RSE, consent and uncertainty – Why ‘teacher-led’ has its limits

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.

What Should Schools Teach?: Disciplines, subjects and the pursuit of truth. (A Review)

Some quotes from Ian Mitchell’s review of the expanded second edition of What Should Schools Teach? (UCL Press, 2021), which was edited by Education Forum members Alka Seghal Cuthbert and Alex Standish.

‘…Seghal Cuthbert and Standish, aided by their team of subject experts, inject a healthy blend of cerebral intellect, classroom experience, and plain common sense into the curriculum debate. The well-researched content makes the contributors worthy of attention, with more than enough expertise to warrant moments of candour. There is no getting away, for instance, from the title’s implied meaning: what schools should be doing is not necessarily what they are doing.’

‘…if freed from the shackles of instrumental policies, teachers could even find themselves united by a simplicity of purpose, namely a moral, aesthetic and epistemological model of teaching and learning…’

‘If there is a common thread within the subject chapters, it is the need to understand and appreciate each discipline’s inherent value. Academic subjects are at best conservative (with a small ‘c’) in that they must conserve their discipline’s intrinsic value. It is a point made explicitly by Physics specialist, Gareth Sturdy (although it is echoed implicitly elsewhere): ‘we need to find, or re-find, what is truly unique about what we do, not only within the discipline but within the whole school, and have a robust faith in its intrinsic worth’.

Read the full review on the Secondary Ideas blog.

Exploring David Goodhart’s ‘Head, Hand, Heart’

Secondary school teacher Ian Mitchell reflects on the Education Forum’s recent discussion about ‘Head, Hand, Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century’ by David Goodheart.

Whilst an online Zoom call is not quite the same as a live discussion (followed by a pint) the Education Forum (of the Academy of Ideas) hosts another interesting debate, this time with a literary focus. David Goodhart’s ‘Head, Hand, Heart’ is introduced succinctly by Gareth Sturdy before a lively discussion about its implications and merits. In discussing Goodhart’s book, there is more than a little uneasiness. Whilst it is a book that touches heavily upon education, as Gareth Sturdy points out, ‘Head, Hand, Heart’ lies at the ‘intersection’ between economics and education. The dual preoccupations of educational experience and economic status inevitably tend to run deep with people, even at the best of times. However, during a period of educational and economic uncertainty, ‘Head, Hand, Heart’ offers a narrative on inequality in Britain’s economy which at times is more than a little discomforting.

Read the whole review on Secondary Ideas.