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By Feyisa Demie

The questions, ‘What does the empirical evidence tell us about the achievement gap?’ and ‘What is proven good practice for closing the gap in educational inequality?’, are the subject of much discussion and interest. A well-established body of research evidence shows that inequality in educational outcomes has grown for some groups over the last three decades in England and that a large number of children are underachieving at school (Hutchinson et al., 2019; Gorard, 2018; Demie & Mclean, 2016; Cassen, McNally, & Vignoles, 2015; Clifton & Cook, 2012). There is a longstanding achievement gap in England particularly associated with socioeconomic status. Policymakers and schools need more evidence on what works in schools, yet our review of literature found little research about what constitutes good practice (Demie & Mclean, 2016). I would argue there is a failure in previous research to provide practical solutions and ‘what works’ evidence for teachers and policymakers to use to address inequality and to develop strategies to close the achievement gap in areas of challenging circumstance (Demie & Mclean, 2016).

My recent research publication, Educational Inequality, argues that inequality in education matters, and aims to provide evidence of good practice in schools that are closing the achievement gap (Demie, 2019). Drawing on key stage 2 (KS2) data at the end of primary and general certificate of secondary education (GCSE) data, 14 case study schools, focus groups and interviews with headteachers, teachers, school staff, policymakers, parents, pupils and governors, it charts the road to improvement and to tackling inequality in education over the last 20 years. The evidence from my longitudinal studies conveys how schools in one diverse and disadvantaged inner-city local authority have raised children’s attainment to levels that far surpass the national average at both KS2 and GCSE level through effective use of outstanding headteachers, high-quality teaching, effective targeted support through intervention strategies such as small-group additional support, one-to-one tuition, feedback, booster classes, enrichment activities and early intervention.

These approaches have a positive impact on the achievement of all groups of pupils. However, the research findings also identified additional success factors that are particularly critical for ethnic-minority students and bilingual students with English as an additional language (EAL). I would argue that schools that are effective in one respect tend to be effective in others, although the factors that lead to successful outcomes may differ. In the case of ethnic-minority and EAL pupils the studies suggest, in addition to the above common success factors, the importance of a number of other factors that were found to raise the achievement specifically of ethnic-minority and bilingual children including engaging parents in school, celebrating cultural diversity and using an innovative curriculum which reflects and meets the needs of the community. What is special about the case study schools is that headteachers make deliberate efforts to recruit a multi-ethnic workforce, often from the community the school serves. Staff members are able to speak many of the community languages. As a result, children feel that they can relate to staff from their own cultural background, so they feel well supported and motivated. Overall the improvement made by students in the case study schools is exceptional by all measures, and central government, local authorities, school governing bodies and school leaders can learn from it.


Cassen, R., & Kingdon, G. (2007). Tackling low educational achievement. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Cassen, R., McNally, S., & Vignoles, A. (2015). Making a difference in education: What the evidence says. London: Routledge.

Clifton, J., & Cook, W. (2012). A long division: Closing the attainment gap in England’s secondary schools. London: Institute for Public Policy Research. Retrieved from

Demie, F. (2019). Educational Inequality: Closing the gap. London: UCL IOE Press.

Demie, F., & McLean, C. (2016). Tackling disadvantage: What works in narrowing the achievement gap in schools. Review of Education3(2):138–174.

Gorard, S. (2018). Education Policy: Evidence of equity and effectiveness. Bristol: Policy Press.

Hutchinson, J., Bonetti, S., Crenna-Jennings, W., & Akhal, A. (2019). Education in England: Annual Report 2019. London: Education Policy Institute.


Published on the BERA blog on 10/10/2019. For all the BERA blogs, upcoming events on every aspect of educational research and how to submit a blog visit

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By David Scott 

There is likely to be a general election soon, and this calls for a manifesto or set of policy prescriptions that are opposed to neoliberal institutions, frameworks and ideologies. In addition, any manifesto needs to be inclusive of all the key areas of policy in the UK: health, the economy, work, housing, nationalisms/internationalisms/identities, education, welfare, taxation, gender/sexual/ethnic relations, and protecting the environment, and not just education. Neoliberal education frameworks are in the ascendancy. Governments around the world, with a few notable exceptions, have reached a consensus about the nature of the school curriculum, learning approaches and assessment practices. This consensus now operates at all levels of education systems, and can be expressed in terms of a number of propositions:

  • there is and should be a clear demarcation between curricula and pedagogy
  • the boundaries between knowledge domains, and between school knowledge and everyday knowledge, are not arbitrary and need to be strengthened and maintained
  • school subjects should not be integrated
  • facilitative rather than directive pedagogies should not be encouraged
  • the teacher is required to impart this body of knowledge in the most effective way, and thus their brief cannot concern itself with the ends to which education is directed, only the means for its efficient delivery
  • the school’s role is to deliver a public service that meets the targets set for it by governments and education systems.

Current assessment, evidence and curriculum policies reflect this. (It is perhaps appropriate here to point to the real question that should come to mind when we are dealing with a notion of evidence – What is evidence? – rather than the frequently asked question, What is the evidence for this or that proposition?). An extremely important aspect of assessment is its increasing internationalisation, exemplified by large-scale cross-national assessment studies such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Despite the significant evidence concerning flaws in international comparisons of student achievement, the power of the simple messages that can be and are derived from them about relative national success in a world of increasing global competition has acted to reinforce the prevailing domination of neoliberal ideologies. The point is that these regressive educational policies and neoliberal rationales need to be counteracted at both policy and framework levels.

‘This agenda is leftwing, liberal and counter-reactionary.’

This agenda is leftwing, liberal and counter-reactionary. Notions of ‘left’ and ‘right’ originated in the French Revolution of 1789, during which members of the national assembly separated themselves into two factions: those who supported the king sat to the president’s right, and those who supported the revolution sat to his left. Generally, a leftwing agenda is characterised by ideas such as equality, fraternity, progress, reform and internationalism, whereas a rightwing agenda is characterised by notions of hierarchy, order, duty, tradition and nationalism. However, these are crude delineations and demarcations, and in many cases do not reflect the views of members of these factions. Furthermore, what should constitute policy and practice under the guise of each of these factions is disputed. The claim that I am making here is that the directional force for determining the contents of a leftwing political agenda must be some notion of equality, or at least the expression of a move towards a notion of equality. Equality can take three forms: equality of goods, equality of opportunity and equality of basic capabilities. All three of these are essential components of an equalities agenda.

There is also a need to surface and bring to the attention of the voting public those values that underpin a leftwing, liberal or counter-reactionary agenda. This agenda sets itself against five individualistic notions about human beings: self-interest, bureaucratic imperatives, libertarian impulses, non-reflection (one could also argue that this is counter-educational) and normativity. These value frameworks need to be replaced with some notion of ubuntu. Desmond Tutu (2000) defined ubuntu as referring to ‘gentleness, to compassion, to hospitality, to openness to others, to vulnerability, to be available to others and to know that you are bound up with them in a bundle’. These values have to be converted into policy commitments. The key, then, is to accept that these values are central to understanding how we live and how we should live, and this valuing goes all the way down – into our descriptions of the world, into those attempts we make at creating better futures, and into our relations with other people. We therefore need to work at how we do and can understand the world as it is and as we would want it to be.


Tutu, D. (2000). No Future without Forgiveness. London: Rider.

All the ideas expressed here are discussed in greater detail in a newly published book by David Scott: Scott, D. (Ed.) (2019). Manifestos, Policies and Practices: An Equalities Agenda. London: University College London, Institute of Education Press. 

Published on the BERA blog on 20/09/2019. For all the BERA blogs, upcoming events on every aspect of educational research and how to submit a blog visit

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By Edgar Jenkins

Science is now being taught to more pupils than at any time in history. This has come about in part because governments across the world have acknowledged the importance of science and technology to economic wellbeing and prosperity. It also owes something to the need to educate a population that is scientifically literate and can engage with a range of science-related issues, ranging from health, global warming and the environment to nuclear power, genetic counselling and safety at work.

The implications for school science teaching seem clear. Schools are to help safeguard the future supply of those with scientific qualifications while ensuring that all pupils receive an education that will prepare them for the world in which they will eventually live and work. What is less clear, however, is how to translate these goals into practical curricula.

One response, common to many countries, has been to give pupils an insight into how scientific knowledge is generated by involving them in practical investigations in a school laboratory. Such an approach has come to the fore at different times and, in essence, has sought to teach pupils how to think scientifically. It was fundamental to Henry Armstrong’s heurism (Brock, 1973), to the global science curriculum development movement of the mid-20th century (DeBoer, 1991), and to more recent initiatives designed to help pupils understand the nature of scientific processes and methods. It has also been supported by different learning theories, from faculty psychology and discovery learning to constructivism.

This approach presents several problems. Scientific thinking, as distinct from rational thinking, is appropriate only when dealing with scientific problems. These are not the sort of problems that most adults encounter, and there is a risk of emphasising scientific processes at the expense of scientific knowledge. More fundamentally, the work of historians, sociologists and philosophers has shown that such an approach reflects a simplistic and unsustainable view of how scientific knowledge is established and validated.

A different approach to curriculum construction starts not with science itself but with the everyday concerns, interests and experiences of pupils. This ‘science of common things’ has often underpinned the education of those judged unlikely to pursue a science-related career, many of whom have attended schools intended for a different section of society from most of those receiving an academic education (Layton, 1973).

The General Science movement of the interwar years was a laudable but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to ‘bring science into the homes of the people’ and to offer a science curriculum that was not designed with reference to the needs of future scientists or engineers. This approach also has limitations. Constructing a science curriculum on the basis of pupils’ interests may do little or nothing to enlarge their horizons, although it underpins the concept of urban science education directed towards equity, social justice and the development of a sense of place among the disadvantaged in society (Barton, 2003). However, devising or adopting a science curriculum to meet the needs of different social groups or communities within pluralistic societies is a conundrum.

Whatever approach is being considered must answer the fundamental question, ‘What is school science for? Studies show that the answer is socially, politically and historically contingent. In England, enthusiasm for teaching ‘scientific method’ declined as experience of the first world war highlighted the ignorance of elementary scientific knowledge among government ministers and army officers and their men. It returned to favour a generation later when the cold war emphasised the need to greatly increase the numbers of qualified scientific personnel. ‘Working scientifically’ underpins England’s national curriculum and, differently worded, can be found in curriculum statements in many other countries. The scientific education of girls has been, and remains, susceptible to changed assumptions about the role of women in society. Personal and professional factors may also be involved: some primary school teachers were reluctant to accommodate science in the curriculum because they saw it as incompatible with the progressive pedagogy that sustained their professional expertise. Others welcomed it because scientific investigation could be readily allied with a discovery approach to learning (Jenkins, 2019).

Understanding how and why the school science curriculum changes is of more than academic interest. It can shed light on the role of individuals and institutions in effecting, or hindering, reform, and help inform and shape contemporary initiatives or minimise the risk of error. It is regrettable, therefore, that curriculum history is no longer a focus of research attention.

Edgar Jenkins has just published a book called Science for All: The struggle to establish school science in England (Trentham Books, February 2019). It ‘offers a thoroughly researched account of the long battle to establish school science in England, and addresses the underlying question of what school science is for, and reveals when, how and why the answer to that question has changed’.


Barton, A. C. (2003). Teaching science for social justice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Brock, W. H. (Ed.). H. E. Armstrong and the Teaching of Science 1880-1930 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

DeBoer, G. E. (1991) A History of Ideas in Science Education: Implications for Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Jenkins, E. (2019). Science for All: The struggle to establish school science in England. London: Trentham Books.

Layton, D. (1973) Science for the People: The origins of the school science curriculum in England. London: Allen and Unwin.

Edgar Jenkins taught chemistry in schools before joining the University of Leeds, where he became head of the School of Education, director of the Centre for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education, and professor of science education policy. He has served on several national and international committees and organisations concerned with school science, and was editor of the research review journal Studies in Science Education. His publications reflect a longstanding interest in the educational function of science in a variety of social and historical contexts: they include From Armstrong to Nuffield (1979) and (with B. J. Swinnerton) Junior School Science in England and Wales since 1900 (1998).

‘Published on the BERA blog on 18/03/2019. For all the BERA blogs, upcoming events on every aspect of educational research and how to submit a blog visit

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By Don Rowe and Anne Watson

Writings about faith and education tend to fall into particular longstanding debates about: the teaching of religious education in schools; the act (or not) of assembly; the use of religious texts in lessons and around the school; the roles of faith-specific schools in society and their practices; the nature of truth in science, and similar themes (see for example Copley, 2008). There is, however, a dimension of faith and education that is almost entirely missing, and that is the faith-orientated beliefs of those who work in education, and how these are enacted in, and impact on, their work (for a rare example, see Palmer, 1998; see also Rowe & Watson, 2018).

Yet many young people enter teaching because their faith leads them to want to ‘give back’, or because they want to help young people to develop in a holistic, not merely intellectual, way, or because they have a faith-based view of society that attaches great importance to values such as care, justice, truth and integrity in public service. These reasons for entering teaching are not confined to those who have a religious faith, of course, but apply also to young adults for whom the same human values are important lodestones.

Social media and teacher-facing publications frequently include stories of people who have left the profession, or stayed in education but left the classroom, because the way in which they were expected to do the job clashed with their principles and preferred ways of working to such an extent that they were unable to continue (see Murrer, 2018; Buchanan, 2018). In the recent past, we have heard from a young teacher who was forbidden to put up wall displays because her teaching room was also hired out for conferences; a teacher who was told to prepare all her lessons for the year ahead, before even meeting those she was to teach; a teacher who was put into competence procedures for not conforming to paperwork norms while students (many from other teachers) flocked to her classroom for extra help during lunch time; we could go on. The practice of teaching is inescapably values-rich and schools are prime sites of value conflict – certainly between teachers and parents (Stengel & Tom, 2006), but also between teachers themselves and the school authorities.

Quakers are one example of a faith group which has a long history of involvement with education – from the seventeenth century, originally with schools for girls as well as boys (O’Donnell, 2013).Currently few Quakers attend or teach in the independent schools that are historically Quaker; most Quakers who work in education do so in the state-maintained system. In recent years, the Quaker Values in Education group ( has heard many stories from individuals whose work in education is difficult to sustain because what schools expect them to do, as well as the workload issues that impact one everyone, is beyond what they feel is right, just and caring.  This is not only true for Quaker teachers of course (Bousted, 2016). In our meetings, time and again teachers have said, ‘this is not why I came into teaching’ when describing practices such as zero-tolerance regimes; frequent testing; prescriptive marking expectations, and many other imposed practices which make it hard for them to respond to individual children’s needs and difficulties in a life-enhancing way (Murrer, 2018).

And yet, schools are and always have been communities as well as knowledge factories, and no community exists without values (see for example Halstead & Taylor, 1996). Although official curriculum documents rarely mention values alongside all the other desirable learning outcomes, there is abundant evidence, including in our recent book (Rowe & Watson, 2018) that teachers place huge importance on embedding values in the curriculum as well as throughout the ethos of the school.

We therefore set out to collect essays from Quakers who work, or have worked, in the state system. We have found ways to work and think about education while maintaining integrity – that is, while basing one’s work soundly in the Quaker testimonies to truth, equality and justice. The result is a collection of papers, mainly grounded in practice, that are critical and visionary about education and schools, but based in real experience so that the accounts do not describe, ‘this is what I wish it was like’ but rather, ‘this is what it is like, or has been like, or can be like, somewhere’.

The result is Faith and experience in education: Essays from Quaker perspectives edited by Don Rowe and Anne Watson, published by Trentham Books at UCL IOE Press in May 2018.


Bousted, M. (2016, April 19). Our children are being set up for failure, stress, disappointment and disaffection. Times Educational Supplement. Retrieved from

Buchanan, M. (2018, June 27). Happy pupils perform better in school and in life. Times Educational Supplement. Retrieved from

Copley, T. (2008). Teaching Religion: sixty years of religious education in England and Wales. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Halstead, J. M. & Taylor, M. J. (eds.) (1996). Values in education and education in values. London: Falmer Press.

Murrer, S. (2018, April 19). Emotional head resigns from education system. Milton Keynes Citizen.

O’Donnell, E. A. (2013). Quakers and education. In Angell S. W.& Dandelion P. (eds.) The Oxford Book of Quaker Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The Courage to Each: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Rowe, D. & Watson, A. (2018). Faith and experience in education: Essays from Quaker Perspectives. London: UCL IOE Press.

Stengel, B. S. & Tom, A. R. (2006). Moral matters: Five ways to develop the moral life of schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Don Rowe taught a range of subjects in secondary and middle schools for ten years. In 1984, he became director of the National Curriculum Council’s Law in Education project which pioneered law-related education for all upper-secondary students as an entitlement. He was involved in establishing the Citizenship Foundation, becoming its first director in 1989 and, subsequently, director of curriculum resources. He was very involved in the introduction of Citizenship Education into the curriculum in 2000. He also worked for many years as an international consultant specialising in education for democracy and human rights. He has published a range of teaching and training materials, plus a number of academic papers in citizenship and moral education. As a Quaker, he has a particular interest in education for peace, justice, values-based education and moral development, not merely within the curriculum but as a whole-school practice.

Anne Watson has two mathematics degrees and a DPhil in mathematics education. She taught mathematics in comprehensive schools serving some fractured communities, before moving into academic work, training secondary mathematics teachers and researching mathematics education. With a social justice agenda, she has focussed on how young adolescents can become empowered through inclusion in mathematics. While professor at the University of Oxford she worked internationally and nationally with teachers and teacher educators and, more recently, has developed a critical and informed position towards policy and curriculum matters in England. See for more information.

‘Published on the BERA blog on 22/02/2019. For all the BERA blogs, upcoming events on every aspect of educational research and how to submit a blog visit

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By Sarah Porter

Last year, I was thrilled to be asked to contribute a chapter to the book ‘Second Language Learners in International Schools’ by Maurice Carder. The book, now published, presents a clear vision for the teaching of ESL / EAL students, and one key part of this model is the establishment of ESL departments as ‘centres of expertise’.

But what does this mean? Surely all academic departments should strive to be centres of expertise? However, for ESL departments this path can be trickier to follow. Many people, myself included, find themselves teaching ESL as a result of being the ‘trailing spouse’ because there is no room for them elsewhere in the school at that time. They then often end up moving quickly out of the ESL department when a vacancy becomes available in another department and the next candidate is moved in, thus perpetuating a vicious circle of inexperienced teachers who ‘do a bit of EAL’. However, will this ensure the best possible deal for our ESL students?

To become a centre of expertise, and thereby give ESL students the best possible education, we need to fill ESL departments with qualified staff who are committed to teaching ESL and who will stay. Fortunately for me, I fell in love with ESL teaching, have been in my school’s EAL department for five years now and am starting an MA in Applied Linguistics this year in order to be able to lead our department as best as I can. ESL departments as centres of expertise must be managed by a qualified ESL professional who is passionate about their subject and about delivering consistent and high-quality lessons. Our ESL students deserve nothing less, after all.

A further, major step is to ensure that as well as teaching English grammar and vocabulary, a content-based approach is taken whereby ESL students are taught academic language linked to the schemes of work they are following in their academic subjects. The ‘Second Language Learners’ book regularly discusses the difference between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency); phrases coined by Jim Cummins in 2001. Bearing in mind that it takes between one and two years to achieve BICS (being able to chat to friends, for example) but up to seven years to achieve CALP (academic language competency), ESL teachers must ensure that they devote a significant amount of time to teaching academic vocabulary and helping students to use it confidently in a variety of contexts.

It can, however, be difficult to find and to build up a base of content-based resources that focus on the language rather than the content itself. When we compare this to the absolute wealth of ‘pure ESL’ resources that are available today, we can see why many ESL teachers may turn away from teaching content language. Departments staffed with professional, long-term ESL teachers are in a much better position to develop, maintain and teach a content-based scheme of work. It made it all worthwhile recently when a smiling Year 7 student arrived at his EAL lesson saying ‘We just learned the types of energy in Science, and I knew all the words already!’ All ESL students deserve to be instilled with confidence in academic language; as Janzen writes, ‘The academic uses of language as well as the meaning of individual words needs to be explicitly taught for students to…understand the material they encounter’ (Janzen, 2008: 1030, quoted in Scanlan and Lopez, 2012: #601).

It is all too common for ESL teachers to hear comments such as ‘She chats away to her friends in English with no problem, surely she’s ready to leave EAL lessons?’. By recognising the amount of time needed to attain academic competency, ESL teachers are in a much better position to fight against ‘premature exits’ of students from ESL. In many schools, Level B1 (PET) is seen as the exit point from ESL lessons. Too many times this can lead to students becoming disillusioned as they struggle to understand academic language or to use it to produce a piece of homework. An ESL centre of expertise with qualified staff would help students to remain in ESL lessons for the correct length of time, since the ESL staff will be in a position to give a clear argument in favour of this. The transition from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4 brings its own linguistic challenges, and exiting ESL too early could result in students achieving one or two (or, sadly, even more) grades below what they could have achieved at IGCSE.

It could be argued that the importance of having ESL departments as centres of expertise is even more important than for other departments, given the overarching nature of ESL in the whole school curriculum.

Sarah Porter is EAL Co-ordinator at the British School of Bucharest.

Second Language Learners in International Schools, by Maurice Carder with Patricia Mertin and Sarah Porter, published by Trentham Books, UCL IOE Press. Please visit the UCL IOE Press website to order paperback, eBook and inspection copies.

Source: EAL departments as centres of expertise | COBIS blog 

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By Arthur Chapman

Over the last year and a half or so, my colleagues and I in the UCL Institute of Education’s  Subject Specialism Research Group have been thinking together about schooling and about how children develop and build their knowledge. We have been doing this in collaboration with colleagues from research groups in Karlstad and Helsinki, drawing on differing curricular experiences and traditions of thinking about schools and schooling – work that began to bear fruit in the London Review of Education and that we continue this week through an open seminar at the Institute.

We are fortunate to be engaging in enquiries into subjects and knowing subjects at a time of curriculum innovation and renewal apparent, for example, in the Chartered College’s journal Impact and in Ofsted’s curriculum research. All of this is very encouraging – particularly in contrast with the enthusiasm for generic competencies and the breaking down of‘subject silos’ that was in vogue 10 years or so ago.

I worry about some contemporary messaging about curriculum, however: particularly messaging that makes too strong a distinction between ‘what’ is to be taught and learned and ‘how’ it is to be taught and learned, and messaging that models curriculum in terms of a contrast between substantive ‘bodies of knowledge’ and ‘skills’. Both are present, for example, in some of Ofsted’s recent training slides on curriculum.

These contrasts aim – and succeed no doubt – to do good work by, for example, drawing attention to the importance of a deep foundation of factual knowledge to reading comprehension and to the mastery of subject disciplines. If pushed too far, however, these messages may do as much harm as good – particularly as they become subject to processes of simplification that inevitably occur as messages are telegraphed through something as complex as the school system. There are at least two reasons for concern, I think.

First, subject disciplines are complex entities – not simply ‘bodies’ of knowledge. They have form as well as body. Knowing a subject discipline involves understanding questions as well as answers as well as understanding the kind of enquiry that a discipline represents and how it can be conducted. Crudely put, this involves understanding such things as the differing roles played by Bunsen burners and discursive prose in the sciences and in the humanities. It also involves – for example – understanding both knowledge and ideas about knowledge: understanding what ‘evidence’ is in history, the kinds of ‘proof’ that are possible when making knowledge-claims about the past and how one can establish such claims.

Too strong an emphasis on ‘bodies of knowledge’ may result in a neglect of disciplinary concepts and processes that are integral to making sense of information about the middle ages, about climate change, and so on. Focusing on disciplinary form only would be ill-advised – form without body is spectral; equally, however, body without form will, inevitably, fall apart.

It is useful, of course, to distinguish between what one wishes to teach and how this is to be taught and learned. The distinction is intuitively obvious but, ultimately, analytical – reality is messier than this. Coming to know history or maths or any other subject entails processes of reasoning – this ‘what’ can only emerge through particular kinds of ‘how’. Knowing that there was a ‘revolution’ in France – for example – means exploring forms of change and continuity present in a complex narrative of events and not simply knowing that ‘this happened’, then ‘this happened’ and then ‘this happened’.

It also entails binding together historical particulars (e.g. the Tennis Court Oath, the storming of the Bastille, the abolition of Feudalism, and so on) into a larger ‘whole’ (‘The French Revolution’). The subject matter that we want children to learn when they learn disciplines is integrated subject matter – not isolated items that stand alone but material linked through inferential bonds. What one is doing, when one learns it, is building a representation. This representation is not a picture or copy of something ‘out there’ but a web of mental connections forged through processes of reasoning and knowledge building. Whatever is possible analytically, in practice the connections cannot be separated from the process of making them.

Source: Enquiring minds: building a picture of how children learn to understand subjects | IOE LONDON BLOG


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By Hugh Starkey

While politicians and pundits tear themselves apart over the Brexit negotiations, it’s worth bearing in mind that European cooperation in education precedes UK membership of the European Union.

As the UK transitions to a new political and diplomatic relationship with Europe, the London Review of Education (LRE) is planning a special feature and has put out a call for papers that reflect on, celebrate and critically appraise ways in which education has evolved in the UK and in mainland Europe in response to opportunities offered by European cooperation.

The Council of Europe, which the UK played a leading role in founding in 1950, now includes 47 member-states. It promotes educational and cultural cooperation based on principles articulated in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), itself explicitly derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Council of Europe has influenced education policy and practice not only in Europe but across the world through programmes such as the Common European Framework for Languages and the Charter of Education for Democratic Citizenship / Human Rights Education.

As the demographics of Europe have evolved with the arrival of new citizens from former colonies and neighbouring states to provide essential labour and support, particularly for transport, health, social care and hospitality services, European ideals have been put under strain. A Council of Europe report identified eight specific risks to Council of Europe values: rising intolerance; rising support for xenophobic and populist parties; discrimination; the presence of a population virtually without rights; parallel societies; Islamic extremism; loss of democratic freedoms; and a possible clash between “religious freedom” and freedom of expression.

Alongside the Council of Europe, the single market economic bloc that became the European Union following the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 started to develop its own education policies. The Bologna process, initiated in 1999, aims to introduce a more comparable, compatible and coherent system for European higher education. Its focus on common standards for quality assurance has been highly influential in universities.

The EU has provided funding for research and curriculum development projects through its Comenius, Erasmus, Leonardo and Gruntvig programmes.  Activities included university and vocational student mobility and exchanges and cooperation between schools and teachers. These are ongoing in the Erasmus+ programme that provides opportunities to study, train, gain work experience or volunteer abroad and funds consortia or partnerships aimed at innovating and modernising teaching and youth work practices.

The European Commission also funds educational research currently through its Horizon 2020 programme and previously through its Framework programmes. The strategic framework for Education & Training 2020 (ET 2020) addresses the challenges in education and training systems and prioritises equity, social cohesion, and active citizenship; lifelong learning and mobility; open and innovative education and training, fully embracing the digital era.

Education and training in the digital era was also the agenda of the Global HR Forum, that I attended in Seoul this month, along with over 3000 mostly Korean participants. The Forum confirmed my view that citizenship education still remains essential in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution. In my contribution I noted many indicators that neoconservative agendas have gone too far, quoting the recent intervention from the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, that the inspection focus on testing and examinations had harmed schools in drawing attention away from the curriculum.

I proposed that in our globalising world education for cosmopolitan citizenship based on understandings of human rights and particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides an agenda for schools based on children as citizens now rather than future citizens. I gave the example of the Rights Respecting Schools movement where 4000 schools in England are working out the implications of this. Another contributor, Pasi Sahlberg argued for greater emphasis on non-technological dimensions of education to provide a critical counterweight to a digital obsession that has led to current high levels of children’s mental illness.

European projects have often provided an impetus for innovations based on humane values. I hope this will form a significant strand in the LRE’s forthcoming special on European cooperation, and I look forward to reading your submissions.


Source: Europe: educators across the continent have always worked together | IOE LONDON BLOG


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By David Lambert

Teachers, generally speaking, work incredibly hard. They work under highly controlled and high stakes conditions, and very publicly. So how do teachers feel about their work? Is teaching a confident profession?

I believe that the profession, at least in secondary schools, may have collectively lost the plot in terms of its core values and purposes. It is buffeted this way, then that way, and in trying to keep up it has lost its heart to the empty process of delivering performance indicators. I don’t blame the teachers themselves, but I do argue that teachers can and should take a more active role in curriculum leadership – a theme in a forthcoming special feature of the London Review of Education (16.3) which I have had the privilege of guest editing.

Recently, I had the great pleasure to spend the afternoon with some enormously impressive, mostly young, new teachers. I spent the entire time challenging their expectations, sometimes showing and explaining, often debating with them … as to what it means to teach geography well, and why this is so important. Possibly not the geography you remember from school. Maybe not even the geography they experienced as students. But worthwhile, engaging geography lessons exhibiting the highest quality engagement with knowledge. That is, geography that is appropriate for young people in this day and age.

Those final sentences are very demanding. For what exactly is high quality geographical knowledge? And pursuing this question with these new teachers ignited a disarmingly natural and intense curiosity. It was clear that they could see my point. Clear was their readiness to accept the responsibility of teaching, expressed as their role as the source of the curriculum experience of their students.

I can compare this pre-service context with my recent experience leading whole school workshops exploring the idea of ‘powerful knowledge’ across all subjects. It is fascinating to see the alacrity with which experienced teachers address this question, resulting in truly illuminating discussions about teachers’ motivations and sense of moral purpose. Without exception, teachers said how much they valued (a) thinking about what they were teaching and why and (b) listening to other subject specialists thinking out loud about their subjects.

This is reassuring, for the plaintive question teased out of the new teachers near the end of my afternoon’s work with them was heart-breaking. “This is fantastic, and refreshing,” they said, “but it is hard to see how we can apply this thinking to the PowerPoint slides and the lesson plans we are asked to deliver.” They told me that the ‘source of the curriculum’ was not them at all, but the materials and instructions on the school’s internal drive. In the same breath they made it clear that they knew this was intolerable – at least in the context of the professional responsibilities we were discussing.

How has the teaching profession managed to lose sight of its moral purpose in this way? I contend that one reason is that curriculum thinking, by which I mean the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of teaching, has almost been forgotten. Many of us grew up so to speak with the post-modern turn, which overturned traditional ways of seeing. Its impact was to undermine rigid grand design – such as objectives-led, rational curriculum planning.  Whilst not a bad thing in itself, however, teachers’ curriculum thinking has been a casualty. It is no longer encouraged.

But it seems that  Ofsted has recognised this in their new concern for the ‘quality of education’. Perhaps the government’s much-vaunted ‘knowledge-led’ school policy is also a post, post-modern response. It will be interesting indeed to follow the extent to which Ofsted’s widely publicised rebalancing will result in their making distinctions between high and low quality knowledge-led curricula in schools. And it will be interesting to see where exactly they see the responsibility lying for making high-quality curriculum experiences for students.

Some of these issues are opened up in the London Review of Education (16.3).  The seven articles that make up the special feature arise in part from the Subject Specialism Research Group recently set up in the UCL Institute of Education’s Department of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment. We hope there will be further articles a debate on the rescue of curriculum thought and its significance on the quality of education.


Source: Thinking allowed: teachers must reclaim their moral purpose | IOE LONDON BLOG

Photo by Frank Balsinger via Flickr Creative Commons 


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By Arthur Chapman, Hilary Cooper and Jon Nichol

At a time of growing polarisation among politicians and the public, when people are increasingly entrenched in their views, and with nationalism on the rise – history is surely one of the most crucial subjects in the curriculum.

That is why a new journal launched this week by UCL IOE Press is so significant. With its online open-access publishing, the History Education Research Journal (HERJ) aims to fulfil an important civic function. History education is a hotly contested area of the curriculum – prone, for example, to highly polarised and embittered political battles over canons, personal and national identity, national history curricula and cultural transmission. Here politically HERJ has a major role internationally in establishing an informed discourse with politicians and policy makers who often have limited knowledge and understanding of history beyond its role in inculcating national identity, patriotic loyalty and nationalism, in ignorance of its crucial role in educating pupils to become questioning, informed and sceptical citizens of liberal democracies. HERJ’s educative mission is to raise the power and impact of public debates on history education by making high quality history education research findings and their policy, curricular and pedagogic implications freely, fully and publicly available.


HERJ  – published twice a year – will build on the legacy of its precursor, the International Journal of Historical Learning, Teaching and Research (IJHTLR) a path-breaking enterprise since 2001.

As the journal’s editors, we are delighted to introduce the launch issue, HERJ 15.2, which reports cutting edge research and development in history education from around the world, including papers from Australia, the USA, Ghana, Canada, China, Malta and Switzerland. Good history teaching helps pupils confront their conceptions and misconceptions, and to think afresh about the way they see the world, so the subject must be far more than a parade of chronological facts. Articles by academics from Singapore and Germany, examine how children learn to think like historians, using primary sources and interpreting evidence.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore used an incident from the Cold War to engage students in developing ‘deeper awareness of the ways knowledge about the past is constructed, and the central role that historians play in that process’. This controversial incident, Operation Coldstore, is one about which most Singaporeans hold partisan views, so using historians’ methodology enables students to see how different interpretations can be drawn about the same event. The authors advocate more widespread teaching about historical controversy to enhance students’ understanding.

Primary children, too, can use historical methodology to help understand the nature of the discipline, say researchers from the Universities of Paderborn and Osnabruck in Germany. Children encounter history every day, and even young primary children are aware of the way ‘sources’ – for instance swords and shields found at a dig – tell us about the past. So schools should teach the methods of historical enquiry from the outset, they recommend.

National identity, and how it is built and challenged, forms a theme of several articles. These include: The history canon project as politics of identity: Renationalizing history education in Denmark; History and citizenship: Does the reformed Greek Cypriot primary history curriculum include myths and legends that represent the ‘other’?; and how to ensure heritage education is inclusive from Spain and Portugal.

HERJ is launched partnership with the Historical Association (HA) and the History Education International Research Network (HEIRNET). As an international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal HERJ focuses on the global significance and impact of history education. It covers all aspects of history education theory, scholarship and research in its own and related fields. Overall, HERJ aims to illuminate contemporary and controversial history educational issues, concerns, policies and practice, drawing upon its eclectic research methodologies.

The link between academics and the worlds of policy makers, curriculum developers, assessment bodies, teachers, parents and children is crucial. HERJ is interested in articles and reports on innovative, creative and exciting practitioner, case-study and action research involving both teachers and academics. Contributions are also welcome on large-scale research or research and development projects aimed to improve history educational policy, curricula, their implementation, and, crucially, pedagogy – the history teacher’s craft. For information about how to submit papers, visit HERJ’s page at the UCL IOE Press website.

HERJ 16.1 will focus on history education research in Germany and Austria, providing a fascinating insight into extensive, well established, rich and rigorous research on history education that is largely unknown in Anglophone countries and communities. The HERJ editorial team hope this will be the start of a mutually enriching and rewarding dialogue between the German and English-speaking history education communities.

Photo: detail of mural depicting Crusaders battling Saracens, Clermont Ferrand Cathedral, France, by Holly Hayes via Creative Commons

Source: Making History: new journal will raise the level of debate on national identity, culture and the canon | IOE LONDON BLOG

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By Amanda Arbouin

I have just returned from one of the most inspirational events of my career as a black academic in the UK. The International Colloquium on Black Males in Education (ICBME) is a high profile, annual event that brings together a wide range of (predominantly) black academics. They share their research focused on improving the educational experiences and outcomes for black males specifically, and black communities generally.

This year’s venue was Dublin, Ireland and contributions were forthcoming from local Irish activists, who shed light on the significant parallels between the Irish struggle against English oppression and the black struggle against racism.

For example, Shane Curry, Director of European Network Against Racism (ENAR) Ireland explained how the civil rights movement led by African Americans in the 1960s inspired the civil rights movement against English domination in Ireland. He described how Bernadette Devlin, an Irish civil rights activist, was honoured with a golden key to the city of New York by the Irish American Mayor Lindsay. The irony of accepting this highest of honours from the American establishment that was actively oppressing African Americans was not lost on Devlin. Consequently, in an act of solidarity with the black liberation and socialist movements of America, Eaman McCann, Chairman of the Labour Derry Party, returned to New York in 1970 and presented the key to Robert May of the Black Panther Movement.

Similarly, Irish activist and author, Don Mullan, gave a Grassroots Leadership Keynote that explored the activism of Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell. Douglass was a formerly enslaved African American at the forefront of the Abolitionist movement. His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was a bestselling book that played a significant role in the abolition of American slavery. In 1845 he visited Ireland and struck up a mutual respect with O’Connell, an Irish nationalist who is also known as ‘the Liberator’  in Ireland. Both men gave powerful lectures that galvanised support for their fights against oppression.

These stories that link black and Irish anti-oppression movements could serve as rich material for a decolonized curriculum in the UK.

My own keynote provided an overview of my recent publication Black British Graduates: Untold stories and explored some of the ways we can begin to decolonize our British education system.












This would involve de-centring the colonizer viewpoint and injecting a more rounded world view that celebrates the hitherto hidden contributions of minoritized communities and individuals. In turn, this would

  1. provide minoritized learners with a positive reflection of themselves in the curriculum, so that they can experience pride rather than shame when learning about minoritized cultures, values and communities
  2. combat insidious racism by exposing white learners to counter-narratives that challenge the invisibility and negative stereotyping of minoritized people, which currently dominates our education system.  

The event encourages student participation, so that fledgling black academics can witness the revolutionary work that other black academics are undertaking in the struggle for equality in education. I was both inspired and disturbed by the attendance of an undergraduate who, following a refusal of financial support from his institution, became a student volunteer to gain free entry. His enthusiasm and delight at being part of this powerful display of black excellence in the academy was heart-warming, but he could not hide his growing concern as his travel and accommodation costs escalated.

What I found disturbing was the lack of institutional support. Why were no institutional funds available to encourage a high achieving, dedicated and hardworking student of colour to attend this event? Are we so invested in perpetuating narratives of deficit that we cannot bring ourselves to nurture black potential when we see it?

The National Inclusive Leadership Academy’s intensive training program for higher education (HE) leaders equips diversity officers, deans, human resource managers, administrators and academics with knowledge and skills to promote access and equity in their institutions. Dr Damon Williams from the Academy shared the quotation ‘Commitment without currency is counterfeit’. He’s right. We would not expect medical researchers to make significant advances without funding. Likewise, if we truly want to cultivate success among black learners we must invest in it.

It is time for our institutional leaders to make realistic levels of resources readily accessible for activities that can have a lasting positive impact on minoritized students. The ICBME event brought together a wealth of knowledge and understanding about the experiences of black learners. It also shed light on a number of successful interventions that are gradually moving that narrative from one of struggle to one of empowerment and transcendence against the odds. Some of these interventions that educational institutions can invest in include:

  • Supporting students and staff to attend conferences that centre black experiences
  • Building partnerships with educational institutions in countries that have a significant and influential black presence (eg USA, Caribbean, Africa)
  • Supporting international exchanges that target minoritized students and staff
  • Facilitating research that gives voice to black experiences.

The strength of these types of initiatives is that they would develop understanding of how black learners and educators transcend the barriers they encounter in education. It would simultaneously enable black students (and staff) to experience and model black excellence.

So, this is a call to action for our institutional leaders. Your support is needed to move beyond alluring sounds bites and rhetoric, to meaningful action. Internationalisation and improving social mobility for disadvantaged communities are high priorities in HE. If we accept that racism is a lived reality, we must acknowledge that black learners are deserving of support to help transcend the systematic disadvantage they encounter.

As I write, I am heartened by the news that the University of Glasgow has launched a ‘reparative justice programme’ in a positive response to research that exposed their massive financial benefit from slavery. The transatlantic slave trade is the origin of modern day racism. The programme will fund scholarly and research activities, as well as student exchanges with the University of the West Indies.

The University of Glasgow’s example should encourage other HEIs to do their part in righting the wrongs of our society. Black communities are made up of black individuals, and by supporting individuals in their pursuit of academic excellence we can support communities in their struggle for equity.