The Teacher Gap – a review

This is a review of Rebecca Allen and Sam Sim’s book “The Teacher Gap”.

If you’re a joiner then every problem needs a hammer and nails. If you’re an economist then, this book suggests, you perhaps think you can solve most problems with more information, and the right kind of incentives. That said, the authors provide a brilliantly written book. Its use of case studies and life stories actually make it a bit of a page turner. It is really useful for headteachers, and for new entrants into the profession, and provides some interesting ideas and challenges for policy makers.

The analysis of the current system of ITE and induction is in some ways very perceptive, in that it rightly points out the serious problems with a system that front loads training, then expects trainees and newly qualified teachers to continue to improve, sometimes left to their own devices and with a full, or almost full ‘caseload’ of classes. I also really like some of the suggestions about lengthening and changing the character of ITE courses – so that the challenge of learning to teach is more purposeful, and more manageable.

There are several important strands running through the book – one is that schools need to enable teachers to focus their efforts on activities, both teaching and professional development, that actually matter, that make a difference to the learning and lives of their pupils. There is a really important section in which the mimetic forces, that encourage schools to re-create elaborate and wasteful procedures, are brought into the light. For me the most resonant and convincing theme is the need to provide teachers with some space and time to work collaboratively to build their agency and autonomy, a message which resonates strongly with other recent reading .

This strand emerges in chapter 6 which for me is a cogent, and urgent case for improving the mental conditions of labour under which many teachers work. There’s very convincing use of Ryan and Deci’s SDT theory – a subtle argument for teachers to be able to work on the problems that they collectively perceive are the important ones in their practice. I know quite a few headteachers and MAT executives who would do well to consider the extent to which their

The book does have some important limitations, and a few places where the argument is contradictory – in relation to the extent to which ‘deliberative feedback’ will help teachers continue to improve their practice despite teachers’ work earlier in the book being as an ill-defined problem, for instance.

The analysis of ITE is incomplete, and from my perspective (as an ITE tutor in HE) makes too much of the differences between school-based and Uni-led courses. For me the real difference is in quality of tuition and school-based experience. Most courses spend similar amounts of time in school, for instance, and there are excellent Uni-led courses and SCITTs, just as there are poor examples. There is also a hint that school based courses are better because they give more information to the head teacher about prospective NQTS. For me this rather misses the point of ITE courses – they are designed to give trainees good training, education and induction into a new profession (especially when they’re paying for it), not just act as a clearing house for head teachers to select new employees. That politicians have fetishised ‘time in school’ and ‘practical experience’ over the last 20 years, and if the book’s premise is right, there has been little improvement in teacher quality should perhaps make us pause and think whether time in school is necessarily or automatically the mark of a high quality ITE route.

Despite making some digs at past incarnations of Ofsted, sometimes the logical conclusion to the difficulties in measuring teacher-quality are not drawn. The book is excellent on the silliness of the hoop jumping and wasted innovations that schools have undertaken, either to try to obtain a few extra percentage points in the targets set them by government, or to fend off an Ofsted inspector, but the overall system of punishing accountability behind this is not really called into question. We no longer grade teachers, because we recognise that such grades are inaccurate and unhelpful. There’s quite a bit of evidence in this book that grading schools is a perverse incentive, and other studies have suggested that it does not give teachers or parents the information they need to choose a place to work or send their children (not to mention those that suggest that for most parents school-choice is a myth).

Instead what emerges is an economist’s view of the system – atomised and separate schools and teachers, each of which have set characteristics which allow them to be assigned the label of lemons. The problem is turned into one of avoiding the lemons and hiring or finding work only with the good teachers or schools. Trouble is that life isn’t that simple – some teachers are lemons only in particular schools or contexts, and the problems with retention suggests that school lemony-ness (as defined as a school which puts ineffective and overwhelming pressure on its NQTs and experienced teachers) is an endemic, systemic condition. Furthermore we need to change the lemony teachers and schools into better ones, because they are the teachers (and schools) we have – there isn’t a population of non-lemony trainees waiting to take up the posts of those deemed unfit.

Career Illuminations Conference for NQT and RQTs

On Thursday 27 June, the Institute of Childhood and Education at Leeds Trinity University is proud to present its 2019 Conference – ‘Career Illuminations’. A revitalising day to gather invigorating ideas from experienced practitioners, grow ideas about investment in career progression, and share challenges and successes with fellow early career teachers.

This is always an excellent event, a good opportunity to kick start your NQT year, or meet up with old friends from your own training year. We welcome teachers from our own course or from other providers in the region.

2019 NQT and ECT Conference Programme Final

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),

[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, 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,

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 ( has hoved into view with some reading, thanks to a conversation between him, Alex Ford ( and Helen Snelson ( 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 (,, and

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),

[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,

[iv] “Addressing Workload in Initial Teacher Education (ITE),” GOV.UK, accessed November 11, 2018,

[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,

My Mistakes in Middle Leadership: The danger of visions

Spent an inspiring and amazing day at #TLLeeds18 yesterday, run by the wonderful and amazing @agwilliams9. It was such an interesting and thought-provoking day at which I met some challenging and provoking speakers, and gave a talk on the mistakes I made as a HOD.

The first talk was by Paul Warwick about the leadership lessons in Shakespeare’s Henry V.   This was most convincing when discussing the private journey of leadership, the impact and pressure that leaders face, and the need for them to take stock, find mentors and confidants, and in the ‘performance’ and emotional labour that good leaders have to summon up.

Even where Paul’s talk inspired scepticism from me, it did so in a powerful and thoughtful way. My talk, in the afternoon, also hit on similar themes of ‘vision’.   I have big problems with the idea of vision, and especially with the example of Henry V being presented as a model for how leaders should devise and implement a vision. Paul asserted that Henry’s vision was one of service, that through dark places he successfully brought his band of brothers to a victory that reflected this vision.

I would counter that expecting leaders to create a vision, then use this to impose direction on a staff is dangerous. Rather than service, sacrifice and legacy, the correct Henry V analogy is of profligacy and hubris.  The story could be re-cast as that of a medieval king spending thousands of lives and draining an exchequer in order to fulfil a grand vision which essentially boiled down to ‘let’s conquer France so that I can be richer’. Furthermore the whole hollow enterprise is shown to be fragile when Henry’s son is unable to maintain the vision so hard won at the great sacrifice of Henry’s subjects.

My own time as HOD was driven by a mixture of hubris and fear, and it didn’t end that well, to be honest! My presentation was a reaction to the conference circuit which encourages us only to talk about our successes, and never to examine our failures. I described the things I did right, and the stuff I got wrong:

  • Moving too fast and being scared of getting stuck at HOD;
  • Thinking I had to be amazing at everything;
  • Ignoring or forgetting the intellectual interests of my subject;
  • Ignoring the advice of more experienced colleagues; and
  • Buying too closely into the vision(s) of my Head teacher and the myth of ‘transformational leadership’.

A lot of the presentation was about my failure to disagree with the changes that were happening in school, but this mistake was all mine. I had drunk the cool-aid.

This led me to think about why things had gone wrong for us as a history team, and the role that my consumption of the cool-aid had in the events around us. I looked back at some of the NCSL guidance that I’d read when I was a fast-track teacher, which I realised constantly pushed my generation of middle leaders to take up the mantle of ‘transformational leadership’.

As you’ll see from the presentation, a core feature of ‘transformational leadership’ is having a vision.  Julian Stern, a philosopher of education at York St John University has suggested that vision is a dangerous thing for a school leader to have, given its connotations with religious prophecy, its susceptibility to take over from external visions and priorities (especially in circumstances of high levels of external accountability) and its tendency to supress dissent.

The effects of ‘vision’ can be seen in job adverts that invite people to ‘join us on our journey to outstanding’, and in HE strategy documents that set out a vision to ‘achieve gold TEF’.  It can also be seen in the labelling of difficult staff members as ‘energy sappers’ and the failure to engage with legitimate concerns that people have when change comes to their institutions. Vision leads to rich and well informed perspectives being silenced. Paul Warwick referred to a section in Henry V’s leadership journey in which he ‘deals with the traitors’.  This brought a chill to my mind given our current political climate.

My go-to philosopher is Isaiah Berlin and his suggestion that principles are what’s needed, rather than visions, coherence and consistency. I offer the following three:

  • Check your intentions, then check them again. Do you want your staff to ‘feel’ that their opinions are valued, or do you actually want to value them and their opinions? Is your vision, or the way you implement it, good for your pupils, or just good for your figures?
  • Work with people – practice leadership that is more inward, more participatory.
  • Bear in mind your responsibilities, to your pupils, your subject, and your team. You also have responsibilities to the people above you in the hierarchy, not just to follow or support, but to challenge and provoke.

Here’s the presentation: My HOD mistakes

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 –

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 –

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.

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.

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.

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A review of Education: An Anatomy of the Discipline, by John Furlong (Part 2)

In the first part of this review we looked at Furlong’s description of the issues which have faced Education as a discipline, and the ways that these issues have resulted in Education taking up a marginalised position in the University. We ended by tackling the myth that Education is a radically progressive ‘blob’ which has resisted attempts to reform it, and resisted policies which help pupils. Instead what we saw was a sector that has complied with a raft of government changes and initiatives – perhaps to its detriment, and the detriment of pupils and schools as well.

In this post I want to cover some reasons to be cheerful. We’ll look at the changes in Education over the last 30 years which Furlong wants to celebrate, and also discuss why some of his most bleak worries about the implications of the Coalition’s policies for ITE were not confirmed in the 5 years since the book’s publication.

School Direct loomed large as a threat in Furlong’s book. It is clear from Gove’s pronouncements that School Direct was designed to weaken ITE in Universities, by increasing competition between them as to their ‘offer’ to training schools. As time went on the ITT allocations system was used to force applicants to the “School-led” routes by restricting the number of places in HEIs . A particular low point was the year (2015-6) when we had ‘secret’ national allocations for subjects, which meant we were all encouraged to scramble to fill up our books with applicants as quickly as possible, before we received the dreaded ‘stop’ notice which informed us that the secret allocation had been filled, and we weren’t allowed to recruit any more.

A quick trawl through the archives of news and analysis suggests that the unfolding crisis-wave has been longer in coming, and will be longer in washing back out again, especially if those who have the ear of the relevant minister can’t produce some much better advice than they currently do. Some very good courses and providers have closed, victims of the financial squeeze caused by the choking off of allocations, or struck-out by Ofsted in its most unpleasant and dogmatic phase under Michael Wilshaw*.

And yet, in 2018 many of us in HEI routes are still here. The survival of University teams involved in ITE is the surprising outcome of these events and reforms. School Direct recruitment has been excellent at providing alternative routes for those who are suited to them, but there are still large numbers of new teachers who want to learn their new profession with the help of a University. Not only that, the majority of School Direct routes have been created with and by University partnerships. Those HEIs who have embraced School Direct have been able to help schools develop high-quality routes, but have also used this an opportunity to keep HEI teams afloat, as well as an excellent source of developmental ideas. Applicants to ITE routes across provider-led and school-led courses have fallen again this year. Far from removing HEIs from the mix the government should realise that they need us, and that schools value our contribution. Their own reforms having perhaps used up the reservoir of local candidates that needed the flexibility of the School-led routes, have also ignored regional issues, confused new entrants, encouraged bursary tourism and alienated teachers with a strong public service ethos, who find themselves working long hours so that MAT CEOs can earn thousands of pounds a week.

It turns out that whilst a small number of school leaders and politicians may have seen this as an ideological battle, many schools value the work and relationship with their local HEI. At the University where I work we have excellent record on partnership work, which we are actively extending and developing all the time. In turn this work has influenced our ‘University-Led’ route, alongside the internship model used by Oxford University to create a hybrid route which enables our School Direct and ‘Provider-led’ students to gain access to the benefits of both kinds of course. Our trainees and our School partners value the subject specific pedagogy that HEIs can access and have the time to teach, as well as the support for difficult times that a dedicated team of IT Educators can bring to bear. In short we are still here because we have a role to play.

But this might not be enough. John Furlong worried about the ability of HEIs to advocate for a role in ITT, following the practical turn which has seen ITE regulation focus on a narrow set of skills set out in the Teachers’ Standards (2012). Part of his answer involves introspection, in the shape of an examination of the purpose of the University. Chapter 10 is a discussion of four archetypes, in the shape of Newman, Hubolt, the ideas behind Scottish Enlightened Universities and ‘Mass’ Higher Education in the 20th Century. This chapter really should be read by all new entrants to Teacher Education, given that such academics usually come from the world of school-education. Furlong gives us excellent context to help us understand the different roles that we undertake in University, and the tensions that show up in our day to day work. Furlong also helps us see an educational role for Universities which is very valuable in the current climate of marketization, where it is tempting and lucrative to see the University merely as a machine for validating qualifications devised and delivered by others. This is especially the case where such qualifications merely recognise previously developed knowledge or skills, or even experience.

For Furlong, even if we find ways to use these sometimes competing ideas to help us understand out roles, we risk not recognising or addressing the issue of the complexity of knowledge and truth. Rejecting the post-modern ‘anything goes’ approach, Furlong also asserts that we cannot treat knowledge as un-problematic. He concludes that Universities should instead maintain a commitment to the pursuit of truth, but rather than seeing truth as an end-point, it should be characterised as process or transaction which, borrowing from the ideas of Lay, he calls “a commitment to the maximisation of reason”.

This transaction is described as a dialogue, the requirements of which are exacting and serious.

The implications of this transaction I’ll discuss in my next post.

*The sort of person that E B White must have been thinking about when he wrote “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men”