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.
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.
Part three of my ten-part investigation into the purpose of education, following the inquiry of the House of Commons Select Committee, discusses Thomas Kuhn and the relativism espoused by many modern educationalists
Parts two and three of my series are looking into why educationalists commonly use “logical positivism” as a “generalized term of abuse”, thereby justifying their widespread hostility to “evidence based practice” and demonstrating a sort of fuzzy relativism based on untestable, private intuition. After discussing what is often seen as the coup de grace for positivism, the work of Thomas Kuhn, I return to the central issue, which is the measurability of our educational objectives, with reference to the question I put at the end of part one to Professor Gert Biesta.
Why progress on edtech is dependent on a better understanding of educational purpose
If my last post was a light-hearted love story, this one is more of an attempt to write a Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. But I hope that the reader will be compensated by finding the argument to be original. I make the case that the recommendations of the recent Commission on Assessment without Levels are fundamentally mistaken.
It is a response I submitted to the current House of Commons Select Committee’s enquiry into the purpose of education. When announced, this enquiry was dismissed by Andrew Old as a waste of time: the purpose of education, said Andrew, was simply to make people cleverer. While I know where Andrew is coming from (who needs another waffle-fest with a lot of high-faluting rhetoric?) and agree with Andrew most of the time, I disagree with him that this is a pointless enquiry, if the question is understood in the way that I will suggest.
As my previous posts have argued (especially How technology will revolutionize education), technology is not about generic kit, but about the systematic means by which we pursue our ends. If no-one can be sure what our ends (or purposes) are, then any technological approach to education is doomed to fail. If we are not taking a technological approach to the business of teaching itself, then what hope is there in applying digital technology to education productively? Judging by the success we have had so far, the answer has to be “not a lot”.
My contention in this piece is therefore that the development of systematic pedagogy will never be achieved until (a) we know how to describe our educational objectives more clearly and consistently, and (b) until we understand the role of digital technology, both in supporting the description of educational objectives and in implementing the pedagogies required to attain those objectives.
This article first appeared in Terry Freedman’s Digital Education (formerly Computers in Classrooms). In it I analyse the Secretary of State’s excellent speech on edtech at BETT 2016, comparing the views she expressed with those of the ETAG report, and analysing what this might mean for the relationship between government Ministers and edtech. And I observe, along the way, that the course of true love never did run smooth.
Why the introduction of a computerised maths test may mark a new beginning for edtech in the UK
At the end of my review of the ETAG report in May, I confidently predicted a new government edtech initiative:
“So favourable are the circumstances to the launch of such a significant new initiative that if it does not happen I will join a well-known member of the Liberal Democrat Party in eating my hat”.
Well, no such initiative has been forthcoming and, while Lord Ashdown reneged immediately on his hat-eating promise, I have not been intending to cop out so easily. During my Christmas shopping, I could not help eyeing up the hat department for something that might prove reasonably digestible.
But the new year has brought news that offers at least a glimmer of hope that such a drastic step might be avoided. The government is introducing a computer-delivered test of multiplication tables as part of the KS2 SATS tests.
How significant is this initiative? Is it an irrelevance or a false dawn? Or could it be the first, faint pulse of a new government policy on education technology?
Dame Sally Coates, Director of Academies South for United Learning, has claimed that all schools should follow the same curriculum, as created by a group of nationally-appointed experts.
Pedro De Bruyckere thinks that this is an April fool of an idea, that would kill the professionalism of teachers. On the whole, I am with Dame Sally.
Liz Truss, Minister in the UK DfE for Education and Healthcare, has been calling for a return to textbooks. The headline story masks a more complex argument that bundles together several different strands. Instead of dismissing Truss’ call as regressive, it should be brought together with Matt Hancock’s ETAG initiative to stimulate a serious debate about how teachers can be given better tools of the trade, which exploit the opportunities provided by digital technology.