Monday, 17 February 2014

The Impact of the Pedagogy Police

This post is written as a direct result of an argument over the weekend, caused by this blog by Joe Kirby. In it Joe takes issue with a couple of books and pulls them up on the fact that their work is not based in 'researched reality', but in their own personal experiences. Personally I thought it was a fairly innocuous but well considered and argued blog. I did not anticipate the twitter storm over it.

The term 'pedagogy police' was used as a derogative term towards blogs like Joe's by Ian Gilbert in the ensuing argument over his post. I think the pedagogy police are absolutely vital, and I will hopefully show how they have changed debate and driven massive changes in education in this country.

Who are the pedagogy police? I don't want to miss anyone out, or label people who don't want to be but in my experience (i.e. those who have directly impacted and improved my classroom practice): Harry Webb, redorgreenpen, Kirby, Old Andrew, Tom Bennett, Prof Coe, all those teach first bloggers too numerous to name but you know who I mean, some blogs that appeared once and then disappeared, anyone really, who has challenged orthodoxy in education.

"In Marxist philosophy, the term Cultural Hegemony describes the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of the society — the beliefs,explanationsperceptionsvalues, and mores — so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm; as the universally valid dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class." - wikipedia entry for "Cultural Hegemony"

The pedagogy police (as far as I can make out, hereafter PP to save valuable time as I am not on half-term) are a collection of bloggers, academics and authors who have challenged the status quo in education. They have said things like: 'lesson observations do not raise standards,' 'learning styles are bollocks,' 'working in groups is NOT the best way to educate kids,' 'direct instruction from teachers is a far more effective teaching strategy than discovery learning' etc etc. The impact has been immense and is slowly challenging the hegemonic structures our education system rests on. They are partly the reason I can say to my head: "I sit them in rows because it is a far more effective position for learning" and she cannot argue with me.

What has been the impact? Obviously it cannot be said to be totally down to the PP, but lets name some changes that have come in areas of their recent interventions: 1. OFSTED issuing guidelines that there is not a preferred style of teaching and learning. 2. SLT's all around the country scrabbling to associate themselves with education research (see BELMAS SLT teach meet)  3. The huge increase in confidence given to battered, experienced teachers who have been told for years their lessons were old-fashioned, ineffective and inadequate. 4. The challenging and destruction of ideas such as VAK/learning styles/restorative justice in schools. 5. The (partial, unfortunately) reigning in of certain individuals who have made a career out of spouting (for want of a better word) nonsense. 6. The return of pedagogy to real-life teachers. 7. The possible ending of individual lesson observation gradings by OFSTED. 8. The response to this from seasoned and excellent heads/SLT-types who have read, considered and implemented changes. 

There are more, but these main ones spring to mind.

Democratic society rests on having a free press, freedom of expression and freedom of speech in parliament. Why? To effectively scrutinise policy and ensure no massive mistakes are made. If this functions properly then everyone is called to account. Prior to the PP raising their heads, educational debate was generally asinine, stagnant and pointless. To an extent it still is. How many of us today listen to our SLT's bang on about what OFSTED want and what this consultant or other tells us we need to do? In my view the PP effectively scrutinise publications and ideas in education. They generally do it from a foundation grounded in academic research. It is hard to argue with this approach and the sneering about Kirby's blog being 'unacademic' and 'badly researched' was low in the extreme. As a former academic myself I had to defend absolutely everything I produced and published. When I gained my PhD I had to defend my work during a two hour grilling by the undisputed world expert in my field. As a result I was charged with making a few corrections, but generally because my work was well researched and grounded in factual evidence (archival sources mainly for those who are not asleep by now) these corrections were minor. The reason for this was my thesis was highly trailed in a number of papers I gave to conferences and seminars at university during which it was demolished and rebuild, often on stronger foundations.

Why is this relevant? Well in my view, in education all that glitters is considered to be gold. Ideas are taken, adopted by someone, taken further and before you know it people (like me) have to mark work in either green (for growth) or pink (for tickled pink), with absolutely no real evidence this improves marking at all. We are seeing it at the moment with iPads, and the scramble to adopt 1:1 devices, despite there being zero evidence they actually raise standards and/or challenge pupils to take their learning further (see OFSTED report for the ESSA academy, Bolton). How many of us have had Ros Wilson training, only to be told two years later the approach was nonsense and didn't help writing at all? Brain gym? Wake-up shake-up activities during lessons to refresh minds? Finger stretching? (you will notice these are all primary school things, if you do not understand ask a primary teacher or google for a fuller picture, I have to use examples that I have experienced)

It is only in a climate without scrutiny that idiotic ideas get adopted and implemented. It is especially pertinent in education, which takes up a massive chunk of our public spending every year. This is our money that gets thrown away and not only that, but our children (my own included) who ultimately suffer from these follies.

Do I think things will change? No. Arguments such as those caused at the weekend are inevitable. Ultimately, many people owe their careers to the promotion of ideas in the climate I describe above. People have got to positions of power, only to find the rug has been pulled from under them. Their defence? Plenty of people agree with me and have tried it and it works. Err sorry, thats great for them, but as a general approach its not going to work for everyone. 

Academia, generally, does not help either. The mainstream academic community is populated by people who peer review articles written by their mates and/or publish them in conjunction with them or in their own journals. This promotes an inward looking, nerdish culture, where people call conferences and found journals on things such as 'network theory' (look it up, very big in sociology in 2000-2001 until it was horrifically and ruthlessly destroyed). As a panacea for the problem we need to look elsewhere.

Who do we need to look to? Teachers. And that is the main strength of the pedagogy police. We are the people who matter because we do it every day. We see these ideas come and go and have zero/detrimental impact. We have the right to use our experiences to challenge the hegemony of the educational establishment. There is further to go, but a few bruised egos and a few childish twitter spats, shouldn't stop this happening. 

Vive la revolution


  1. Just to say I could not agree more.

  2. How come nobody has attacked this post yet? Where is the academic rigour? Okay, I'll start. Errrrr ummmm. Sorry nothing to disagree with here.

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