About Crispin Weston

I taught History and Philosophy in the UK from 1990-2006, with an interest in education technology and data interoperability standards. In 1996 I became involved in the British Education Suppliers Association standard for Open Integrated Learning System specification (OILS). In 2002-3 I sat on the UK DfE's Technical Standards Working Group (TSWG) and Learning Platform Stakeholders Group (LPSG) for the Curriculum Online initiative, helping to develop an interoperability framework for learning management systems (LMSs) that referenced the US-based SCORM standard. In 2007 I founded the Suppliers Association for Learning Technology & Interoperability in Schools (SALTIS) as a working group of BESA, referring the government agency BECTA to the European Commission for a breach of public procurement rules in its Learning Platform framework of that year. In 2008, I was hired by BECTA (probably with the encouragement of the Commission as a way of resolving the complaint) to help address the underlying problem with the data interoperability of LMSs. But BECTA was not interested in addressing the real problem of encouraging the development of interactive content, preferring to commit the UK to following an unsatisfactory off-the-shelf solution for expositive content called Common Cartridge, produced by the US-based IMS consortium. This battle was never finished because BECTA was abolished in early 2010 (a move that I strongly supported). SALTIS also closed and I became Chair of IST/043, the British Standards Institute's committee for IT standards in learning, education and training. But the new Conservative government was not interested in edtech, so it was not possible to make any progress with data interoperability. I wrote this blog in order to develop and articulate the theoretical basis for a new approach to edtech. At the same time, I came out of education for my day-job to run oXya UK, the UK-subsidiary of oXya France, a Hitachi Group company providing technical administration services for medium-to-large companies running SAP landscapes. I still look for opportunities to persuade government of the potential for a radical new policy for edtech, but am no longer actively writing this blog.

Keep teaching to the test

Pupils fill an exam hall to take a GCSE exam at Maidstone Grammar school in Maidstone, Kent, U.K.Most of our common assumptions about assessment are wrong, perpetuating the poorly performing system in which we are trapped

This essay is an extended version of the talk I gave at the Bryanston Education Summit, on 6 June 2018. I must admit that at nearly 15,000 words, it is no quick read. But I hope you will be prepared to take the time to look at it, first, because I think you will find many of the arguments that it contains to be original and perhaps surprising; and second, because I believe that in presenting a carefully argued case against many of our current orthodoxies about assessment, it suggests how we need to move in a radical new direction in our search for solutions to our current problems with assessment.

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Untangling the curriculum (1): Amanda Spielman


The renewed interest in the curriculum is welcome – but our public discourse is still confused

Everyone is talking about the curriculum again. Tim Oates has been arguing the importance of the curriculum for some time and, having chaired the Expert Panel on the Curriculum in 2011, helped provided the justification for the review of the National Curriculum in 2014. But now it is being said that the 2014 Curriculum Review did not finish the job. Although I agree, I think the current discourse is still horribly confused. My main argument is contained in my Why Curriculum Matters. In this three-part follow-up series, I shall look at the positions taken by Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Schools, and John Blake, Head of Education at Policy Exchange, before sketching out what would be my policy recommendations for a new government focus on curriculum.

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In defence of feedback


What do we mean by “feedback”? Is it useful? Is it (like revenge) better served cold? And what has this to do with Bjork’s new theory of disuse?

This is the first of a series of (what were supposed to be short) follow-up posts, responding to significant comments made by readers of my longer article Curriculum Matters. In this, the first, I discuss what we mean by feedback, is it more effective when it is immediate or when it is delayed, how does this question relate to Robert Bjork’s new theory of disuse, and how should teachers make sense of the complex (and often uncertain) theory on how the brain works? 11,000 words.

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Why curriculum matters: a response to Tim Oates, Dylan William and Daisy Christodoulou

curriculum_300Why the views of our leading educationalists on the curriculum don’t add up

This is an expanded version of the talk that I gave at ResearchEd on 9 September 2017. In it I argue that Tim Oates, Dylan Wiliam and Daisy Christodoulou, all educationalists whom I admire, have nevertheless got much wrong in their account of the curriculum. 14,000 words. You can bookmark individual slides by right clicking on the “SLIDE X” caption and selecting “Copy link address”. Slides can be enlarged by clicking on the slide.

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Managing the complexity of the classroom

complexitySystematic pedagogy is not defeated by the complexity of the classroom: it is the solution

In my previous post, Pedagogical romanticism, the ninth in my series on educational purpose, I proposed that our current model of education provision, which relies heavily on the intuition of autonomous teachers, was failing to manage the scale of modern education. But the alternative to the intuition of the human teacher is some sort of systematic pedagogy, which is commonly thought to be defeated by the complexity and unpredictability of the classroom. In this part I respond.

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Pedagogical romanticism


Why trusting to the intuition (aka “professional judgement”) of individual teachers is wrong but wromantic*

Having explained in part eight that the failure of criterion referencing was due to poor implementation and not a mistaken ambition, in the next sequence of posts I shall explain why we still need to describe our educational objectives clearly and at a granular level. In this post (part 9 of my series on educational purpose) I shall explain why our current delivery model is failing and will continue to fail so long as we reject the explicit description of educational objectives.

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The rise and fall of criterion referencing

criterionWhy criterion referencing got itself a bad name and why this does not mean that it should be abandoned

My previous six posts have examined the position on educational purpose taken by Professor Biesta. I have concluded that when he (like many of his child-centred colleagues) says that we should focus more on purpose, he does not mean to clarify but rather to obfuscate that purpose. He means to place responsibility on individual teachers to decide what their various, implicit and often meaningless purposes should be. This leaves no possibility of taking systematic action to achieve such objectives or of giving any clear account to the rest of society on how effectively this has been done. It is a model that sits uncomfortably with Professor Biesta’s professed desire to improve democratic accountability. In this post, I turn to the reasons why Daisy Christodoulou also opposes the explicit description of educational purpose.

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Flyvbjerg, phronesis and the expertise of teachers

chess-3How the modern variant on Aristotle’s theory of phronesis originated and why it offers a partial and unhelpful account of teaching expertise

Aristotle’s theory of phronesis has been widely cited by progressive educationalists as supporting their view that teachers and educationalists should be able to determine their own objectives, using their intuitive assessment of their particular classrooms. In my previous post, I explained why this view depends on a misunderstanding of Aristotle’s position. This post completes my rebuttal by examining how the modern account of Aristotle’s phronesis originated and why it offers an unsatisfactory account of teaching expertise. 

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Aristotle’s phronesis misunderstood


When educationalists use the theory of phronesis to argue that teachers should determine educational purpose, they misrepresent Aristotle.

My investigation into educational purpose has so far focused on the mistaken assumptions of many progressive educationalists, starting from the position of Professor Gert Biesta at the recent Commons Education Select Committee conference. I cannot complete this first part without addressing the theory of phronesis, which has been widely used, by Professor Biesta among others, to argue that teachers should be left to determine the purposes of their own teaching. In this post, I explain why the modern version of the theory misrepresents Aristotle.

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Education as an intrinsic good

boatsWhy many academics think that education is an intrinsic good and why they are wrong

In part four, Professor Biesta and the chicken, I argued that the distinction between aims and purposes that had been made by Gert Biesta and John Dewey was without foundation. In this fifth part of my series on the purpose of education, I explain why the argument over aims and purposes is connected with the view that education is an intrinsic good, why this is the same as saying that education has no purpose at all, and why this view is mistaken.

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