Horses for Courses

One of the main purposes of the original A level examination was to identify the relatively small (around 5%) of the population who were suited to studying for an academic degree at university. Back in the 1950s and 60’s one was expected to absorb a general understanding of one’s subject and to be prepared to answer almost any question on any aspect of the syllabus. Although the total number of marks available per question was given, there was no further indication of the more detailed mark-scheme.

These days, in order to achieve higher numbers of students gaining ‘good’ grades, examination questions have tended to become more predictable, and teaching more narrowly focused on those specific topics that are always asked about, and on examination technique.

So today’s news item about an ‘unfair’ exam paper makes interesting reading, in that pupils have complained that it did not include:

“a significant amount of the current specification and gave questions which were not akin to the specimen papers provided, and other questions of such an obscure nature, that it was extremely difficult to decipher what was necessary to gain the marks.”
Was this a deliberate attempt to set a more rigourous paper that would more readily identify the strongest academic students, or a mistake of some sort by the exam board? Will the final grades be ‘fudged’ in some way to match current pass rates? Should these students be taking some other more appropriate form of examination?

Whatever, what we really need are a range of high-status examinations that are suitable for academics and for the majority who think and learn differently.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, ‘horses for courses’ is:

“a mostly British expression urging someone to stick to the thing he knows best. The phrase dates back to 1898, and comes from the horse racing world, where it is widely assumed that some horses race better on certain courses than on others.” (From “Encylopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson)

Independent Head ‘deceived’ by academic education?

Without wishing to enter into the debate about the issues of social mobility, here’s how one independent head unbelievably describes the vivid way he sees our current educational situation:

“If we want the brightest children from our poorest homes to fulfil their potential we must not deceive them with high grades in soft subjects or allow them to believe that going to any old university to read any subject is going to be the path to prosperity, because it’s not,” he said.

“So let us not deceive our children, and especially children from poorer homes with worthless qualifications so that they become like the citizens of Weimar Germany or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe carrying their certificates around in a wheelbarrow, or produce people like those girls in the first round of X Factor who tell us they want to be the next Britney Spears but they can’t sing a note.”

Higher Pass Notes: What is a Gagagogue?

This post follows on from Pass Notes: ‘What is a Pedagogue?‘ which you should read first, if you haven’t already done so!


Yes, what is it?

You know the other week you were telling us all about Pedagogy and Andragogy, well the other day I came across the phrase ‘Heutagogy’. Do you know what that is Sir?

Ah yes, well I was coming to Heutagogy. I hope you weren’t suggesting that I don’t know everything about everything, which of course I do. Anyway, I’m the one asking the questions around here, so, err., can anyone tell me what Heutagogy is?

According to this, Sir, it’s a concept coined by Stewart Hase of Southern Cross University, and is the study of self-determined learning. The notion is an expansion and reinterpretation of andragogy, and it is possible to mistake it for the same. However, there are several differences between the two that mark the one from the other.

Heutagogy places specific emphasis on learning how to learn, double loop learning, universal learning opportunities, a non-linear process, and true learner self-direction. So, for example, whereas andragogy focuses on the best ways for people to learn, heutagogy also requires that educational initiatives include the improvement of people’s actual learning skills themselves, learning how to learn as well as just learning a given subject itself. Similarly, whereas andragogy focusses on structured education, in heutagogy all learning contexts, both formal and informal, are considered.

Ah well there you go, I’ve always warned you about the dangers of confusing andragogy and heutagogy – you can’t be too careful these days. Just a minute, why are your words appearing in bold this week and mine aren’t? There’s something wrong here…

No Sir, it’s just that this time it’s me writing this post, and not you. Because of heutolology I’ve learnt how to learn for myself, and I don’t think I really need you anymore. In fact I could probably teach you a thing or two. I’ve even coined a term for the process of the teaching of someone older than themselves: ‘Gagagogy’ – well actually it was my six year old sister who suggested it after a discussion with my baby brother. Do you think in years to come people will search for it on the internet and discover that it was a term I first coined back in 2010?

I sincerely hope not…

Not to be confused with: ‘Googoogogy’, which is the study of how people learn using Google and a ‘Googoogogue’, some one who studies how people learn using Google.

Giving the Tories’ education proposals the Third Degree

Now of course it’s good news that nice Mr Cameron has today announced his promise to improve the quality of teachers and to make teaching ‘the new noble profession’. And some of the ways he plans to do this might be of some benefit. One of those ways though is to restrict financial support for graduates who only get a Third-class university degree. Despite the fact that he says “Everyone remembers a teacher who made a difference through sheer force of personality”, what this proposal is actually doing is reinforcing the notion that by default people with high academic standards, ie extensive subject knowledge, make them the best teachers. As such it fails to recognise – or more probably reveals the lack of understanding of, the breadth of skills involved in the processes of teaching. I once used to work with a science teacher who had a PhD and who bored the pants off his pupils because he was a poor communicator and organiser who had little sense of how learners learn. What we really need are more effective ways of initially assessing potential teaching ability, and particularly I suspect those applying to do BEd degrees.

Meanwhile another part of the plan involves paying teachers more. Perhaps controversially, this also is not the solution. Successive governments seem to have had the belief that teachers are only in it for the money, whereas in reality it’s a vocation – unless you are motivated by the belief that you are in some way making things better for the children you teach you wouldn’t, and indeed couldn’t, do it. And anyway industry and commerce will simply offer the ‘brightest’ graduates more, and the whole thing will spiral out of control.

Meanwhile having used it in the title I was curious to know what the derivation of the term ‘Third Degree’ was. It seems that:

‘The third degree’ is well-known to all US crime-fiction enthusiasts as ‘an intensive, possibly brutal, interrogation.

In Masonic lodges there are three degrees of membership; the first is called Entered Apprentice, the second Fellowcraft, and the third is master mason. When a candidate receives the third degree in a Masonic lodge, he is subjected to some activities that involve an interrogation and it is more physically challenging than the first two degrees. It is this interrogation that was the source of the name of the US police force’s interrogation technique. ‘

Perhaps the way to get better teachers might be to give them the Third Degree?  I’m sure 9b would make a very good job of doing the interrogation…

Shiny happy people holding 3D TVs

A visit to BETT during the week for the first time in several years. Even bigger than it was last time, and strange to remember it as it was some 20 years ago – a crowd of enthusiasts and small start-up software developers showing their latest products on green baize-topped tables at the Barbican Exhibition Centre. Sadly though, bigger does not equal BETTer, and now it seems more and more that it’s the same old mega-companies selling the same old stuff that no-one really needs. This year’s big push, must-have, waste of money educational technology seems to be 3DTVs. Conspicuous by their absence though were hand-held mobile devices, which are surely the key technology of the future that might just attract and engage switched on, turned off learners.

Meanwhile the press reported the keynote opening speeches:

It’s good to see that Stephen Heppell is still making all the right noises, and promoting mobile devices. I particularly liked his reference to many schools still ‘doing a shiny version of 19th century teaching’, and the need for them to move away from what he calls ‘cells and bells’.

And finally…

While I don’t think it matters too much if the average person in the street has not heard of Steve Jobs, it’s good to know they can still come up with some amusing alternative answers to some ‘don’t really need-to-know’ questions!

Pass Notes: What is a Pedagogue?

OK then class, who can define the word ‘Pedagogy’ for me?

No? Anyone? Have a guess?

Is it something to do with teaching?

Yes, well you are on the right track, but single word answers aren’t going to get you very far in your ‘academic’ GCSE examination – unless of course it’s a multiple choice question. Can anyone help him?

Sir, Sir, Please Sir!

Yes, the boy at the back reading from his iPhone online dictionary app that he doesn’t think I can see him hiding under the desk…

Well, according to this it says that ‘pedagogy’ is ‘the method and practice of teaching children’. In fact, if one can believe anything one reads on Wikipedia, it comes from the Greek and literally means to ‘lead the child’.

Yes, that’s quite correct – well done that web-site – award it an A*. And there is some endless fun to be had debating whether the second g in ‘pedagogic’ should be pronounced  hard or soft.

So, next question then, ‘What’s a Pedagogue’?’

Dunno – somewhere you go to pray that you’ll get a good teacher once in a while?

No, No! A pedagogue is of course someone who contributes to the theories of pedagogy, such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori.

Oh, I thought they all played for Portsmouth?

Silence, boy.

Please Sir?


Does that make you a pedagogue, only I thought they weren’t allowed in schools anymore?

No, stupid boy, that’s a paedophile. See me after when the others are gone and I’ll explain properly. Let’s move on quickly. Next question, what does the term ‘Andragogy’ mean?

Something to do with robots? Or perhaps a new mobile phone from pedagoogle?

Alas not. Just as pedagogy means the teaching of children, so andragogy means the art and science of teaching of male and female adults, a term coined as recently as 1833.  Now as all you Greek scholars are doubtless about to tell me, both pedagogy and andragogy actually refer to the teaching of boys and men, because in those days, women were not publicly educated. So what with Women’s Lib and all that stuff, we now use the word to mean both men and women. There, see, Quite Interesting isn’t it? And just to make things clearer, andragogy shouldn’t of course be confused with ‘androgyny’ which means ‘genderless’.


Yes Leslie – or is it Lesley, I can’t quite tell?

Well, I was just thinking. Perhaps the continued use of out-dated, unpronounceable academic terminology that no-one knows the meaning of merely serves to further mystify and exclude the public, and that as a result you really shouldn’t be surprised when people tend to develop ineffective, technology-led, so-called educational products and resources when they have little grasp of the scientific and artistic processes of teaching and learning appropriate to life in the 21st century? Perhaps you should start by coming up with some new terms that will help the profession start to change the way it does things?

Somewhat fortuitously at this very moment the bell rings, and so sadly we shall never know the answer…

Don’t say:

  • Pedagoogoo were a popular singing group from the 1980’s made up of former university professors of education.
  • A pedometer is used to measure exactly how pedantic a pedagogue is.

Training Tomorrow’s Teachers Today

A recent comment on another post has raised important issues about the current provision for initial teacher training. If nothing else, we are certainly going to need a highly capable, committed and motivated workforce to deliver the appropriate and effective educational experiences that we need to start to provide in the 21st century. Which is why it was worrying to read the account of an ITT lecturer’s experiences of preparing tomorrow’s teachers today. Are five A*-C GCSEs and three C grade GCEs enough to qualify someone to train to be a competent teacher?

Here’s what ‘Roberta’ wrote:

“After 35 years in education (secondary and higher), not including my own, I think that perhaps we do need to take a pragmatic stance on primary and secondary education. Perhaps it is for the production of employable people who will be able to take on the roles required by their employers, people who are punctual, civil, creative, responsible, curious, eager to learn new skills and information, who are literate and numerate. I am not talking about ‘factory fodder’ here, but young people who will join the professions.

Universities are now experiencing ‘bad behaviour’ amongst a large proportion of first year undergraduates, these include Primary Teacher trainees, whose antics are those that one might expect from Year 10 and 11 pupils. This inappropriate behaviour is manifesting itself in the lecture room, a situation which has never occurred before this year, with the open use of mobile phones and MP3 players, laughing and talking over the lecturer’s voice and during session tasks, absenteeism, eating and drinking (including alcohol) and complaints when asked to make contributions to teaching sessions.

Admonition is greeted with complaints that lecturers are being patronising and since the students are paying fees, they are able to do as they please.The idea that they may be disrupting the learning of others does not occur to them. Their refusal to carry out tasks, unless they contribute to formal assessment and final degree classifications, is bewildering for those of us who see learning as a continuum. The idea of engaging with learning because that is why they are attending university seems to be beyond their comprehension. This is from people with a minimum of three C grades at A level.

For the most part, these are young people who have chosen this career path, not ‘ended up’ teaching through Clearing, due to unexpectedly poor A Level grades. They are recruited to Initial Teacher Education early in the academic year before they finish secondary school and references and good predicted grades are being given by their schools. What is happening? If this is deemed to be acceptable behaviour by these young people, who are our future educators, what hope is there for those who emerge from the secondary school system barely literate and numerate with a disaffected attitude towards society?

In addition, the government’s QTS tests in English and Maths, taken towards the end of their undergraduate (and postgraduate) teacher training, are proving a really difficult hurdle for many, to the extent that Michael Gove has announced that a Conservative government would limit the number of times that they can be re-taken by trainee teachers. What is this saying about the level of education of our young people, if those with fairly decent A levels are struggling with literacy and numeracy?”

I’m reminded of a recent cartoon in which an excited sixth-former had just opened a letter offering him a place on a teacher-training course. “All I need” he is announcing to his parents ” is an A, a B and a C. And they’ll teach me the rest of the alphabet when I get there…”

So any suggestions as to how this situation needs to be changed that don’t involve the traditional reaction of  the need to get back to the good old days of formal academic education? As always I look forward to your comments…

Everybody Out! Industrial Relations Breakdown

A couple of recent articles have led me to reflect on the on and off-going relationship between education and industry and commerce.

There are still those in education – usually the most traditional academics – who see education has having nothing to do with the world of work at all. And there are many in industry and commerce who still see schooling as providing little more than a literate, numerate, punctual and essentially passive workforce. Fortunately over the past decades there have been an increasing number in both camps that have been willing to explore a middle ground, but at the end of the day there is still a long way to go before we arrive at a successful balance between the two extremes and start to offer an educational experience that offers an appropriate preparation for life and work in the 21st Century as opposed to the 19th.

I came into education in the late 1970s having trained in Industrial Design, and with the conviction that there was a need to move away from traditional academic approaches towards the development of a new set of skills and approaches to knowledge that would not only serve the economy but make students more critically and socially aware, better able to creatively solve everyday problems and to be able to think and act for themselves.

As a result, over the past thirty years there have been a number of occasions when I have approached industry and commerce for assistance with case-study materials, photographic resources or support for workshops and other live projects. In that time, with a few notable exceptions, things have not changed a great deal. Usually there have been one of two responses. The first is a simple ‘We’d like to help but we don’t have the time’, and the second a much more positive, but ultimately more frustrating, ‘We are really keen to support education, just let us know what we can do’, but despite the good intentions, the latter offer often fails to come to fruition as it later emerges, they don’t have the time to make any more than a rather superficial contribution: ‘We do have a business to run, you know’. It seems that industry and commerce has always been ready to criticise, but generally unwilling to actually do anything.

So just what is it that industry wants? There seems to be two answers to this. First, a literate, numerate, punctual and essentially passive workforce. Secondly, and increasingly over the past 30 years, young people who are flexible, technically skilled, interdisciplinary creative problem-solvers with excellent communication and teamwork skills. What’s going wrong is that industry still believes that GCSEs, A levels and academic-based diplomas and degrees will provide what it wants. In reality the current curriculum and qualifications tend to develop exactly the opposite – a rigid, subject-based experience in which original thought and action and any hint of collaborative work (or ‘cheating’ as it’s often thought of as) are positively discouraged.

In this recent article the director-general of the CBI is highly critical of the ‘wasteful’ spending on education which he claims has failed to produce improvements in socially and culturally deprived areas of the country. Or rather, as he goes on to explain, to provide a workforce that can read, write and turn up on time. But predictably he seems is to identify raising the number of students gaining five good ‘academic’ GCSEs as the solution to the problem.

Meanwhile the discussion is more fully aired here:

Beyond the account of the Manchester Academy, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders attacks the CBI for simply ‘standing on the sidelines and criticising’. Alan Smithers attacks the government for providing the wrong sort of qualifications, and Mike Tomlinson challenges the appropriateness of the curriculum.

So there’s still a long way to go. Perhaps we need the services of an arbitration tribunal?