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.

Education Forum members Alex Standish and Dave Perks, writing in Impact, the journal of the Chartered College of Teachers…

In 2021, most public examinations for GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications have been cancelled for the second year running, meaning that teachers will decide what grade students receive. In place of exams, teachers will design their own summative assessment tasks, which may include questions and short papers set by examination boards. It is quite likely that when we emerge from lockdown and school closures, the assessment and qualification system will be different. Here, we explore the positives and negatives of the current role of exams in the school system. Below, we make a key distinction between the educational value of exams and their misuse for wider school accountability purposes. We recognise that exams have their limitations and we propose ways in which they can be improved. However, we make a case that public exams need to be retained as part of the post-lockdown assessment and qualification system because they play an important role in young people’s education and they contribute towards a more meritocratic society…

Read the full article at Impact.

Writing for The Future of Languages, Education Forum member Shirley Lawes argues that the relationship between language and culture should sit at the centre of MFL teaching…

As we emerge from a year of mostly online teaching and much disruption, there is a great deal to reflect upon. There may be a strong temptation amongst Modern Foreign Languages teachers to consign the experience to the dustbin of history. But wait! Not before reflecting carefully over what has been learned from the experience both in terms of pedagogy and curriculum content, and to consider seriously whether a return to the pre-covid status quo is really the best way forward. 

Hopefully, one thing that has been learned is that there is no substitute for face-to-face teaching and the social setting of the classroom when it comes to teaching and learning a foreign language (and all other school subjects come to that). But our greater familiarity with and experience of using technology, however restricting it felt at the time, can be capitalised on rather than rejected.  How, at this critical juncture, might we begin to re-evaluate and possibly revise our vision of foreign languages in the school curriculum? The ‘covid experience’ of virtual school closure could be a break from the past that calls into question many aspects of language teaching, learning and curriculum content.  Besides many problems, this novel experience has thrown up opportunities to reflect upon and re-think the ‘normal’; to re-evaluate objectively what, how and why we teach what we teach and to think beyond prescribed content and examination specifications

Read the full article on The Future of Languages.

We’ve all heard how important 21st-century skills are meant to be for today’s students, says Harley Richardson in the Forum’s column for Teach Secondary magazine – but given current employment trends, they may be in for a rude awakening…

There’s a claim that’s been made every few months by Britain’s business leaders for as long as I can remember: ‘Schools and universities are failing to equip young people for the workplace!’

With lockdown now making young people’s employment prospects especially gloomy, there’s a heightened urgency to that message.

Many educationalists hold our knowledge-based education system responsible, claiming it produces unimaginative young people whose heads are filled with redundant facts.

The solution? Devote more energy to teaching young people transferable ‘21st-century skills’, such as creativity and problem solving, which can be applied to whatever problems the future holds in store.

Yet my experience on both sides of the recruitment fence suggests this paints a misleading picture of the modern world of work – one that teachers and students would be well-advised to ignore...

Read the full article on TeachWire.

The ‘racist’ uniform protests at Pimlico Academy have exposed teachers’ lack of authority, argues the Education Forum’s Gareth Sturdy in Spiked…

…why did matters escalate to a point where flags have been burned, police have been called, and the school stopped functioning and completely caved in? The reason is the steady ingress of the identitarian culture wars into schools, which distorts them away from education.

As spiked writer Alka Seghal-Cuthbert has commented, as adult authority in general is increasingly seen as negative, the role of the teacher has been transformed. This has emboldened pupils to challenge staff more routinely. It has also disoriented teachers themselves in relation to their job, so that they are much more likely to give ground to upstart kids.

Read the full article on Spiked.

Educator David J. Ferrero assesses the second edition of What Should Schools Teach?: Disciplines, Subjects and the Pursuit of Truth, edited by Education Forum members Alka Sehgal Cuthbert and Alex Standish…

What Should Schools Teach? is a profoundly countercultural book. It is nonetheless a book by and for professional educators whose contributors bring epistemological sophistication, extensive pedagogical content knowledge and a strong grasp of their disciplines’ intellectual and institutional histories to the question posed by the book’s audacious title.

…[It] restores much needed sanity to debates about schooling’s purpose. It makes an excellent primer for aspiring teachers, will be of interest to parents and other interested laypersons, and should be mandatory reading for educational policymakers throughout the Anglophone world.

Read the full review on Areo.

Teachers at a school embroiled in a row over uniform rules which are claimed to discriminate against Muslim and black students have threatened industrial action and “overwhelmingly passed a motion of no confidence” in its principal.

Scores of pupils at Pimlico Academy in Westminster, central London, chanted “we want change” and walked out of school early on Wednesday in protest against the school hierarchy. Police officers were seen at the school grounds during the protests.

The Education Forum’s Alka Sehgal Cuthbert told talkRADIO’s Ian Collins: “I’m not against a bit of protest in the right place… what we’re seeing here shows a deeper problem of adult authority, teachers authority in particular.”

Teacher Toby Marshall reflects on a recent Education Forum discussion…

Last month I took great pleasure in chairing the Academy of Ideas Education Forum.

The online discussion followed a year of significant disruption to the normal routines of education. Contact with students had been maintained during lockdown, but in the absence of the rich communication afforded by in-person teaching, many educators, including myself, were more than little concerned as to what we might encounter as schools and colleges started to reopen.  

On the night we had three speakers with differing perspectives. Speaking first was Molly Kingsley, co-founder of UsForThem, a campaign group which has ensured that the needs of students have been at the forefront of discussions over the societal and education impact of lockdown. Molly was then followed by Sarah Standish, a school counsellor of many years experience. Sarah has been working at the sharp end of the student experience during this period. Finally, a more theoretically inclined viewpoint was provided by Dr. Ken McLaughlin, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The introductions and discussion explored many different aspects of the experience of lockdown, but two particularly important themes emerged. One was the danger of overstating the permanent psychological consequences of lockdown, and in doing so impeding a much needed return to normality. This point was balanced somewhat by a recognition of the need to keep an eye on students with preexisting support needs. It was felt that their experience of lockdown would have exacerbated existing problems.

Another second thread, initiated from the floor, suggested those who are critical of lockdown policy have too often framed the case for personal freedom in terms of mental health. In doing so, it was argued, they have been overly defensive.

I felt that there was a great deal to commend this point. Young people, and especially teenagers, do indeed need spaces in which feely associate and interact, places in which to get things wrong, and to get things right. The consequences of being denied these simple freedoms are unclear, and perhaps secondary. Freedom to associate and interact, away from the control of adults, brings them a great deal of pleasure, and no doubt many tears, but is the basis on which they lead a full life. The young have sacrificed a great deal and in my view far too much during lockdown.

A recording of the discussion can be found below. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed chairing it.