Traditional vs Progressive: a riposte

There is a school of thought that argues we, in England, have gone way too far down the ‘progressive’ route in education. I’ve looked at this here, here and here. For me the traditional vs progressive debate is a false one because in 2016 neither approach is dominant and the two approaches have much to offer. Certainly individual teachers can be appalled at a woolly approach to, for example, learning verb endings and then blame it on the ‘progressives’ but this doesn’t dig deep enough. We must consider something very obvious indeed here: teaching takes place in many different contexts e.g. a class of teenagers preparing for a French GCSE, a class of six year olds starting a new topic about volcanoes, a small group tutorial at university discussing the romantic poets etc etc. Naturally enough these examples may lead to the teacher choosing a more ‘progressive’ approach or a more ‘traditional’ one.
Considering these two very straightforward insights – both approaches have much to offer, context is all – prompts the question ‘Why has the ‘progressive vs traditional’ debate opened up in recent years?’ I would argue that there are two main reasons and neither has very much to do with what is best for learners. Firstly, it lends weight to and shores up a sense of ‘us and them’ between the freshly emerging academies and the state sector. Secondly an emphasis on ‘traditional’ knowledge transference is being actively promoted by reformers who are approaching education as accountants: teachers as low-skilled and, crucially, low paid curriculum-deliverers and the extension of this idea to cheap online/computer-based learning:
“…the education we’re currently providing, or the way we’re providing it, just isn’t sustainable…Instead we have to ask, ‘How can we use technology as a tool to recreate the entire college experience? How can we provide a better education to more people for less money?” 1
Bill Gates, 2013
This is combined with a notion that ‘delivering education at scale’ requires standardised templates (e.g. ED Hirsch and the Common Core) that can be rolled out internationally:
‘The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development and formative assessments…the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.” 2
(US Secretary of Education) Arne Duncan’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss, 2011
This is why I think of organisations like Civitas, vigorously promoting a so-called anti-progressive point of view, as deeply cynical.
The idea that this is a false debate is supported by the very origins of the word ‘education’. I can’t think of a better way of summing up my own point of view:
“…educare, to train or to mold; educere, to lead out or draw out. Educare involves the preservation of knowledge and tradition . . . Educere involves preparing new generations for the inevitability of change.” 3
In other words, within the word education itself are contained the seeds of both the traditional (to train or to mold) and progressive (to lead out or draw out) philosophies.

1. Mark Parry, Kelly Field and Becky Supiano ‘The Gates Effect’ in ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education’ quoted in Cody, Anthony ‘The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation’ Garn Press 2014 p.37
2. ‘The Innovation Mismatch: ‘Smart Capital’ and education Innovation in the Harvard Business Review blog quoted in Cody, Anthony ‘The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation’ Garn Press p.28
3. Bowman, W. (2012) ‘Music’s Place in Education’. In G. McPherson & G. Welch (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Vol. I O.U.P. p.24

Question: What is Education? Answer: An emerging market!

In the following link Stefan Collini reviews two books that both look into the marketisation of higher education. It is shocking stuff:

Meanwhile here are some extracts from my own talk about the marketisation of education that I delivered at the State of Education Conference on Saturday 1st March (

[I’ve removed all the material that is already referred  to on this blog]

A picture of an increasingly marketised system including suggestions of how to confront and transform this by building and sharing understanding  and thereby empowering teachers


Quotes in italics from Chapter 8 of

Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history

Thatcher’s neo-liberal policies affected not only industry and commerce but also public services. Conservative legislation sought to drive neo-liberal principles into the heart of public policy. An emphasis on cost reduction, privatisation and deregulation was accompanied by vigorous measures against the institutional bases of Conservatism’s opponents, and the promotion of new forms of public management. The outcome of these processes was a form of governance in which market principles were advanced at the same time as central authority was strengthened.

Thus the twin aims of Margaret Thatcher’s education policies in the 1980s were to convert the nation’s schools system from a public service into a market, and to transfer power from local authorities to central government.

The origins of this policy can be traced back to the establishment in 1955 of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a right-wing think-tank which, during the 1970s, had worked tirelessly to persuade the Conservative Party to abandon the post-war welfare consensus and embrace social and educational policies based on nineteenth-century free-market anti-statism.

1. Centre for Policy Studies (1974) Keith Joseph a co-founder (went on to be Ed Sec in 1981)

2. Policy Exchange (2002) Michael Gove a co-founder (went on to became Ed Sec in 2010)

3. Centre for Market Reform of Education (2011) An education research and policy unit based at the offices of the IEA. “We believe that the main problem in education is the lack of incentives to improve pupil performance” they say, which is enough to immediately express their lack of interest in any educational philosophy.  “Its purpose is to explore the benefits of more diverse, competitive and entrepreneurial provision in the education sector and the feasibility of market-led solutions to public policy issues.” (quotes from the IEA’s website)

Central to the role of these Think Tanks is to attack teachers and weaken Local Education Authorities (LEAs)

Attack teachers

Central government also sought greater control over teachers.

In 1984 the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE) was established to set standards for initial teacher training courses.

In a move designed to reduce the influence of teachers in curriculum development, the Schools Council, in which teachers had played a significant role, was abolished in 1984. Its work was shared between the School Examinations Council (SEC), whose members were nominated by the secretary of state, and the School Curriculum Development Council (SCDC), which was specifically instructed not to ‘concern itself with policy’.

i.e. disempowering: we don’t want teachers running education!

And in 1985 Keith Joseph proposed linking teacher appraisal and performance-related pay. The result was a year of industrial action by teachers.

Weaken LEAs

For Thatcher, the local authorities – many of them run by Labour – were an irritant, blocking central government’s ability to affect what was going on in the schools. Her government therefore set about weakening the role of the LEAs by dismantling the triangular framework of responsibility – central government, local authorities and the schools – which had been established by the 1944 Education Act, and by offering parents a greater role in the running of schools.

Of course this all sounds familiar today, thirty years later because it was continued by New Labour and the current coalition; decisions are made by Think Tanks and agendas are pushed through in a mockery of a healthy democratic process. For thirty years this agenda has been pushed; it’s still not in place because people don’t want it; look at the number of forced academisations.


Two books that discuss the ongoing marketisation of all aspects of our lives:

‘What Money Can’t Buy: the Moral Limits of the Market’ by Michael Sandel 2012

‘I spend therefore I am: The True Cost of Economics’ by Philip Roscoe 2014

Even Gary Linekar recognises the main reason that all is not well:

There are a number of things that I find bewildering about our education system. We have to do sciences. We have to do mathematics. We have to do things that will probably not help us in life unless you end up being a chemist or something. How many people find chemistry useful? Chemistry is good because we get more business. It builds big business and all of that. That’s always the argument. But physical exercise is invaluable etc

(Gary Linekar in The Times 01.03.14)

Marketisation/neoliberal philosophy helps us to make sense of all the current reforms in education, for example:

1.     ‘Flexible’ working hours i.e. make the running of schools more attractive to private organisations by removing teachers professionality and autonomy

2.     Longer pupil-working hours i.e. create a national landscape  even more favourable for employers by making schools even more intrusive on family time so that mum and dad can get out and work, work, work

3.     Academies/Free Schools i.e. removing local accountability: private interests can promote unwholesome ideologies and, of course, will pursue profits above all else; when allowed to oversee public services we are drifting away from any democratic ideals: a democracy rests on its public institutions, lots of little local organisations overseen regionally and these regions overseen nationally, in theory pursuing what is best for all.

Examples of dodgy practice (taken from the Local Schools Network):

–         Bruce Liddington (previous CEO of E-ACT) was able to pay himself £300,000; the head of the Harris chain paid himself even more

–         Barnfield College in Bedforshire claimed £1 million for non-existent students

–         The Guardian found academy chains paying millions to private firms associated with their directors

–         Some academy administrators don’t exist (!) e.g. Carillion Academies Trust

4.     Ongoing maligning of the profession/deprofessionalisation One example from the recent press: ‘Teachers who talk are back in favour’ a recent Times headline smugly suggesting teachers had not been speaking in lessons (note that ‘child-centred learning’ is referred to as ‘left-wing’ in the article; of course it is no such thing). Or look at the impact of Ofsted, an organisation that saw nothing wrong with spending two decades judging teachers purely on lesson observations; only very recently they decided that actually it would be fairer to ‘triangulate’ this lesson observation evidence with class results and an inspection of the children’s work over time. Why would it take Ofsted twenty years to realise this is a better way of assessing a teacher? Ofsted had spent this time crushing debate, dialogue and critical thought amongst teachers; a continuation of the process of reducing teachers to mere technicians delivering a curriculum, not autonomous professionals

Bogus parameters of the educational debate

To know about these neo-liberal market-led approaches is to understand our education system. Colleagues do not have this level of knowledge; the NUT rarely encourages this sort of level of understanding.

We can think of three pillars supporting the professionalism of each teacher:

1.     The generic skills of being ‘a teacher’

2.     The set of skills associated with a teacher’s particular specialism

3.     An understanding of historic, local, national and international perspectives

This third is usually withered or non-existent amongst teachers, in my experience. The NUT is weak;  look at the ‘Social Partnership’ set up in 2001 (and don’t forget that the fight for an all-graduate profession had only been won in the last twenty years so this was a big step in the wrong direction). John Kelly, Professor of Management at the London School of Economics has written extensively about the development of ‘social partnerships’ in a diverse range of industries pointing out that the main aim of these arrangements is to replace collective agreements with direct control by the employer.

Look at the public debate in newspapers/radio:

False Dichotomies

Teacher Talk vs Child-Centred discussion/group work

Teaching reading through Phonics vs Other Methods

Rote Learning in maths vs Other Methods

This curriculum vs that curriculum

Any decent teacher knows that good teaching may use any and all of the above; these are not one-versus-the-other debates. Those promoting them (politicians and journalists) and those joining in (lots of teachers) are all helping to create a facade behind which the long-term plans overseen by the Think Tanks I’ve mentioned carry on their work


·        “Inject more rigour into the state system” Michael Gove (The New Statesman 12.02.14); after decades of pursuing this aim it is an empty statement

·        “Poorer children are denied the opportunity…to contribute to our national renaissance” Michael Gove (The New Statesman 12.02.14); thanks in no small part to the concerted assault on comprehensive education over the last forty years!

·        Teaching is essentially nothing more than ‘telling’; hence the government’s enthusiasm for ‘Troops to Teachers’; the behaviourist line taken by the army in its own training or conditioning looks to the ignorant like a very effective way of ‘getting the message across’; but teaching isn’t telling and the subtle difference is often lost on politicians and the general public alike; behaviourism is defined in the Chambers dictionary as the “theory that behaviour is governed by conditioning rather than internal processes”; needless to say it’s the internal processes that non-teachers often miss!

·        Private schools are superior: is this because “market principles were advanced at the same time as central authority was strengthened”? (Gillan D. see quotations above) i.e. state schools were led away from good practice by a government fixated on central control and ultimately creating a market in education

·        Educational success can be judged by the economic success of a country: for example a recent Radio 4 programme, about maths-teaching, stated simply that Australia’s twenty straight years of economic growth proved that they had got maths-teaching right in that country

·        Life is a competition, a global race (Bertrand Russell, “All belief in the utility of competition has become an anachronism… (competition) is not in itself admirable since the emotions with which it is connected are the emotions of hostility and ruthlessness.” Education and Society 1932 [ ‘A Bigger Prize’ by Margaret Heffernan, 2014 also addresses this issue]

The debate nationally then,  is at a poorly informed and journalistic level, sometimes to the point of absurdity:

–         should we call the subject maths or numeracy?

–         an ‘embedded clause’ has been known as a ‘relative clause’ since November 2013

–         more recently I was given a document explaining that children will no longer study invertebrates in Year 1

These are real examples that illustrate the existence of a useless strata of administrators working hard to maintain the relevance of their own jobs, neither grappling with the big questions nor working hard as teachers and gaining experience in actual schools.

Let’s remember that this false front of unreal debate and meaningless tinkering is overseen by a sophisticated class of politicians who are well qualified for the job of presenting a front in this way: David Cameron worked in PR as did Ed Vaizey and Michael Gove has a background in journalism.


“For (Paulo) Freire, human beings, as beings endowed with consciousness, have at least some awareness of their conditioning and their freedom. They meet with obstacles in their personal and social lives, and they see them as obstructions to be overcome. Freire calls these obstructions or barriers ‘limit situations’. Men and women take a number of different attitudes toward these ‘limit situations’. They may perceive the barriers in question as obstacles that cannot be removed. Or they perceive them as obstacles that they do not wish to remove. Or they may perceive them as obstacles they know exist and need to be broken through. In this last case, they devote themselves to overcoming them. Here there has been a critical perception of the ‘limit situation’. And so the persons who have understood it seek to act: they are challenged, and feel themselves challenged, to solve these problems of the society in which they live, in the best possible manner, and in an atmosphere of hope and confidence.”

From the notes, written by Ana Maria Araujo Freire, in ‘Pedagogy of Hope’ by Paulo Freire,

My definition of ‘Direct action’ in this context is any action, however small, that either raises your own, your colleagues’ or the public’s awareness or directly confronts destructive command and control systems of professional organisation i.e. those practises that dis-empower the individual professional (e.g. excessively prescriptive curriculum, punitive observation regimes and so on)

What you can do:

–         Read up on educational philosophy, critical theory, educational history, international comparisons, current debate (see Local Schools Network)

–         Talk to your colleagues, especially when they are demoralised by the burdens of the preposterous and mean-spirited system that is in place at the moment; put their own struggles into perspective

–         Confront the bogus judgements of any inspector head-on (in-school, local authority or Ofsted); don’t just moan with colleagues later

–         Write a BLOG if only to keep yourself sane, this is how mine started; blogs, forums, twitter are all ways of connecting up the fragments of dissent

–         Connect directly with academics; if you like a book you’ve read and it resonates because of your own professional experiences then email the author; I highly recommend this; there is a disconnect between the often highly critical world of academic thought and the ordinary teacher on the ground. This has to be addressed

–         Insist that your local library orders an informative book about education e.g. Pasi Sahlberg’s remarkable ‘Finnish Lessons’ (this is what Francis Gilbert did)

–         Write a letter of support to your child’s school, or any random school, when you learn that it has been given a kicking by Ofsted; I did this and you can see the letter on my Blog

–         Write confrontational emails to journalists and Think-Tankers with whom you disagree; point out what they have chosen to ignore; for me people like this are the lowest type of intellectual hypocrite because of what they consciously choose to ignore.

Email to Ed Dorrell, TES features and comment editor

A couple of months ago Ed Dorrell, the features editor at the TES, wrote an editorial about school autonomy and whether or not it is really happening. Unfortunately I can’t give you a link to the piece because you have to subscribe to the TES to see it online. I wrote to him because I felt that he hadn’t made any effort to unpick the terms or look behind the motives of those pushing for greater school ‘autonomy’.
Here’s the email (it’s not as long as the Gabriel Sahlgren one but like that email it also went unanswered):
Some thoughts on your recent editorial: ‘school autonomy’ is something that the appallingly disempowered teachers in this country would love to see across the board (i.e. not just a privilege for certain types of schools); for some reason though it has to be wrapped up with a push for the marketisation of education. The use of the expression ‘school autonomy’ is much the same as the hijacking of the term ‘free school’. This push for marketisation, including the shrewd choice of words, is well documented and understood by those who have studied it (e.g. Kenneth J Saltman) and indeed it is being pushed for by organisations with explicit names like ‘The Centre for Market Reform of Education’. It is a worry for me because a democracy rests on its social institutions. Without publicly accountable social institutions we are not really in a democracy anymore. How long until the House of Commons is privatised? I realise this is facetious which is why I’d like to quote Michael Sandel to make my point for me:

“Democratic governance is radically devalued if reduced to the role of handmaiden to the market economy. Democracy is about more than fixing and tweaking and nudging incentives to make markets work better… (it) is about much more than maximising GDP, or satisfying consumer preferences. It’s also about seeking distributive justice; promoting the health of democratic institutions; and cultivating the solidarity and sense of community that democracy requires. Market mimicking governance – at its best – can satisfy us as consumers. But it can do nothing to make us democratic citizens.”

(Sandel, M. ‘A New Politics of the Common Good’ Lecture 4, BBC Reith Lectures 30th June 2009)

This captures my own misgivings very well.

While I was very glad to hear of the “growing disenchantment” with market-led initiatives I wish you had included the point of view that I’ve tried to put across here. It’s a point of view that is rarely aired in the mainstream media.

You also wrote about “delegated power”: you wrote about shifting authority “as far down as it will go” suggesting that this might even go “all the way to the classroom teacher”. It’s seems sad to me that this should be seen as really extreme (“…all the way”) since teachers are the ones in the classrooms actually doing the teaching! But what is really remarkable is that you don’t even mention the children. Can I recommend a book called ‘Children Don’t Start Wars” by David Gribble? It’s a powerful argument for shifting authority “as far down as it will go”, that is: to the children.

I also note that you, as features and comment editor of the TES, do not have a background in education. With all due respect this seems odd to me. But then again, Michael Gove also has a background in journalism and not in education himself!

Market Reform of Education: My Letter to Gabriel H Sahlgren

I read your article (Leave Schools Alone to Judge the Best in Show) in the most recent TES (20.09.13) with great interest. I have written and re-written my email to you because I had to remove lots of spittle-flecked ranting in an attempt to engage with your underlying philosophy. My main question I suppose is: what convinces you that the market – an entity that seeks profit above all else – would be the best model on which to base a national education system? What I have written here is not an academic, properly sourced essay.
As you will see I have tried to point out that there are other ways of improving the education system (if indeed it needs to be improved) that have nothing to do with making education into a market. You must understand that I read books with titles like ‘Hidden Privatisation in Public Education’, ‘Education in a Post Welfare Society’, ‘The Global assault on Teaching, Teachers and Their Unions’ and so on.  So for me an organisation like the Centre for the Market Reform of Education is, if not sinister, then certainly unwholesome!
According to your article ‘flexibility’ is not as prevalent within the teaching profession as it might be and training and experience really count for practically nothing. It’s a stunning opening considering the target audience. Your highly contentious conclusion that training and experience count for nothing has, you tell us, ‘profound implications’ for teacher’s pay and conditions: having disregarded the real value and worth of the entire teaching profession in a few sentences it is then simple enough for you to suggest that teachers do not really need any kind of ongoing job security. But it’s also true, wouldn’t you agree, that teacher’s nationally agreed pay and conditions have ‘profound implications’ for the future profitability of schools too? After all how on earth is anyone going to make any money out of education (worth many billions globally of course) if most of the money goes to teachers? It is this point that lies at the heart of the debate. Associating the apparent worthlessness of training and experience with teacher’s pay and conditions is, for me, ‘Bogus Connection Number One’. I will highlight ‘Bogus Connection Number Two’ later on.
It makes me think of James O’ Shaughnessy eagerly promoting the idea of for-profit companies becoming involved in running academies whilst also himself being the director of Mayforth Consulting (educational support services) who will of course be first in line for some of those profits. He said it was because there are so many academies now that not-for-profit companies and charities won’t be able to cope with it all: always thinking of others it would seem!
With the help of various think tanks, including CMRE presumably, Michael Gove is able to follow the same long term agenda with education as Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt (and others before them) have been following with the NHS. That is:
1) Weaken professional coherence and self-awareness with a constant treadmill of ill thought through changes
2) Work to undermine the public’s confidence in the system
3) Push through privatisation initiatives regardless of financial or human cost
This approach is understandable given the absolute primacy of the market in both the Labour and Conservative mind-set (to put it politely). After all isn’t Nigel Lawson taking an interest in Somalian oil these days and isn’t Jonathan Powell hoping to help himself to some Romanian gold?
I’m sure you are correct to state that there are some low quality teachers out there who are getting away with it, much as, sad to say, there are people in every walk of life who bring little additional value to what they are doing. It’s not clear, though, why headteachers cannot be trusted to see off hopeless teachers and why Ofsted cannot go about its business highlighting low quality schools and insisting on improvement. I also agree that it is daft to have a one-size-fits-all qualification requirement to enter teaching. To use a personal example I know somebody who is an excellent artist, brilliant with children and yet, due to not having a maths GCSE, she cannot become an art teacher. The GCSE is an added hoop to jump through and what’s more it will be of practically no genuine use to her as an art teacher.
I’m not convinced though that removing teacher’s pay and conditions is the way to tackle this. A large proportion of new teachers drop out within three years because it is such a demanding and stressful job. Those who stick at it should be able to rely on some sort of consistent national pay-scale during their career. I suppose this must be a tricky issue for free marketeers everywhere: teaching is a job that doesn’t so easily fit the desired ‘flexibility’ that we are all told is the new ‘norm’ (a norm that is very appealing to employers, perhaps less attractive to employees). Teachers really do carry on for years and years doing the same job. Viewed as a craft this isn’t a problem, in fact it’s the opposite. As a teacher I find it very disheartening that you should place so little value on experience, or at least claim that because there is hardly any ‘evidence’ it is something that can be easily disregarded. I’m also concerned that the sort of changes you argue for are coming from outside the profession. This doesn’t feel at all natural to me (see the Diane Ravitch quote below).
You are keen on ‘incentivising’ teachers to produce better ‘performance’. This I also find distressing, largely I must admit because it is ugly management talk. It is hard to take this angle seriously though because every teacher I’ve ever met has been very motivated to do what’s best for the children in their care. It really is the starting point of being a teacher. It’s depressingly cynical to suggest that, in fact, most teachers are not extremely motivated and if they were ‘incentivised’ (presumably with rewards and bonuses and so on) that they would ‘perform’ better. You must know that teachers put in enormous hours during term time and it is recognised as a very stressful occupation. This is not a group of people that needs to be incentivized. What is needed is an end to relentless government tinkering (see point 1 above). To get rid of national pay and conditions is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, teachers would like to have more freedom to experiment and actually be teachers – autonomous within a collegiate structure – instead of mere technicians delivering a centrally prescribed curriculum; but no, teachers do not want to see the loosening of government ties meaning the end of any job security (obviously!) You, on the other hand, would like to see such an occurrence because it helps to usher in what I understand are referred to as quasi-markets (i.e. markets where there really isn’t a need for a market except for the fact that loads of what Private Eye would call ‘wonks’ are spending day and night pushing for one…because ultimately it will help public money move into private hands).
The fact that it is not easy to measure a teacher’s ‘effectiveness’ is referred to in the article. It’s an input/output model: input the subject knowledge, skills, training and experience of the teachers and output the knowledge, skills and grades of the students. The problem is that it’s all so hard to measure. The following line from your article must have looked bizarre to the many teachers who read it:
“…some evidence exists that teachers’ subject knowledge does make a difference to their students’ performance.”
Only ‘some’ evidence? Wouldn’t all the children who pass their exams count as ‘evidence’? I can understand that a data-driven mindset could miss this point. It can’t be easy piecing together ‘evidence’ that the whole system needs to be radically overhauled right now. It’s a problem when the evidence isn’t really, incontrovertibly there isn’t it? Over in America with more data to draw on and the same lack of conclusive evidence that ‘Ed reform’ really makes much difference they’ve plugged the gap with films like ‘Waiting for Superman’ to help influence public opinion (see point 2 above).
Of course there is an ongoing effort to move schools towards rigid and mechanical systems of performance management. Professor Stephen Ball does an excellent job of deconstructing these new ‘performativity’ models; I say this because his writing on this subject uncannily captured my exact situation in a school I worked at. The cold, data-driven model of performance management really did, for me in one particular setting, force me to put a lot of time and effort into the management of the spectacle of my work. This grotesque intrusion meant I had less time to work at my job! Management insisted on highly formalised performance management meetings that put the individual staff members on the back foot trying to justify themselves to senior staff who already knew the extent and success of their work because they worked with these teachers every day and they already possessed all the data needed on every child in that school! The point I’m making here is that the dreamed-of highly-measurable performance indicators are a certain type of manager’s idea of perfection but they are neither useful on the ground nor conducive to a mutually supportive collegiate atmosphere that one would expect in any decent school.
I agree with you that teachers should be able to experiment; in fact it might be said that a teacher who has stopped experimenting is no longer a teacher. However I do not understand how you are able to draw the conclusion that “stronger experimentation…requires lax central control.” This for me is ‘Bogus Connection Number Two’ and it can be refuted in a number of ways. For example central government could insist on experimentation, or central government might not take too much interest in exactly how the teaching is carried out in different institutions. I do understand why you chose to draw this conclusion though: it quickly equates something that will appeal to teachers (having the freedom to experiment) with what the CMRE wants to happen to education in this country. How fortunate that most teachers are too busy to take you up on this stuff!
Sadly you didn’t have time in your TES article to consider the shortcomings of de-centralising employment terms and pay to the school level. Perhaps a more balanced TES article will be forthcoming from someone else less directly involved in the direction of the debate itself. I would point out though that you missed a wonderful history-teaching opportunity for all the many thousands of teachers who read the TES: performance-related pay was tried at the end of the nineteenth century in this country, back then referred to as ‘payment by results’. It led to a narrower curriculum, teaching to the test and various different strategies to mess around with statistics. These three shortcomings are already, to some extent, in place in our English education system and would certainly become far worse if what you are suggesting comes into practice. Maybe the reason you have not mentioned this important fact, part of our collective history, is not just because it suits you to keep your readers in the dark but also because your agenda is not to do with what is best for teachers and children.
Some good ideas that really would help to improve schooling for all and do not have anything to do with ushering in a new age of educational profiteering (i.e. not necessarily subscribing to the entirely market-driven outlook of our current era) are:
1. Reduce class-size to twenty maximum
2. Only allow people with 2:1s and Firsts to be teachers; you need to be articulate and capable of critical thought to be a teacher. Insisting on a high level of qualification would go some way to ensuring this. There could be other routes involving years of in-school work at the discretion of head teachers.
3. Anybody at policy level, especially the Education Secretary, should have at least twenty years of experience in education (not as a supplier of services but as a teacher and/or headteacher); as Diane Ravitch points out in her review of Pasi Sahlberg’s excellent ‘Finnish Lessons’:
“The new breed of school reformers consists mainly of Wall Street hedge fund managers, foundation officials, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and policymakers, but few experienced educators.”
How do we ensure that the state does not give up its role as a guarantor of the public good?

“The hallmark of public schools, often forgotten by charters and private schools, is that their purpose cannot only be the private good of its particular students. It must include the wider public good.”

Deborah Meier

In the case of the ‘Centre for Market Reform of Education’ I think the following quote is also relevant:
“What is built on falsehood is itself false.”

For me somebody like Ken Robinson is at the cutting edge of thinking about education. He’s inspiring because he is concerned with education and children and teachers. Did you notice how the word ‘markets’ did not come into that last sentence? Institutions like the NHS and mass-schooling – as we recognise it today – came about during a period when the whole population had been radicalised by years of war. Today people are more comfortable and less radical than at that extraordinary time. Instead of having policy led by the wishes of the people we have policy led by people like you. I don’t mean this in a rude way. I hope you don’t regard the above correspondence as rude in any way. I did once make the mistake of sending a similar email to somebody with whom I also disagreed heartily. It was taken as an insult. It wasn’t meant to be. It is simply that I would be happier if the reforms you suggest had actually bubbled up from teachers and families. It would feel more real. After all isn’t that what a democracy is supposed to look like?

Yours sincerely etc.

Unavoury Gove: Recipe for Disaster

Here is a diagram that illustrates the links between Michael Gove and his privatisation chums (click on it to enlarge it). Francis Gilbert made this, he is one of the founders of the Local Schools Network.

Goves Connections_Diagram

This diagram is very similar to the picture I had in my own head after reading the following story (not written by Francis Gilbert but on an unrelated website):

There is a recently posted, lengthy, very thorough and highly critical article about Michael Gove here:

Here is my own artistic response to all this:

Gove the imposter

Policy makers “…often know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” Michel Foucault

Whoops!! A bit too revealing!

Here is a recent advert encouraging graduates to join the teaching profession. It is really an advert encouraging graduates to join the management profession. I have not seen it since. Perhaps teachers complained about the implications: there’s nothing wrong with wanting out of the classroom as soon as possible and also management do not need a solid background in actual teaching!

Management Advert


I thought I’d liven up a last week’s staff meeting with a little bit of citric acid. When asked if there was Any Other Business (AOB) I had this to say:

“The recent NUT meeting that was called to elect a new representative was most fruitful”

[I hold up a lemon]

“This is Betty. She is your new NUT rep. And she says that everything’s just fine. But then…she’s a lemon! The sad news is that by the start of the Summer Term poor Betty will be little more than a puddle of green ooze. This means the school will have no NUT rep at all! By an interesting coincidence the film that our headteacher is encouraging us all to watch on that first day of the Summer term – Waiting for Superman – is very much an anti-union and pro-academy film. It’s a film that gets behind the odious argument that poverty itself is caused by bad teaching. These bad teachers are shunted about from school to school, because they are impossible to sack, says the film in a process known as The Dance of the Lemons”

[I waggle the lemon about a bit to show what a dancing lemon might look like]

“It doesn’t say what happens to bad management. Do they do a dance as well? Perhaps The Dance of the Apricots? We just don’t know. Anyway, please do watch the film and make up your own minds. And speak your mind. Don’t be a lemon…no offense Betty.”

On the subject of the odious argument mentioned above, and for your information dear reader, here are three paragraphs from an article about Pasi Sahlberg’s book ‘Finnish Lessons’ (by Diane Ravitch – 08.03.12 –

In recent years, elected officials and policymakers such as former president George W. Bush, former schools chancellor Joel Klein in New York City, former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have agreed that there should be “no excuses” for schools with low test scores. The “no excuses” reformers maintain that all children can attain academic proficiency without regard to poverty, disability, or other conditions, and that someone must be held accountable if they do not. That someone is invariably their teachers.

Nothing is said about holding accountable the district leadership or the elected officials who determine such crucial issues as funding, class size, and resource allocation. The reformers say that our economy is in jeopardy, not because of growing poverty or income inequality or the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, but because of bad teachers. These bad teachers must be found out and thrown out. Any laws, regulations, or contracts that protect these pedagogical malefactors must be eliminated so that they can be quickly removed without regard to experience, seniority, or due process.

The belief that schools alone can overcome the effects of poverty may be traced back many decades but its most recent manifestation was a short book published in 2000 by the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., titled No Excuses. In this book, Samuel Casey Carter identified twenty-one high-poverty schools with high test scores. Over the past decade, influential figures in public life have decreed that school reform is the key to fixing poverty. Bill Gates told the National Urban League, “Let’s end the myth that we have to solve poverty before we improve education. I say it’s more the other way around: improving education is the best way to solve poverty.” Gates never explains why a rich and powerful society like our own cannot address both poverty and school improvement at the same time.