Durham University’s plans to ‘decolonise’ maths are absurd, writes the Education Forum’s Gareth Sturdy in Spiked…

“…Decolonising mathematical knowledge effectively relativises it. That is, it opens the door to ‘ethnomathematics’ or ‘indigenous ways of knowing’, in which the value of knowledge is subordinate to the identity of the knower. The possibility of a mathematical proposition being true for everyone is ruled out. It suggests, instead, that there is merely a range of mathematical propositions, all of supposedly equal epistemic value. This is the mathematical equivalent of the ‘my truth / your truth’ belief that haunts contemporary culture in general…”

Read the full article on Spiked.

A philosophically-informed pedagogy may prove more beneficial for teachers than data-driven initiatives unsuited to the complexities of educational practice, argues Alka Sehgal Cuthbert in the Education Forum’s regular column for Teach Secondary…

“…Experimental research can falsify hypotheses and raise questions for further investigation. It is designed to empirically test theoretical claims. It does not ‘provide theory’. In fact, a recent study suggests that there’s little connection between teachers poring over research data and helping students learn more effectively – though many corporate entities have been doing rather well from the modern trend towards data-fetishisation in education.

When it comes to teaching, helping pupils learn and acquiring understanding of formal knowledge, teachers would do better by turning to philosophy, rather than data or narrowly focused research studies…”

Read the full article on Teachwire.

Woke academics think standard English is a tool of racial oppression, argues the Education Forum’s Gareth Sturdy in Spiked…

“…The main problem with this approach is that it assumes learning to write or speak correctly can only be negative. And that certain children will encounter the demand to write or speak correctly as an insurmountable burden or barrier.

This is nonsense. Common standards for spoken and written language may well be somewhat arbitrary. And they can be used in a prejudicial way. But they need not be. Shared ways of speaking and writing express a shared way of life. A standard way of communicating has the best chance of being clearly understood by the greatest number of people, most of the time…”

Read the full article on Spiked.

London mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘Have A Word’ campaign could do lasting damage to small children, argues Gareth Sturdy in Spiked.

“…The most pernicious aspect of the campaign, however, is that it will affect how young boys think of themselves. It is telling them to regard themselves as having a crazed predator within. It is telling them they’re a kind of Jekyll and Hyde beast, who appears normal but is actually victimising girls without even being aware of it.

This message is unhinged. Does Khan really think blaming misogyny on innocent boys, barely capable of tying their own shoelaces, is acceptable?”

Read the full article on Spiked.

Education Forum regular Joe Nutt highlights a conflict of interest in examiners selling exam-preparation advice

It’s some years now since the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, introduced a ban on its own inspectors moonlighting in schools. Quite a few enterprising individuals who had been trained and paid by Ofsted to inspect schools, created an additional lucrative opportunity selling their services personally and directly to anxious headteachers, offering schools what came to be called Mocksteds; a kind of horse’s mouth preparation for the real thing, only without the blessing of the British Horseracing Authority. It took Ofsted far too long to recognise the problem, step in to put an end to it.   

Today we have a similar issue involving GCSE and A level examiners. Businesses, other organisations and some individual examiners, are selling their services to teachers and even in some cases students, under the guise of study days and training events.

One business describing itself as ‘the leading provider of external educational study days in the UK’ advertises a course for teachers and students, where the key attraction is that it is run by the Chair of Examiners for A-level English language and Literature at a leading awarding body. Another organisation, well known for its publications and courses for English and Media teachers, markets a course being delivered by someone described as ‘a senior examiner and moderator for an awarding body’, although this one is aimed at teachers only.

When I looked further into this I discovered a list of 21 examiners running courses in: English, Classical Civilisation, Psychology, Geography, History, Music, PE, RE, Biology, MFL, Drama, Maths and Literacy. These courses are being sold by 11 different organisations or businesses, ranging from individuals to high profile school training providers.

Anyone involved in professionally assessing GCSE or A-level exams for any of the five major exam boards, who also advises an audience of students – who may be sitting those exams in a few weeks or months – or teachers who are teaching them, for a fee is self-evidently involved in a serious conflict of interest.

This is especially ironic when most of these courses are sold under the umbrella term schools use for training events – Continuing Professional Development, or CPD. More unprofessional behaviour from examiners, beyond a straightforward acceptance of bribes, is hard to imagine.

It is important to be clear who these examiners are. Examiners are not full time employees working for exam boards as experts in assessment or the due diligence processes required to run a secure, high stakes assessment process. The overwhelming majority of thousands of GCSE and A level examiners are full time, part time or former subject teachers, who take on what is relatively low paid additional work, as a means to earn extra cash. AQA offers potential recruits between £500 – £1000 depending on the type and volume of paper you mark. While OCR say their examiners could earn between £240 to £1,500 for marking a full allocation. This will be for a period of around four weeks work.

They are neither subject experts, nor academic scholars. Indeed if you look at the material boards use to try and attract the many thousands of examiners they need every year, learning more about their own subject and the exam specifications is repeatedly mentioned as a positive benefit. One of AQA’s recruitment videos features a teacher who started examining after only one year of teaching and encourages other equally inexperienced teachers to do the same.

But businesses selling courses run by examiners is corrupting in a far more insidious way than the merely financial. The prevalence of teaching to the exam, with all that entails in terms of missed educational opportunities, the deskilling of the profession and the reduction of schools to nothing more significant than their exam results, has become a widespread complaint amongst teachers themselves.

When you set up the examiner, someone who is meant to be merely an objective, reliable assessor of anonymous material produced by children, as some kind of subject expert guide for professional teachers, you also set a dangerously reductive educational precedent.

Joe Nutt is an educational consultant; TES columnist; author, The Point of Poetry, An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Late Plays and A Guidebook to Paradise Lost

Education Forum organiser Harley Richardson has written a follow-up essay to his Letter on Liberty, The Liberating Power of Education, responding to objections to his claim we should teach ‘the best that’s been thought and known’…

“…During the century preceding the publication of Culture of Anarchy, a mass education system of sorts had been established in Britain, in the form of thousands of charity schools funded by a combination of church and commerce. These provided a deliberately restricted moral and religious education for poor children, designed to make them appreciate their allotted place in society so that they would cause no trouble for their ‘betters’.

Yet poor people in large numbers were not satisfied with their allotted place, and did cause trouble, demanding to be taken seriously, as voters and as rational, intelligent, moral beings. Understandably, during an era when revolutions were a fact of life, those in power were worried where this might lead. If knowledge was put in the hands of working men, it was feared this would mean the ruination of civilised society.

In this context, to argue, as Arnold did, that everyone should have access to the ‘best that’s been thought and known’ was a radical idea…” 

Read the whole essay on Learning through the ages.

The Liberating Power of Education is available for £2 via Letters on Liberty.

On 21st February 2022, the Education Forum hosted an online discussion about the role of Ofsted today. Speakers:

Neil Davenport, writer and teacher

Joseph Robertson, director, Orthodox Conservatives think tank; education research fellow, The Bow Group

Rowenna Davis, teacher; former journalist and Labour Party parliamentary candidate; new mum and community organiser

Alex Kenny, secondary school teacher and NEU Executive member

CHAIR: Toby Marshall, teacher and member of the AoI Education Forum

Watch the discussion below…

We need to reclaim the classroom from political indoctrination, argues Gareth Sturdy in Spiked.

“…Zahawi is right to be concerned about the politicisation of teaching by activist teachers. But he is ignoring the role of the education establishment and the government in creating this problem.

After all, at last autumn’s COP26, it was Zahawi himself who launched a new science curriculum that would ‘put climate change at the heart of education’ and, crucially, encourage teachers and students ‘to take action on the environment’. And Zahawi’s predecessor, Gavin Williamson, was just as guilty of trying to politicise education, notably in his hamfisted attempt to force schoolkids to sing a politically inspired anthem, North Korea-style.

Arguably the most insidious threat of indoctrination comes from the state-sponsored programmes enforced by the schools inspectorate, Ofsted. Inspectors can put schools and colleges into punishing special measures if they feel schools are failing to teach ‘British values’, failing to report children as potential terrorists to the Prevent strategy, or failing to implement controversial moral advice on sensitive issues, such as consent, as laid out in the relationships, sex and health guidance…”

Read the full article on Spiked and join the Education Forum’s online discussion, Has Ofsted become too political? on Monday 21st February.

Education isn’t the place for propaganda, notes Toby Marshall in the Education Forum’s column for Teach Secondary magazine – which is why the DfE should take great care when preparing its upcoming guidance on indoctrination…

“…Zahawi will publish new guidance for teachers later this year. If it’s to be effective, however, he must be clear as to the precise meaning of ‘indoctrination’, and be consistent in the approach he advocates. Above all, he must present the issue in a manner acceptable to those who don’t share his party political beliefs.

In this respect, Zahawi must act as a representative of the English state, rather than as a member of the Conservative Party. He should dare to be stridently educational and avoid being narrowly political in his reasoning, focusing instead on our common interests.

Education, after all, belongs to everyone. Going by reports of his intentions thus far, however, we have seen Zahawi primarily express concern over the way in which left wing, anti-racist teachers have been teaching ideas of ‘white privilege’ as fact…”

Read the full article on TeachWire.

We need to get over the idea that tomorrow’s great discoveries will somehow invalidate our prior understanding of how the world works, argues Harley Richardson in the Education Forum’s latest column for Teach Secondary magazine…

…Despite what some people might say, it’s still the case that in many – if not most – professions it’s entirely possible to develop a range of skills and knowledge over the course of a single career, and that an individual’s experience and expertise still counts for a lot. New industries don’t appear fully formed out of nowhere, but rather develop organically out of existing ones, and will tend to rely heavily upon established skills and knowledge.

This is just as true of the edtech world in which I work as it is in more ‘traditional’ industries, despite the technology sector being almost synonymous with those 21st Century Skills. You’ll still find plenty of accountants, writers, designers, salespeople, trainers and project managers in tech firms. Their specific job titles might be unfamiliar, but you’ll struggle to find any role within a modern organisation that doesn’t draw upon some form of existing skills...

Read the full article on TeachWire.