their own subject-pedagogy expertise, as well as their understanding of the limitations of the research and literature that they use with the trainees.

However, in order to meet the challenge of these implications, and examine our role in the sector, it is vital that we act from a position of informed strength about what makes for good ITE provision. We therefore need to examine the central issues of initial teacher education, and explore the buzzwords and policy formulations which accrete to it. In order to maintain our impact and importance in the sector and husband our resources most effectively we should consider important questions such as ‘where does HEI’s independence spring from?’ and ‘what kinds of expertise do we bring that differ from that of our school colleagues?’

[i] John Furlong, Education: An Anatomy of the Discipline (Routledge, 2013).

[ii] James Conroy, Moira Hulme, and Ian Menter, “Developing a ‘Clinical’Model for Teacher Education,” Journal of Education for Teaching 39, no. 5 (2013): 557–573.

[iii] Ann Childs, “The Work of Teacher Educators: An English Policy Perspective,” Journal of Education for Teaching 39, no. 3 (July 1, 2013): 314–28, https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2013.799848.

[iv] “Addressing Workload in Initial Teacher Education (ITE),” GOV.UK, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/addressing-workload-in-initial-teacher-education-ite.

[v] Conroy, Hulme, and Menter, “Developing a ‘Clinical’Model for Teacher Education.”

[vi] James Calderhead, “Reflective Teaching and Teacher Education,” Teaching and Teacher Education 5, no. 1 (1987): 43–51.

[vii] Geoff Hayward, “Principles for School Focused Initial Teacher Education,” in Mentoring for Science Teachers, ed. T Allson and A Benson (Buckingham [England]; Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1997).

[viii] Caroline Daly, “DFE Advice on Student Teacher Workload Misses What Is Learnt by Planning Lessons,” IOE LONDON BLOG (blog), November 9, 2018, https://ioelondonblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/dfe-advice-on-student-teacher-workload-misses-what-is-learnt-by-planning-lessons/.

McDonald’s, Voluntaryism and School Meals.

F W Jowett, Labour Councillor and then MP for Bradford, was instrumental in pushing for municipal meals for hungry children.

I’ve been doing some historical reading recently for a potential project about school meals in turn of the 20th Century Bradford.  It is lovely to be reading and thinking about history again, after a long break, enforced by taking up new responsibilities at work. This reading has involved finding out about the links between the birth of the Labour Party and local activism focused on the need to feed poor school children. What’s fascinating is the way that a child’s poor diet was often characterised as having its origins in various educational, financial or moral failings on the part of his or her parents.

One of the things that I enjoy about the feeling of immersion in a new historical problem or topic is the way that my reading and pondering helps me to see the present day in new ways.   So my eye was obviously drawn to the recent stories in the press(1) which claimed that Michael Gove, environment secretary, past education secretary (and secret top-fan of this blog) had expressed empathy for the way that poor people find solace for their difficulties in fast food.

Suggesting that turning to food in order to help the you cope with life’s problems implies that there is a real choice about how money is spent, perhaps in the same way that choices are made about spending money on booze or fags. Furthermore, the implication is that more education about food; or that more effort, or perhaps a more stoical approach to these difficulties on the part of ‘the poor’ would lead to improvements in diet.

So, there’s also an implied suggestion that failings on the part of those in poverty are the main cause of their difficulties. This suggestion is very similar to the arguments used in Bradford in the 1890s and early 1900s to fend off calls that municipal authorities should take responsibility for feeding poor school children. It was argued that the response should be voluntary, should mostly take the form of advice and education, so curbing the worst excesses of the poor. In turn this would enable them to better feed their own children. It was feared that state intervention would engender fecklessness.

In Bradford the arguments around municipal feeding of children reached a peak in November and December 1904. A series of letters to the editors of the Bradford Telegraph from elaborately anonymised proponents and opponents of municipal feeding illustrate the arguments. “Caractacus” wrote, on the 9th of November, of his frustration that F. H. Bentham, the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, was “in favour of limiting all measures of a corporate kind, for dealing with the unemployed, to the board of Guardians.”. On the same day Bentham replied that he was in favour of council ‘works, where those efficient could be employed without any loss’, referring to a kind of ‘job-creation’ for the poor in times of depression or economic contraction(2).

Bentham goes on to describe the poor law over which he presided as ‘the last remnant of serfdom’, and that any effort to expand the work of the guardians was ‘maladministration’. This portion of the letter illustrates the key themes in Bradford Liberalism’s objection to more municipal action very clearly and succinctly and is worth reading in full:

“I want philanthropy [charitable effort] to lift people out of the slough of despond, to elevate character, not to take away burdens but to help them and teach them how to bear their burdens. I desire to see municipal expansion in the direction of increased opportunities for useful employment and self development; I want to see family ties strengthened and the homes of the people happier, each an independent unit within its own little castle, and not a little bastille. I would far rather see one big ‘bastille’ with all the undesirables in it (and we all admit that there are some), than see all our English working class homes pauperised by municipal subsidies. […] the gulf that exists between the emancipated classes and poverty should be bridged over by the spontaneous action of wise philanthropy. […] I honestly believe that for every such family where poverty is not self-inflicted there is another family willing to give the necessary assistance”.

The main pillars, of what Keith Laybourn (3) (somewhat unfairly and perhaps teleologically) calls the ‘shibboleths’ of Bradford Liberalism can be readily seen in this extract:

  1. There are concerns about ‘character’, both from the perspective that collective municipal subsidy will erode character and thereby the ability to deal with the ‘burden’ of the English working classes, and the existence of the poor of bad character (the ‘undesirables’) who should not benefit from municipal aid. The answer to these failings of character are moral and educative, but not transformative (not to take away, but to teach how to bear’).
  2. There is also the related fear that subsidies impact on the freedom of the working person – that the Poor Law is a form of serfdom that keeps the working class in a downtrodden state, the implication being that it removes the natural impetus to improve one’s conditions and thereby imprisons each family in its own ‘little bastille’.
  3. Finally there is the appeal to charity, the claim that there existed enough charitable effort in order to address the problems of what might be termed the ‘deserving poor’. This has implication of the scale of the problems and of the response required of them. Underlying all this is a belief in the natural order. ‘They’, ‘our English working class’, ‘the people’, have ‘burdens’, whereas others (the unspoken ‘we’) have charitable obligations for ‘wise philanthropy’ to those ‘where poverty is not self inflicted’.

The over arching fears are therefore that lack of education or lack of character is what drives poverty, and that collective action will only add to and amplify these problems. Again there are more recent echoes of these fears in the response to the recent Audit Commission report on the inefficiency and impact of the Universal Credit reforms.  On a recent edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘You and Yours’ Ed Boyd, from the Centre for Social Justice and a key advisor to Ian Duncan Smith, described the immoral impact of the welfare system that disincentivised work and created economic dependency, and the need for ‘front line’ decisions about who needs further support or even information about support that is available (4).

The debates about feeding hungry children in Bradford in 1904 still reverberate in current policy discourse, more than a hundred years later.  Reading the newspapers of 1904 gives the more recent evolution of tax-credits, Universal credit, food-banks and ‘the Big Society’ valuable context and suggest that these echoes need to be explored further.

Furthermore the years before and after 1904 represent a liminal period in which attitudes towards the poor were shifting quickly. Whilst some, such as Keith Laybourn, emphasise the role of the Labour party, in terms of organisation, campaigning and activism, in moving public-opinion in relation to feeding in Bradford, there is also a need to consider the role of cycles of unemployment, and individuals in trying to organise responses to these within paradigms of municipalism and voluntaryism (5) in seeking to understand how such important changes occur.

1 –https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/06/05/exclusive-michael-gove-says-poorer-people-eat-fatty-food-gives/

2 – F H Bentham. “Mr Bentham and the Unemployed: Subsidies and Citizenship.” The Bradford Daily Telegraph. November 6th, 1904. British Newspapers.

3 – Laybourn, Keith. “THE ISSUE OF SCHOOL FEEDING IN BRADFORD, 1904-1907.” Journal of Educational Administration and History 14, no. 2 (1982): 30–38.

4 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b5qnjx#playt=0h01m03s

5 – Bolam, Fiona Louise. “Working Class Life in Bradford 1900-1914 : The Philanthropic, Political and Personal Responses to Poverty with Particular Reference to Women and Children.” Doctoral, University of Huddersfield, 2001. http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/4755/.

5- Cahill, Michael, and Tony Jowitt. “The New Philanthropy: The Emergence of the Bradford City Guild of Help.” Journal of Social Policy 9, no. 3 (July 1980): 359–82. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047279400001380.

Review: A Philosophy of Schooling by Dr Julian Stern

Review and Welcome of A Philosophy of Schooling by Dr Julian Stern(1)

This is the ‘welcome’ to Julian Stern’s thought-provoking book that I gave at meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain at Leeds Trinity University on 20th March 2018, at which the book was launched.

Continue reading

Michael F.D. Young, Graduate Teachers and the Hero’s Journey

Just over a year ago I started reading books that I thought I wouldn’t agree with. One of those books was E.D. Hirsch’s ‘Cultural Literacy’, and although I didn’t agree with it (as feared), I will  be forever grateful that it did lead me to read Michael F.D. Young.

One of Young’s central arguments is that educational purposes, the acquisition of powerful knowledge being the most important, are disrupted by the instrumentalism that drives policy makers’ interventions in education.

Over the last few years I’ve come to see that these instrumentalist motives had converged with many of the progressive ideals that I hold – that education can emancipate, that it can be a route to a ‘good life’ (in the broadest terms).  The effect of this has been to drive pupils into ‘vocational’ pathways that deny them access to the knowledge that can really change lives, but has also been reflected in curricula that could easily lead to this knowledge being de-emphasised, and too much value being placed in teaching ‘exam skills’ or ‘subject skills’ (sometimes it was difficult to see the difference between the two).

The threat to the academic curriculum therefore has many sources – no doubt a crude constructivism in some PGCE courses contributed to this. One of the most valuable (and perhaps most uncomfortable) truths that twitter has taught me is that not all university-based PGCE courses were as good as the one I took, and those which my colleagues @LTUPGCE run.  Too many anecdotes about generic and ‘skills only’ training suggest that many new teachers were not forced to think about the nature and value of their subject knowledge or subject pedagogy as my PGCE peers were.

This week is has become clear that the short-term instrumentalism which drives the government’s initial teacher education policy is one of the sources of threat to an academic curriculum.  Instead of rising to the challenge of the teacher-shortage (let alone admitting the role of recent ‘disruption’ to the ‘market’ of ITE in creating that shortage), the DFE has ducked it by proposing that non-graduates be allowed to join the teaching profession.

The same Government that trawls through international comparisons and research evidence in search of policy about pedagogy and school system reform is ignoring that on the preparation of new teachers in high performing jurisdictions and opting for the go-to response of the market: de-regulation.

Young suggests that ‘knowledge about the world, if it is to be the basis of the curriculum, refers to concepts that take us beyond […] the contexts in which we find ourselves’ (2008:95).  In other words, the school curriculum should not teach pupils things that they will meet in their everyday existence, it should transcend the everyday and bring knowledge that takes them ‘beyond’ it.

Perhaps this should also apply to the teachers who hold and teach that knowledge. Teachers represent the world outside of family and community – even (and perhaps especially) if they come from that community. Teachers should represent the educated life that knowledge makes possible, and which they seek to promote.  To do this, they need the knowledge and experience that comes with communication with the outside world.

This does not mean that teachers should not work in the communities that raised them – I know brilliant teachers who work in the schools that taught them their GCSEs, to which they have returned to give something back. The point is that these great teachers have all been outside the communities.  This might be in body and mind, spending 3 to 5 years living away at universities in other towns and cities, meeting other people, experiencing other perspectives.  It might be in mind only – studying to degree level at home or in the local university a subject which itself takes them out of the context in which they were raised.

This hero’s journey gives them far more than the sufficiency of subject knowledge that will enable them to pass on the stuff in a specification or deliver a school curriculum. They return with a kind of ‘elixir’ something that can help transform the lives of the pupils they teach.  This is the broader view of the world that stepping out into it brings, as well as an example of someone who did that and brought themselves into a new relationship with the world.   What I fear will be the end-point of a policy like this is the rise of the apprentice-pupil who never leaves their community in a meaningful way, who can teach the textbook but not write a university reference, who has never read Marx or met a Mancunian, sat on a frosty roof and listened to someone’s dreadful poetry, asked a question in a seminar, argued with a lecturer or packed their stuff into a bag and left their home town behind, for a bit.

 

Young, M.F.D (2008) Bringing Knowledge Back in: From Social Constructivism to Social Realism in the Sociology of Education

Project Halpin: ‘Cultural Literacy’ (1) – Hirsch and the Reader

This is part of a series of posts that I’ve been writing over a much longer period than I originally planned.  The idea came from a lecture given by David Halpin, in which he discussed the need for us to approach and listen ideas that seemed antithetical to our own.   On the back of that experience and of a growing awareness of the ‘attitudinal bubble’ that I live in, I’ve been reading books which, on the face of it, I might not agree with.

The latest book is E.D. Hirsh’s ‘Cultural Literacy’.  Hirsch started to impinge on my consciousness in a serious way in 2010 when it became apparent that Michael Gove and Nick Gibb would be using insights gleaned from their reading of his work in their reform of the National Curriculum.   At that time I possessed only a slight and prejudiced view of Hirsch’s ideas.  I am sure that this view was coloured almost entirely by the fact that he had been embraced by the incoming Conservative education leadership.

Reading the work has therefore been a real education – not the least because of the message of hope that one can read into it – that knowledge offers a (the only) route out of educational and, by implication, social disadvantage.   This has also been an important re-education for me.  I have re-focused in turn on the importance of the knowledge that my students have, not just the knowledge that I have as a teacher.   I’ve always seen my job as to teach students knowledge that they don’t have, but it took me some years to consciously focus on the fact that I’d therefore need to consider the things that they already knew (or didn’t know).

Hirsch also makes some important points about the way we have constructed curricula over the last twenty years, which resonate with my experiences as a history teacher. In our concern to choose a history curriculum that is not oppressive or irrelevant to those that we’re teaching we have instead shifted our focus onto formal skills in history – rather than make hard choices about what to teach and what not to teach.  As we’ll see in a later post, I think that Hirsch also ducks these hard choices.

I don’t think this abdication was ever as complete here in England as Hirsch suggests has been the case in American public schools.  This is especially the case in history classrooms.  We have always been concerned in history to teach an overview, a framework.  This is apparent even in the structure of most KS3 curricula in the schools I visit, which remain chronological and which touch on the big features of the chronological landscape – the Romans in Britain, Medieval Britain, Early Modern Tudor and Stuart Britain, Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions and which finish with a bloody flourish in the 20th Century.

I disagree too with Hirsch attempt to place all the blame for this on Rousseau, Dewey and romanticism. It’s hard to remain romantic when actually teaching in a school – pragmatic pressures such as the struggle to spark interest, to justify one’s practice (and indeed existence) in the face of absurd and arbitrary accountability regimes and resultant managerialism.  There has no doubt been an easy re-course to a crude form of constructivism in schools, but one could argue that the move towards a formalist curriculum is actually an entirely rational response to the situation in which teachers have found themselves.  Performativity and formalism go hand in hand. Performance management trickles down through students’ targets and into pupil friendly mark-schemes, flight paths and ‘exam technique’ interventions.

Hirsch is also convincing that knowledge has an impact on the fluency of reading. Early in the book, before looking at his own research, Hirsch describes a study which found that two groups of readers, one American, and one Indian each found it easier to read articles which were about weddings from their own cultures.    Hirsch’s own work on the impact of knowledge on reading fluency and other research is used to show that background knowledge makes reading more fluent.

However, the extent of the improvements in fluency, and the impact of this improvement on learning are not made clear.  In describing the eureka moment that has informed his work on knowledge in the school curriculum, it is interesting that Hirsch takes the decision not to directly compare the fluency of readers ‘with’ and ‘without’ knowledge on the same graph.  The difference is not as great as it appears when one makes the direct comparison – around 4-16% increase in the words per minute rate for each quintile (estimated from the graphs in the book) between readers familiar and un-familiar with the content of a text.

Hirsch makes a convincing argument for the role of a basic level of fluency in discussion of the mechanics of short term memory and the clogging of this system if too much new or confusing information is presented, but there is nothing here to suggest whether this acts as a  floor level or whether learning  improves or increases the more fluent one’s reading is.  The implication is that there are two states – ‘fluent’ or ‘clogged’, and no middle ground, but there is nothing to suggest what the level of ‘clogged’ is.

Hirsch was originally looking at the effect of style on reading rates, by comparing the rates of people reading original pieces of text that were also stylistically degraded by the researchers.  The effect of prior knowledge on reading fluency seems to be removed altogether if we compare the rates of those reading degraded texts on topics that they’re familiar with, and those they’re un-familiar with.  In comparing college and university students reading about Grant and Lee, both reading stylistically degraded text Hirsch found similar rates of reading.

If the impact of knowledge on fluency was as great as suggested, might we expect instead that prior knowledge should make up for the poor writing in the stylistically degraded texts, or even to enable informed readers to leap over the barrier presented by the degradation in the text?   If we want to improve the fluency of our readers Hirsch’s graphs suggest that we should be doing more than teaching them more knowledge – that there are other factors that might affect the way we approach text, or which might limit how fluent our reading of a text can be.  One of the most important would, from this evidence, seem to be the quality of the writing of the text that one is reading.  The implication for teachers is that we should choose our texts carefully, and work hard to make our written communications accessible.

I realise I’m at risk of being condemned as a ‘knowledge denier’, so I should be clear that I think we should want our students to know more.  What I am pointing out, and this is a theme I will return to in a later post, is that in focusing only on the role of knowledge and on reading fluency, in the face of his own contrary evidence, Hirsch is placing all the deficit in the minds of the learner.  For Hirsch, the message is that there is nothing else we can do as teachers other than give more knowledge, nothing as writers that we can do to make reading more accessible, nothing else that we can do to equip students who find themselves reading material with content that they don’t already know.  It’s a one-way street.

Tweet tweet! That’s the sound of the police…

6364040129_125d4754ef_mI’ve been thinking about (and will probably have been writing this post) for quite a long time – collecting examples of a kind of twitter behaviour that has been interesting me for some time.

A key feature of many edu-twitter users’ online life is the seeking out of practice that they disagree with or find abhorrent, in order that they can publicise their worries and coral condemnation from their followers.  I’m writing this piece not as a form of condemnation, but as an opportunity for me to  explore why this phenomenon makes me so uncomfortable. It’s inspiration is this tweet by @mrhistoire, a brilliant and thoughtful teacher who I have followed for ages – and with whom I agreed when he tweeted:

This isn’t history – nominally it is about the past, but that doesn’t mean ‘history’.  I could imagine ways of improving this, but not without relating to wider histories of gaming or leisure. Even with much effort not to such an extent that I can imaging spending any of the precious and restricted curriculum time reserved for history in primary or secondary schools.

So, I agree – end of post?

Well, no.  I wanted to know where Toby had found this poor bullet point – so I asked him. It turns out that this was from a page that was tweeted around by @C_Hendrick – another tweeting teacher whose work I’ve long read and admired.

Carl’s tweet included more items from the list of activities that this teacher was recommending:

Carl’s comment made me uncomfortable, especially when considered in the light of a tweet that he sent earlier in the week:


I’m not getting here at Carl personally.  These are just two examples of the kinds of tweet that I’m concerned with – there are many others.  In fact they have a long (hey, everything is relative) history.  We could argue that there is a tradition which has seen followers of various tweeters present them with ‘gifts’ of tweets or webpages that they hope might be tweeted around as examples of practice, beliefs or resources that can be pronounced as ‘beyond the pale’.

 

There will be other examples.

Why do these things worry me so much?  Why do I find them unpleasant – so much so that I have un-followed many (not all) of those who do this?

A big part of this might be because I (like many other people) don’t enjoy having my ideas challenged.  I’m quite interested in the sociology of education, and therefore how theories such as Bourdieu’s might be used to understand aspects of it.  @JamesTheo’s post might therefore be one that I find distasteful because it challenges my own preconceptions and beliefs.  Even though I’m also someone who tries to seek out ideas that challenge my views – and enjoy reading and being convinced by others perhaps sometimes these tweets force me to face up to things that are at the core of my world view – this might explain some of the feelings they inspire.  However many of these tweets I agree with (Toby French on the value of creating a ‘history of pokemon’ for instance).  Nonetheless, it is highly likely that some of this discomfort comes from feelings of disorientation and challenge.

What partly worries me is the way that these tweets make twitter the sort of place where one comes for a duel, a spat, rather than a place to find out, explore or improve.  I’ll admit that I’m someone who doesn’t like conflict or aggression – emotionally as well as intellectually.  I just feel uncomfortable when I see others being attacked, even @philipdavies (though he seems to like it).  I can’t help wondering how they feel, what effect this is having on them.

Intellectually I fear that such tweets are counter productive – that they create feelings of aggression and being under-attack which make it hard for anyone to understand either (1) how others are to be persuaded to change or (2) why their ideas or practice might need to be re-examined.  Misapprehensions and conceptions which are attacked to aggressively tend to be un-examined and instead tenaciously defended or driven underground in silent protection.

I detect a righteousness in some of these types of tweet, and as I reflect on that I think I detect in myself another form of envy. I wish I knew what I thought about things with such confidence, such decision and righteousness – really, I do.  No doubt a some aspects of my personal history leave me wishing I was one of those people who could come up with a supported opinion about something without worrying that I might be wrong.  Perhaps I’m also envious of the groups of followers that tweets like this inspire. Do I wish my social media footprint were bigger? This might be true – though I’d probably force myself to write more controversial blog-posts if were an important ambition for me.  I always hate pressing the ‘publish’ button, and much of this is driven by anxiety about whether I’m making a fool of myself.  I certainly envy those who can do this with fluency, free of such worries.

However, what worries me much much more is the way that some of these tweets – even by the most thoughtful and inspiring teacher – have the effect of closing down the categories of what it is acceptable to post about.  We might cite Carl’s insistence that some practice be ‘eradicated’ when it is clear from a moments reflection that aspects of the work in the post above could well be viable and valuable in many classrooms.

Carl’s earlier tweet, that a Philosopher’s thought experiment about preventing parents reading to their children, was ‘beyond parody’ is a great example of this last concern.  The report was an excerpt from a longer interview about about ‘familial relationship goods’ – the things that parents can do to confer advantage on their children.   Andrew Swift considered that the benefit of reading to children at bedtime conferred a bigger advantage than sending them to ‘elite private schools’.  Their conclusions were that parental reading should _not_ be banned (the opposite of the headline) because that would interfere with the proper establishment of ‘loving, authoritative affectionate’ family relationships.  (Interestingly they decided that we _could_ prevent people sending children to private school without making a ‘hit’ on family relationships, and at the same time prevent un-fairnesses for other people’s children).

These are important questions to consider – and it is the job of philosophers to do this. Not all the examples above are those in which such important questions are at stake, but all are examples of the ways in which debate is shut down on twitter.  I bet I’ve done it myself on occasion – but I hope I think more carefully before doing so again.

[NB – there is a twitter vigilante! https://twitter.com/tweeting_police ]

Patriotism and Brexit – a few thoughts.

Patriotism is often the last refuge of the disenfranchised, or a lever of power which is used to wield influence over them.

People need institutions and ideas that they can invest belief in, and that they can trust to help them in the important and sometimes hard times in their lives. In the near past these roles have been fulfilled by many different groups, associations and ideas: family, church, the political party or the co-operative organisation, the local union, the workplace, night schools, football clubs, libraries, schools, leisure clubs or the doctor’s surgery have all played these roles. These are things that we can believe and trust in because we can touch them, we know the people who, alongside us, make them work. We make decisions with them, and through them. Through them we also help each other – not only in the obvious ways of distributing money and services, but through a million small ways in which we show care for each other.

Slowly we have removed the potency from many of the institutions that serve most people. Either we have turned our back on them, or refused to pay the taxes that fund them, or we have taken their responsibilities and powers into the disinterested central state. At the same time, and often as part of the same process, we have re-exposed many groups of people to the raw winds of economic change and risk in ways which mean they need these institutions more and more.

Amongst the wealthy we have, by and large, kept our institutions. Our good schools, private gyms, well stocked and supported libraries, our banks still serve us, we can get a game of tennis or a round of golf or a swim in the pool if we want. We raise money for the PTA, we buy insurance and own shares which limit our liabilities but bring us profits. We feel comfortable, we are not at risk, by and large.

However, we’re not just alright, we are rightly rewarded. We look at our wealth and the fact of its existence confirms that we are superior – because in this world value and wealth attain to the hardest working, and the most naturally gifted. The lack of comfort in those beneath us becomes a fact, a fundamental clause in the laws of the universe.  Those exposed without protection to these laws cannot afford, or cannot use, institutions that they can put their faith into and take comfort and support from.  They are even denied the right to place confidence in themselves because of the way that they are treated in the media.

When this happens it seems to me that people often invest in and turn to more dangerous abstract conceptions. They have to use accessible ideas that are free and open to all. Given such meagre resources these ideas have to generate a great deal of diffuse comfort. These ideas need to act as a mirror in which we can see our finest qualities, a lens through which we can only see the faults in others, and a way in which we can advertise and detect kinship with others in a world where there is a great deal of threat and uncertainty.

Patriotism and nationalism are two such ideas, and in the last week we have seen how they can be used not only to generate warmth but also to control and beguile.  We will wait and see what it means to ‘get our country back’, to take control back over our lives, but already it seems that this might not be pretty.  When it becomes clear that immigration will not fall as a result of the referendum result, we’ll see if these ideas can continue to be controlled by those who thought they could use them, and people, as a way of seeking further influence and positions of power.

However, the fundamental lesson of the referendum is that large numbers of people decided to vote when they have never voted before and may well never vote again and that they were often inspired by nationalism and patriotism.  If the media are to be believed many they did so thinking that the only way they had to protect their kids from competition from and to shore up their identity against that of ‘others’, was to tear down the UK’s membership of the EU.

Those of us in the 48% have ignored this large and important group of people for too long, and, in thinking that their condition was such that they deserved uncertainty, deserved poor housing and access to public services and institutions, that they cannot have a first chance, never mind a second or third one, or a regular wage or a steady job, we’ve abandoned them to Paul Nuttall and Boris Johnson.

Give me the closed factories, the zero hour contract, the shut library, the underfunded FE College and the jerry built school with 2000 plus kids in it, and I’ll give you Brexit.