‘La Education Prohibida’ film – food for thought

“Education is either for liberation or domestication” Paulo Freire

I read an interview with Alan Moore today in which he mentioned that Wilhelm Wundt was a key figure in the development of what we think of as the typical model of universal free education. I looked up Wilhelm Wundt – the man who developed the first ever laboratory dedicated to experimental psychology – and ended up watching ‘La Education Prohibida’ which is an excellent film exploring education from a ‘how-we-learn’ point of view rather than from a political or administrative point of view. It does include a summary of how our current education system was born (at 16 min.) This doesn’t mention Wilhelm Wundt but it raises the same very important questions that Alan Moore raises in his interview.

I highly recommend watching this. Be aware that it is two and a half hours long. It’s a South American film in Spanish, just click on captions and choose ‘English’ if you don’t speak Spanish.
The depth of thought in this film about what learning really is makes the 200 or so comments beneath today’s Guardian article on ‘Teach First’, including my own, look ridiculous



Welcome To All Teachers

What are the origins of this site?

I am a Primary School teacher. The background to this website represents a personal journey wherein my belief in the English education system has been gradually eroded. Below are a number of key events on this journey that have helped to create this outlook.

  • 2000AD – My first task at the start of my PGCE was to observe a school for two weeks. This school was being inspected by Ofsted. One teacher was told by an inspector that the ‘mental and oral’ starter to her maths lesson was a minute and a half too long. I listened to the teachers describing the inspectors as ‘unsuccessful teachers’ and ‘overpaid’.
  • During my PGCE Year I found a book in the university library that outlined recent changes in the British Education system. I was particularly struck by the fact that the National Curriculum came into being in 1988 with practically no consultation of the people who actually work in education (in fact 20,000 responses from a consultation in 1987 were simply ignored)
  • At the end of my PGCE I had to go and sit an exam at a computer. It was to make sure that I could do basic arithmetic and that I could write in full sentences. I wondered about this as I have got lots of GCSEs, 3 A levels, a Degree and by then a PGCE. Is this the system’s way of telling me that it doesn’t trust itself?
  • At the start of my career a number of older teachers warned me about the constant changes and new ‘initiatives’. It was clear they found these endless shifts in focus irritating, even exasperating.
  • I found the Literacy Hour in its prescribed form particularly difficult to deliver. The expectation of a little bit of word level work and then a next part that may be unrelated just never did work for me. I began to realise that I was not developing my own style as a teacher. The challenge was to fit the expectations of a prescribed system.
  • Two years into my career I was observed teaching a Maths lesson. I was heavily penalised because one pupil – out of 25 – had not been sufficiently challenged by the activity. This simple point was considered grounds enough to rate the entire lesson, and by extension all my teaching, as ‘unsatisfactory’. The way this judgement was delivered was terribly demoralising. For some time I felt like stopping teaching. After a few weeks I had a realisation: The job is about the teacher and the taught, an inspector’s judgement is of no further interest to me since a negative reaction can be based on such minor details.
  • A few years later and a change of management led to a whole crop of equally bogus judgements. At this point I realised that it would be petty and unproductive and, most importantly, unenlightening to vent my anger and frustration at the individuals concerned. The time had come for this educator to get educated about education. And so I bought a pile of books and began my own informal ‘bedtime reading’ MA (see ‘Educate Yourself: a short reading list’ at the top of this blog)
  • At a meeting about Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) very recently I was struck by the attitudes of the other eight teachers present. These were not hard-bitten old-school veterans but young twenty-something teachers. They were all inclined towards not taking APP too seriously as “it will probably change to something else in 2 or 3 years time so why bother?”
  • On inspecting websites like the TES and others I noticed that there are a lot of disgruntled teachers out there. Blogs refer to absurd inspection regimes, senior management openly fiddling with books and results to secure approval from Ofsted, the constant changing of expectations (or ‘moving the goalposts’), time-consuming record-keeping (or ‘excessive paperwork’) and a good deal else besides. However there is rarely any sense of context to all this grumbling. This website is intended to provide that context. There are historical reasons and political decisions that help us understand why we have our current situation.

Through understanding we seek to transform

Cambridge Primary Review – 2 quotes

“For the past two decades English primary schools have been expected to conform to a state theory of learning …based on the idea that a national curriculum, repeated high stakes testing of pupils and mandated pedagogy in literacy and numeracy will raise standards… There is little doubt that the machinery of surveillance and accountability makes it difficult for schools to deviate from focusing on test performance.”

“Dialogue is the antithesis of a state theory of learning and its antidote”

Cambridge Primary Review, 2010

Reader’s Rant – Cardiff teacher – NUT website 12.11.09

Christine Gilbert, Ofsted chief inspector, says she thinks that boring teachers are responsible for the deteriorating behaviour in our schools. I wonder if she launched this crackdown as a smokescreen to divert attention away from the failings of her own organisation. After all Ofsted had just described Haringey’s children’s services as ‘good’ shortly before the death of Baby P, and as ‘grossly inadequate’ shortly afterwards.
The Guardian reported on 5 January that the chief inspector felt there was a link between pupils’ “boredom and achievement” and that their “behaviour is deteriorating because they are not being stimulated enough in the classroom”.
Representatives of both the NUT and NASUWT pointed to evidence allegedly showing an improvement in the quality of teaching over the last 15 years. However there is no independent evidence on how standards have changed. Ofsted judgements have varied throughout the period (with greatly fluctuating interpretations of the 3 grade – is it sound? Is it satisfactory? Is it unremarkable? Or is it unsatisfactory after all?)
Is it possible to make every lesson exciting? It’s very difficult to conduct four to six exciting lessons every day, five days a week, plus having to deal with late night and weekend marking and preparation. Not every child is interested in your subject or likes your approach. Not every child comes from a loving and supportive home. Or maybe the school is lacking the resources to help the teacher make their lessons more exciting?
When I joined the teaching profession in the seventies, we were encouraged to be creative and collaborative. I organised residential courses, educational trips and theatre visits for my pupils. I invited speakers in, introduced educational games and role-play exercises, used quizzes, puzzles, videos and computers, and team taught, to instil a love and enjoyment of my subject.
By the time I retired two years ago I’d had enough of government initiatives. Their insistence on a mechanistic approach to the national curriculum, their obsession with testing and examination preparation, the pressure of league tables, the naming and shaming, the negative impact of Ofsted and its dubious political role. Performance management led to increased teaching to the test, which, while it may have caused temporary test improvements, has also led to narrow, restricted and extremely boring teaching.
The conclusion is obvious. Schools could be happier places, and children could enjoy their education more, if New Labour would drop its insistence on the national curriculum, testing and reductionist approaches to teaching. It’s time for this government to listen to teachers and educationalists.
Chris Newman, Cardiff

Stephen Ball and others on ‘Performativity’

Performativity invites and incites us to make ourselves more effective, to work on ourselves to improve ourselves and to feel guilty or inadequate if we do not

Performativity is enacted through measures and targets against which we are expected to position ourselves but often in ways that also produce uncertainties about how we should organise ourselves within our work.

Performativity ‘works’ most powerfully when it is inside our heads and our souls

Experienced either way its effects are to alter our working practices, our goals and satisfactions and our identities – our sense of who we are at work. In a sense it is about making the individual into an enterprise, a self-maximising productive unit operating in a market of performances

In being responsible and serious we make our work and ourselves into measurable entities and render our worth in terms of our ‘output’.

Performativity drives out those things which cannot be justified in its terms.

Commitments are sacrificed for impression. But the force and logic of performance are hard to avoid.

This is, ‘the re-invention of professionals themselves as units of resource whose performance and productivity must constantly be audited so that it can be enhanced’

Performativityindividualises and fragments and leaves us to struggle alone with our doubts and fears.

We are required to spend increasing amounts of our time in making ourselves accountable, reporting on what we do rather than doing it. And there are a particular set of skills to be acquired here – skills of presentation and of inflation, making the most of ourselves, making a spectacle of ourselves.

Ball S.J. (various papers)

The point is that we make ourselves calculable rather than memorable. Experience is nothing, productivity is everything. We must keep up, meet the new and ever more diverse targets which we set for ourselves in appraisal meetings, confess and confront our weaknesses, undertake appropriate and value-enhancing professional development, and take up opportunities for making ourselves more productive,

Ball S.J. (Aug 2005) ‘Health Sociology Review Special Issue: Workplace Health: The Injuries of NeoliberalismVolume 14/1Published

We and our workplace are made visible and we become ‘subjects which have to be seen’ (p. 187)

Foucault, M. (1979) ‘Discipline and Punish’ Peregrine Harmondsworth

Gray illustrates this in her discussion of the performance management of Training and Enterprise Councils. Her examples show ‘how the preoccupation with quantitative indicators and quantitative targets in “contract culture” leads to perverse results’. She calls these perversities ‘target fetishism’, that is ‘a concern with targets which threatens to become detached from the social purposes of the policies at stake’ (p. 353).

Gray, A. (1997) ‘Contract Culture and target fetishism: the distortive effects of output measures on local regeneration programmes’ Local Economy, 11, 243-257

Saltman sees the hegemony of the market and the profit incentive as displacing the struggle over values, which is an essential condition of democracy.

Saltman, K. J. (2000) ‘Collateral Damage: Corporatizing public schools – A threat to democracy’ Rowan and Littlefield, Lanham: Maryland.

Rose points out this involves ‘the supplanting of certain norms, such as those of service and dedication, with others such as those of competition, quality and customer demand’. We are re-positioned as ‘autonomous’ but ‘calculating’ agents. We are thus made responsive and productive. Deliberation and judgment are no longer of value here – except when applied to commercial well-being. Our contractual obligations, survival in the marketplace or achievement of targets are the new basis of ‘professional’ responsibility. (p.56)

Rose, N. (1996) ‘Governing “advanced” liberal democracies’ in ‘Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, neo-liberalism and rationalities of government’ Eds, Barry, A., Osborne, T. and Rose, N. UCL Press, London.