Education unions consistently fail to protect their members from intimidation, argues Education Forum member Alka Sehgal Cuthbert in CapX…

Last year, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary entitled The School That Tried to End Racism, in which pupils were segregated by skin colour to ‘do the race work’ required of them by so-called ‘race experts’. It won a Bafta, rather than the public condemnation it deserved.

The lack of public or official criticism served as a green light for educator-activists already working within schools to up the ante and push for an actively anti-racist agenda. Being non-racist, the traditional default position, was no longer an option because it denied positions of structural power into which we are, allegedly, all born. To impose a belief without interrogation isn’t education, it’s indoctrination, and it should have no place in our schools and universities. Yet the attack on Kathleen Stock by the University and College Union for her views on transgender issues is the latest reminder of how organisations that are supposed to represent educators consistently fail to protect their members.

Read the full article on CapX.

Education Forum organiser Harley Richardson spoke on the ‘Reimagining schools’ panel at the Battle of Ideas festival, which took place in Westminster on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th October...

Pandemic or no pandemic, I think it’s always worth asking could schools be done differently? Could be they be done better? There’s still plenty of scope to experiment – we’ve hardly exhausted all the possibilities. But the sorts of schools we imagine will be shaped by our answer to the question – what do we think schools are for?

And people have been grappling with that question ever since education came into being, ever since civilisations evolved beyond the struggle for mere survival and people had choice about what to teach. One answer has been what the Ancient Greeks called a liberal education – which has taken many forms over the centuries but in essence involves passing on what we know about the world – the best that has been thought and known, no less. Or, perhaps, a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’, to coin a phrase. Why? Because such knowledge is interesting in its own right, it enriches our lives, helps us get a better purchase on the world.

But, you might object – learning stuff for the sake of it is a luxury, an indulgence. Why should schools teach children stuff they don’t need to know? And that’s true – that’s what makes a ‘liberal education’ liberal, it’s what we learn in our free time, in the broadest sense of the phrase. The free time for children to be educated, as opposed to working up a chimney for a living. This idea is actually encoded rather beautifully in the word ‘school’ – which derives from the Ancient Greek word for ‘leisure’.

But this leisure, this unnecessary aspect of education is more than an indulgence, it’s what creates possibilities, it’s what enables us to see beyond the immediate. It’s what has made space for the intellectual and material breakthroughs that have moved society forward and created more freedom and free time for us all.

But this liberating potential of education is also unnerving. We don’t know where it will take us. It comes with no guarantees. It’s a leap of faith, in people and what they will do with knowledge. Do we have that faith? Those who don’t, inevitably try to control and direct education.

Read the full speech at Learning through the ages.

After the pandemic, the new education secretary has some extraordinary damage to repair, argues Gareth Sturdy in Spiked…

The role of education secretary is daunting at the best of times. Education is how we as a society pass on our most important knowledge to the next generation. It is how we socialise our young people into our values. Arguably, education secretary is one of the most important jobs in the British government.

But Nadhim Zahawi, who was made education secretary in the cabinet reshuffle last week, has an even more daunting task ahead of him. He has to reckon with the legacy of two academic years in which schools were closed and education was sidelined by his hapless predecessor, Gavin Williamson.

After the pandemic, the new education secretary has some extraordinary damage to repair. Here are five things he needs to focus on in order to rebuild our education system and rebuild trust with pupils and parents...

Read the full article in Spiked.

Schools have long played a part in shaping young people’s morality, but the government’s new RSE demands risk taking this role a step too far, cautions Ian Mitchell in the latest Education Forum column for Teach Secondary magazine…

Schools have long been expected to help shape the moral character of their students. In presenting his 1944 Education Act to parliament, R.A. Butler claimed that, ‘Family life is the healthiest cell in the body politic. It is the Government’s desire that family life shall be encouraged.’

However, this shaping of moral character was hitherto achieved via the teaching of specific knowledge and/or implicit endorsement of family values. Supporting development is one thing; determining development is quite another.

Unfortunately, contemporary politicians increasingly see schools and teachers in the same way that Priestley saw his enigmatic inspector – as agents of morality who can explicitly put the world to rights. While flattering, I fear that teachers are no more effective at combatting social problems, such as sexual harassment, than Priestley’s inspector was at promoting socialism...

Read the full article on TeachWire.

Education Forum founder Dennis Hayes has written an essay for a new Higher Education Policy Institute report, What is the student voice? Thirteen essays on how to listen to students and how to act on what they say

…Often people argue that the university should be a safe space for discussion. But that is not what “safe space” means today. It means a place where ideas that are deemed unacceptable by the emotionally offended can be excluded. But that is not a university. … Students should leave their safe spaces, managerial committees and destressing programmes and get back to raising their traditional voice. This may seem nothing like a return to the student radicalism of the 1960s but in contemporary therapy culture it would be equally radical...

Read the full essay here.

Classics should not be the preserve of the posh, writes Gareth Sturdy in Spiked

…The programme has provoked considerable outrage from the liberal-left. Critics of the government say its focus on Latin is a sign of its ‘elitism’. But if ‘elitism’ is the belief that pupils’ backgrounds should determine which subjects are appropriate for them to learn, then the Latin Excellence programme looks like a challenge to elitism. Dismissing the idea that working-class kids might enjoy or profit from learning Latin — that is what is really elitist here…

Read the full article on Spiked.

Writing for Don’t Divide Us, Alex Standish considers the ways in which a seemingly well-intentioned campaign by Students Organising for Sustainability and the University and College Union is actually elitist, anti-democratic and, if successful, likely to make lives worse for many who are already disadvantaged.

The first question to ask is why are a group of students and the largest lecturers union in the UK seeking to use their campaign to ‘transform how and what we learn’ in schools and universities rather than raising awareness about these political issues? Their approach implies that there is something wrong with our current curriculum, even though students already learn about climate change and Britain’s colonial past in school subjects. Secondly, why would they put forward such as campaign without discussing the potential for indoctrination (tying learning to political outcomes) which will undoubtedly compromise the educational mission of schools and universities?

Read on at Don’t Divide Us.

Between modern aversions to notions of ‘authority’ and the policing of public discourse, is it any surprise that teachers are finding it harder to be authoritative, asks Alka Sehgal Cuthbert in the Education Forum’s latest column for Teach Secondary magazine

If there’s one place in society where we’d want adults to be authority figures, you’d think it would be schools. Yet today, it seems that there’s an ambivalence, or even hostility to the idea of teachers acting in an authoritative manner, such that the job of educating is being made harder than ever.

Take two recent examples. Firstly, that of the teacher at Batley Grammar School who was deserted by his head, colleagues and union representatives when some parents and members of local Muslim groups – not all of whom even had children at the school – expressed offence at his showing of a cartoon depicting Mohammed in a RE lesson about tolerance and freedom of thought.

In the face of protests at the school gates, the head suspended the teacher (and later his two colleagues) before issuing an apology to those protesting. An investigation is ongoing while the teacher and his family remain in hiding.

The second example is that of Pimlico Academy, where students held protests over the school’s policies regarding its uniform, curriculum and flying of the national flag. The head, Daniel Smith, subsequently resigned, not long after NEU members at the school passed a vote of no confidence in him.

At first glance, both cases concerned a teacher or leader who had seemingly shown insufficient sensitivity to feelings centred around race or religion. Yet wherever you stand on the specifics involved, there are deeper issues at play here that don’t relate to racism or religious discrimination, but which serve to give both incidents, and others like them, their incendiary character. Those issues involve long-standing problems with teachers’ authority, and related failings of solidarity…

Read the full article on TeachWire.

The second edition of What Schools Should Teach: Disciplines, Subjects and the Pursuit of Truth (UCL Press 2021), edited by Education Forum members Alka Sehgal Cuthbert and Alex Standish, has been given a glowing review in the journal of the British Educational Research Association (BERA)…

“…One of the book’s strengths is that it responds to and rejects these demands using the argument that the justification for such curriculum knowledge is epistemic, not political. Ideologies and beliefs are created in political and socio-cultural conditions. In contrast, disciplinary knowledge is created within the process of its epistemic structuration. It is at the point where the knowledge is applied to the material world that it is open to ideological appropriation. However, that appropriation is not because of the power generated from its epistemic character but by the politics of knowledge use.”

The full review is available on the BERA site.

What Schools Should Teach: Disciplines, Subjects and the Pursuit of Truth is available in paperback, hardback and PDF versions from UCL Press.

Writing in the Education Forum’s regular column for Teach Secondary magazine, Sarah Standish explains why going heavy on the negative predictions concerning young people’s post-COVID mental health carries its own set of risks…

When the world dramatically changes to the point where life as we knew it is but a memory, it’s reasonable to evaluate and consider the resulting impact on the human experience.

Consequently, over the past few months we’ve been bombarded by news items informing us of the many negative ways in which lockdown and the pandemic have, and will continue to affect most areas of our lives.

More recently, headlines have described the future of our young people in damning terms – but the messages they carry may actually be harmful.

This may sound controversial coming from a professional counsellor based at a large secondary school. In my 28-year counselling career, I’ve never been more acutely aware of the losses, pressures and concerns that young people are facing. I see the impact of the pandemic on a daily basis – which is why I feel we need to be more measured and thoughtful in how we discuss and debate its impact on our children’s future...

Read the full article on Teachwire.