Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

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


Posted by & filed under Author blogs.

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


Posted by & filed under Author blogs.

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 


Posted by & filed under Author blogs, News.

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

Posted by & filed under Author blogs, News.

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.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

By Maurice Carder

Spending a lifetime in the same career is becoming rare. However, it is what I chose – my career being teaching English as a second language. After spells teaching in universities, British Institutes and schools around the world, I spent a large part of my career heading the ESL and Mother-Tongue Department at the Vienna International School, secondary. Building up the department and searching for the best provision for the many students led to involvement with various curriculum agencies and accreditation services which, while at first welcoming input from knowledgeable and well-qualified practising professionals, turned increasingly to the models of provision of the national education systems of the Anglosphere, especially those of England. This led me to ‘dig deeper’ into how and why these models had developed. I was then fortunate enough to pursue an EdD (International) at the UCL Institute of Education, and the massive amounts of reading involved provided the answers I had been searching for.

It appeared that politics had played a large role in ESL provision in England. While ESL students had initially been given separate classes for specialist classes, various incidents had occurred in England concerning racist attacks, and the government was accused of separating races in schools. Thus all students were integrated into the same classes, and ESL as a term and as a programme was eliminated. Class teachers were now given the task of teaching ESL students while also ploughing through the curriculum for native speakers. The term ‘English as an additional language’ (EAL) was introduced in 1997, and the concept of inclusion was promoted, whereby no-one would be excluded and EAL students given ‘support’. Professional training for ESL was gradually eliminated, and in schools EAL and support were subordinated to the special educational needs (SEN) department, and taught by Teaching Assistants.

In an international school there are many differences from national systems: often the majority of students are second-language speakers of English; the host-country language is usually not English; the students do not have to integrate into the local community; they often return to their own country after being in the international school, and therefore have to maintain and develop their mother tongue; their parents are from high socioeconomic backgrounds, on a par with fluent speakers of English. Therefore a professional programme of second-language instruction, along with mother-tongue lessons wherever possible, is the ideal one for these students, as detailed long-term research shows that this is the key element for second-language students to develop their English.

Those responsible for curriculum and accreditation in international schools chose to ignore these facts, and found it more convenient to follow the national models of the Anglosphere, especially as a majority of the uptake of their programmes was now coming from that home base. Maintaining the professional model best suited to international schools meant fighting for survival: there was consistent pressure from ‘above’ to adapt to prescribed models. Incoming directors were largely native English-speakers with knowledge of the systems they had grown up with. In addition, ‘support’ and unqualified ESL teachers were cheaper than a department of professional ESL teachers, teaching a separate programme that seemed to defy the apparently unassailable term of ‘inclusion’.

A further marketing strategy has been to emphasise that a school only has ‘native speakers of English’. In fact, ESL teachers who have learned English as a second language often have greater insights and empathy for teaching second-language learners than mother-tongue English teachers. They have been through the same process themselves, and now belong to the majority of speakers of English worldwide – that is, those who speak it as a second language. They have also been reported as speaking more clearly. As Shin (2008) surmises:

‘Despite a great deal of training, non-native speaker teachers may be viewed as inadequate language teachers because they often lack native speaker competence in the target language and culture. However, non-native speaker teachers possess distinct advantages over native speakers including a deeper understanding of learners’ first languages and an ability to explain second language features in ways that students can understand.’

– Shin 2008:57

They also present more realistic role-models, as second-language learners will, by definition, never be native speakers.

Readers who would like to see these issues discussed in depth can read the new book, Second Language Learners in International Schools, published 16th November 2018.


Shin S (2008) ‘Preparing non-native English-speaking ESL teachers’, Teacher Development 12(1): 57–65

Maurice Carder graduated with a BA honours degree in Spanish (Bristol), followed a PGCE with a focus on ESL (Institute of Education); an MA in Linguistics for ELT (Lancaster); and completed an EdD (International) on linguistic pluralism issues (UCL Institute of Education). Between 1967 and 1981 he was teaching English in various parts of the world in universities, institutes and schools, and from 1981 to 2009 headed the ESL and Mother-Tongue department at the Vienna International School, secondary. He worked closely with the IB on developing various language programmes, and was an examiner for the IBDP. He has served on many CIS accreditation teams around the world, also co-chairing them. He chaired the ECIS ESL and Mother Tongue Committee for many years, organising several conferences. He has given workshops on ESL and MT issues at international schools worldwide. His book, Bilingualism in International Schools (2007) details a successful model for second language learners.

Published on the BERA blog on the 10th October 2018. For all the BERA blogs, upcoming events on every aspect of educational research and how to submit a blog visit

Posted by & filed under Author blogs, News.

By Phil Stevens

One of adult learning’s most respected figures retires this summer after 40 years of dedication to the sector, firstly as a mature student, then a teacher, and finally as Principal of the Northern College in Barnsley, one of the most prestigious adult centres in the UK. We can ill-afford to lose people of the calibre of Jill Westerman, TES FE Lifetime Award winner, who spent her career fighting for the rights of adults to have access to high quality learning.

Westerman is in a long tradition of fine figures who have defended adult learning against a punitive financial environment and political interference. Fred ingles, cultural theorist and great defender of our strange expensive institution describes adult education as:

… one of the most impressive achievements not only of national education but also of the nation’s democracy.

There are few more qualified witnesses than Ingles, biographer of Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart. Jill Westerman, and others like her, have both protected and extended the enormous success of adult learning over its 150 years history. Her career is testament to her commitment to the cause. Progressing from community work on a Hackney housing estate, to teaching literacy and numeracy in London, she moved to Barnsley and the Northern College where she flourished. In this sense she is in a line that runs from RH Tawney, Hoggart and Williams who dedicated their lives to what Ingles refers to as our militant tradition. These towering figures were no functionary bureaucrats but had years of experience teaching adults before producing a small library of books between them. Unlike these legendary adult educators, Westerman did not produce a body of writing to support her exemplary vision. As Principal of one of the busiest adult centres in the country she would have hardly had the time. But impending retirement has given her the opportunity to share some thoughts on the future of adult education.

In the TES (24 June 2018) Jill Westerman outlined what she believes are grounds of optimism for the future of AE. In an article to mark her retirement the Principal of the Northern College reflects on her time in adult learning, which despite the austere climate in which it operates, continues to illuminate our culture and society with its far-reaching and gentle light. What is interesting, and which links her to her distinguished predecessors is her thoughts on the aims of adult learning. It is this that provide her grounds for optimism.

Westerman’s glimmers of hope are based around her claims that adult learning can promote and extend social cohesion and social mobility. The claim that adult education can create social capital is held by many teachers, managers and policy-makers, particularly in inner-city areas where social divisions are most apparent. Outreach teams have been assembled to find common ground among disparate sections of our cities. Building on the idea of social cohesion being one of the most pressing aims of adult learning, Westerman further argues that the divisions in the country revealed by Brexit have triggered what she sees as a renaissance of this kind of work. These are grand claims for the sector. Should adult learning with its image of primary school classrooms, working men’s institutions, and echoing upstairs rooms in pubs have a moral duty to try to help resolve the problems of our troubled towns and cities? And, lastly, is Westerman right to be so optimistic?

In The Long Revolution, Raymond Williams argues that the modern British education system acts like a ladder. People go up one at a time, often pulling the ladder up after them. Nothing much has changed in the 35 years since Williams’s book was published that would challenge his account. The former Cambridge Professor of Drama proposed an alternative view that education should be seen more as a broad highway through which we travel together in a collective endeavour. This seems to be how Westerman sees adult learning today and in the future: as a guiding principle for programming, curriculum design and pedagogical innovation.

During the research for my book Rita and Gerald: adult learning in Britain today (2014) I discovered some outstanding examples of attempts to promote community learning and build social capital. One example should suffice. The Mary Ward Centre in Camden have an outreach team who work with diverse ethnic groups, health professionals and community activists. Their aim is to bring together diverse section of the community around adult and family learning, in this case through art. The project culminated with a colourful exhibition and activity day at the British Museum. I think Jill Westerman would have applauded the Mary Ward team’s efforts. And, of course, there are many other examples.

These projects are not simply community events, they are very much learning activities, expensive to organise and funded from income attracted by individual students on the project completing a programme of learning. The success of programmes like those at Mary Ward are what gives Westerman her optimism for the future of the sector. The aim of community learning is to liaise with external agencies and community groups to help ease tension in disparate communities and give individuals the time and space to develop. In this sense she is right, there is real potential for creative adult learning programmes that give purpose and hope to disadvantaged communities with a complex set of needs and aspirations. On the issue of divisions caused by Brexit I am less certain – this seems both too early and too ambitious even for the most creative of our adult educators.

Fred Ingles argues that adult learning makes the connection between individual sensibilities and formal arrangements for learning and scholarship, and of the moral imagination of society and life itself. This has been the triumph of our work, but the political and cultural advances of the past 150 years are in real danger of being lost. The processes of self-education and democratic access, typified by the heroic work of The Open University, are under threat. Adult learning is a vital resource of hope for communities and neighbourhoods up and down the country and is needed now as much as ever. At this time, we can ill afford to lose people of Westerman’s stature.

To mark her retirement the Principal of the Northern college calls for rigorous long-term planning for the sector in which her ideas can play out. We can sense her enthusiasm when she calls for:

… a national adult education strategy that thought 10, 20, 30 40 years ahead and looked at things like demographics, disadvantage, labour market needs, social needs, and the needs of an ageing population … a real coherent strategy.

It is too easy to be cynical and say, good luck with that. But Westerman’s optimism must be seen at a time when funding for adult learning has been cut to the bone and LEAs have lost the will and the means to support a service which was once a jewel in their crown. But she is to be applauded for leaving on a hopeful note – why not? She might have also issued a warning about the future of the sector, but that’s not her style. One might hope that this most energetic and thoughtful practitioner should be given the job of developing the strategy she so eloquently argues for the glimmers of hope she recognises grow into full maturity. It would be a fitting testimony to her contribution to the noble tradition and to an exemplary career.



Stevens, P. Rita and Gerald: adult learning in Britain today (2014) Trentham Books/IOE Press

Times Educational Supplement (24 June 2018)

Williams, R. The Long Revolution (1961) Penguin Books

Posted by & filed under Author blogs, New books.

By Amanda Arbouin

How can universities tackle insidious racism in a meaningful and effective way? This question is at the heart of my book, Black British Graduates: untold stories[i], which explores the educational journeys and career outcomes of ten Black British graduates.

Participant narratives convey a richness of emotions, as the book [ii]considers the impact of race, class and gender in education and graduate careers. Drawing on the accounts of these educational successes, I highlight some of the key features that help or hinder Black learners along their way.

Despite a promising start to their educational journeys, most of my respondents left school with few useful qualifications. However, a combination of serendipity and stepping stones led them to higher education, where they encountered a range of positive and negative influences.

The absence of diversity in academic staff and curriculum were strong themes. The reluctance of universities to address such issues in any robust way was recently the focus of the BBC news article ‘University racism ‘complacency’ warning’[iii]. Black British academic staff are grossly under-represented and tend to be concentrated in insecure, part time contracts at the lower levels of organisational hierarchies.

Black British students are over-represented in higher education, but under-represented in the most prestigious institutions, where they are less likely to be offered a place than white applicants with the same grades (Boliver, 2013?)[iv]. Blind marking has never become standard in universities and so it’s perhaps no surprise that Black students are less likely to graduate with ‘good’ degrees and less likely to be satisfied with their educational experiences. At the same time, the curriculum in higher education is extremely Eurocentric, perpetuating a colonial mentality and largely excluding the values and contributions of thinkers of colour.

So what can universities do to effect real change? In a word, they need to invest. Invest in recruiting Black educators; invest in training all educators to raise their awareness of the impact of race; and invest in developing a decolonised curriculum.

Whenever I have asked white educational recruiters why they don’t have more black staff, the standard response is along the lines of:

  1. ‘we don’t get enough black applicants’ or
  2. ‘we have to recruit the best person for the job’.

The sub-text for standard response (2) is that Black applicants are just not good enough. However, when we look at the statistics (and listen to participants’ narratives) relating to Black professionals they tell another story.

There are ever growing numbers of minoritized graduates, because there is an over-representation of students from all minoritized backgrounds in higher education (ECU, 2014)[v]. Yet unemployment rates for minorities are ‘significantly higher’ than for whites (EHRC, 2015)[vi] and Black graduates are often overqualified for the jobs they are able to get.

Black workers have also experienced the biggest pay drop in these times of austerity. The TUC (2016)[vii] notes that minoritized graduates earn 10% less than their white counterparts and Black graduates earn a whopping 23% less than similarly qualified white workers. In effect, the more qualified Black workers are, the bigger the pay gap.

Turning to standard response (1), The McGregor Smith Review ‘Race in the workplace’[viii] identifies steps recruiters can take to tackle this issue. Firstly, employers can use diversity recruitment agencies, who specialise in identifying high calibre applicants from minoritized backgrounds. Secondly, they can use diverse interview panels, as recruiters tend to look more favourably upon people with whom they identify. Thirdly, they can set themselves diversity recruitment targets and then monitor and review them on a regular basis to ensure that they are eventually met.

Investing in ongoing training for recruiters and educators can instigate lasting change. This training should focus on raising their awareness of (a) the impact of racial and cultural difference among students and employees; (b) how inequality is perpetuated; and (c) their own unconscious bias. This would improve the diversity of higher education environments and simultaneously challenge some of the pejorative stereotypes that hinder Black learners’ entry to and progress within HEIs. As one of my research participants put it, ‘There’s a need for change in how we’re educated, because we’re in a system that doesn’t say anything positive about Black people’.

This leads me to the curriculum. Investing time and money in to developing a decolonised curriculum would demonstrate real commitment to challenging racism at a much deeper level. University departments could employ researchers to integrate non-European values across all disciplines and at all levels of the education system. My research[ix] identified a desire, particularly among the women, to pursue research relating to Black communities. Universities could harness this desire by applying the same principles they do for scientific research – that is, by advertising and funding it.

This would serve to tackle the insidious nature of racism, as consistently including minoritized cultures in education would convey the message that they are just as valuable and important as white Western cultures. Implementing change of this kind in higher education would inevitably filter down into compulsory education, because school teachers learn their trade in universities. They pass their knowledge on to young learners in schools, who are obliged to go through the education system. As such, a decolonised curriculum would gradually improve people’s appreciation of minoritized cultures at a societal level.

It is incumbent upon our education system to tackle racism in every way possible, because of its central position in all of our lives. Our universities are engines for the creation of knowledge in our society and must take the lead in committing to change at a strategic level. By adopting a joined up approach they have the capacity to help create a more harmonious and progressive Britain.


Acknowledgement excerpt from the book:

Inspiration for the book’s subtitle, ‘Untold stories’, came from one of my favourite songs by the Jamaican reggae artist Buju Banton. Every time I hear his words ‘What is to stop the youths from get out of control, Full up of education yet no own no payroll’, I grieve for the many black graduates in the UK who, despite playing by the rules, find themselves struggling to reap the rewards in a society that continues to stack the odds against them. I dedicate this book to them and all those who seek to redress the balance by striving for social justice.

[i] Arbouin, A (2018. Black British Graduates: untold stories. London: UCL Institute of Education Press.

[ii] Arbouin, A (2018. Black British Graduates: untold stories. London: UCL Institute of Education Press


[iv] Boliver, V. (2013) ‘How fair is access to more prestigious UK universities?’. British Journal of Sociology, 64 (2), 344–64.

[v] ECU (Equality Challenge Unit) (2014) Equality in Higher Education: Statistical report 2014. London: Equality Challenge Unit. Online. (accessed 18 August 2017).

[vi] EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) (2015) Is Britain Fairer? The state of equality and human rights 2015. London: Equality and Human Rights Commission. Online. (accessed 8 April 2017).

[vii] TUC (Trades Union Congress) (2016) ‘Black workers with degrees earn a quarter less than white counterparts, finds TUC’. Press release, 1 February. Online. (accessed 24 January 2017).


[ix] Arbouin, A (2018. Black British Graduates: untold stories. London: UCL Institute of Education Press.

Posted by & filed under Author blogs.

By Deborah Gabriel

As a Black female academic, I welcome comments by Baroness Amos on the scale of institutionalized racism in the higher education sector, evidenced by the lack of Black academics in senior roles and the attainment gap affecting Black students, reported by BBC News.

Baroness Amos captures the mood succinctly, referring to the anger and frustration among Black students and academics at these long-standing disparities. However, as the Founder of Black British Academics, it is my belief that complacency is not the sole factor in the lack of progress on race equality. Baroness Amos speaks of “deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes which need to be overcome.” I would add to that the prevalence of a deep-rooted indifference to racial inequality that is directly attributable to White privilege, and a form of anti-Black, gendered racism.  

One of the disparities highlighted in the BBC news story is the lack of Black  in senior roles. It’s not clear which academic year the data refers to, which states that there are only 110 Black professors out of around 18,000. Figures I previously obtained from the HEIDI database, show that for the 2014/15 academic year, out of 19,630 professors, only 110 are Black – and of these just 30 are Black women.

The issue of anti-Black, gendered racism is very real and yet the marginalisation, exclusion and under-valuing of Black women in academia is rendered invisible and ignored in public debate on gender equality. Writing in the Times Higher in February 2017, Laurie Cohen and Jo Duberley bemoan that “just 24 per cent of UK professors are women. That is a deplorable statistic for a sector that purports to champion diversity and inclusion.” Yet they completely ignore the more deplorable reality that just 0.15% of UK professors are Black women. Such prioritising of White interests characterises the indifference with which many White academics treat racial inequality, even whilst denouncing other forms of discrimination.

One dimension of White privilege is the power of being Colour-blind – ignoring the impact of race and how it creates disadvantage for people of colour, which is felt most acutely by people of African descent – as evidenced by the attainment gap among Black students and the lack of Black academics (especially women) in senior roles.

The thorny issue of White privilege is strategically side-stepped through concepts used in equality and diversity circles like ‘unconscious bias’, through claims that it doesn’t equate to ‘racism’ since the routine privileging of White interests is purely unintentional. Injustice and oppression do not cease to exist because they are masked by benign phrases; they are all too visible and deeply felt by those who experience them.

White privilege and anti-Black gendered racism manifests in a variety of ways, from overt displays of prejudice, stereotyping, dehumanisation, exclusion, and sexual abuse, to more complex and subtle examples, that whether deliberate, purposeful or unintentional, have real consequences for Black women – and there must be accountability for these failings, as well as concrete actions to address them.

Tackling anti-Black gendered racism requires critical understandings of the nature and complexity of this specific form of discrimination, and the agency to effect change. Both are accessible through the first Black British Academics publication: Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of Women of Colour Surviving and Thriving in British Academia. Preliminary findings of quantitative data collected from readers suggest that senior White operational and academic staff engage well with the lived experiences of women of colour and learn much more about White privilege and raced/gendered inequality than statistics alone reveal.

The higher education sector needs ‘critical leaders’ at the helm of higher education institutions, in faculties, schools and departments and also within the Office for Students and Advance HE. Critical leaders do not merely comment on racial inequality and its persistence but work collaboratively with stakeholders like Black British Academics to develop solutions. 

​Deborah Gabriel is a senior lecturer at Bournemouth University in the Faculty of Media and Communication.

Posted by & filed under News.

Tamsyn Imison was head of Hampstead School from 1984 to 2000. In 1998 she was one of the first two headteachers to be awarded the DBE by Tony Blair’s government. She was a passionate advocate for comprehensive education, believing in the potential for everyone to succeed in learning and life – that ‘all geese can be swans’, as she put it; that every child matters and has the right to be equal but different; and that the best possible education should be available to all children in their local community.

The book about the school, which she co-edited with Liz Williams and Ruth Heilbronn, Comprehensive Achievements: all our geese are swans was published by Trentham Books at IOE Press in 2014.

There follows a brief obituary drawn from John Dunford’s for the ASCL journal (for which she was a consultant in the 2000s).

Dame Tamsyn read science at Oxford University, but was expelled once she married Michael, taking up art at the Ruskin School and later moving to Queen Mary College, London, to read natural sciences. Her first job was as a scientific illustrator before she qualified as a science teacher at the age of 35.

As head of Hampstead School, a comprehensive school in Cricklewood in London, she was a leader in arts education, information technology and professional development, among other things, with many staff on an innovative Masters’ degree programme she devised with the Institute of Education. Fourteen Hampstead staff went on to be heads themselves. As a polymath herself, she believed in, and implemented, a truly broad and balanced curriculum and her networking skills were legendary. The school’s students established a charity, Children of the Storm, which provided food, clothes and emotional support to refugee children. She was a passionate lifelong advocate for comprehensive education and fervently opposed to selection but she was also active in the Girls’ School Association and a council member of a local fee-paying school.