Can we have an evidenced based profession?

NTEN-logoIf there is one over-riding theme that has emerged from the profession over the last 5 years, it is that we should be investing our time ensuring that the methods we use in the classroom have an evidence base.

There have been many fads over the past twenty years and although most of us knew they had no basis, we dutifully trod down the paths of a number of ‘snake oils’.  Learning styles, green pen marking, left brain, right brain, hydration and Brain Gym have all found their way in, to a greater and lesser degrees into our classrooms.  We all knew that there was something wrong with them, but we followed or compelled to follow them.  What was damaging was the way in which some of these became policy of schools and teacher training providers; I still look at learning styles on a lesson plan and despair.  None were proven, and most were pseudo-science.  Some had an element of usefulness, for example in the case of brain gym, exercise was good it just didn’t stimulate certain parts of the brain.

So the last five years has been about trying to make the profession evidenced based.  Ben Goldacre, author of “Bad Science” wrote a paper about what evidence based practice could look like.  The paper was well received and actually brought ‘real’ research methods into the language of teaching.

He also explained the virtues of randomised trials and how they could be useful.  Scientifically valid, yes.  But morally right?   Ultimately you would be interested when a significant impact was found.  Meaning that one group could do significantly worse or one group significantly better.  But, which group would you want your children to be in?

So the profession has continued to act cautiously, especially when Education theory heavyweights such as Dylan Wiliam points out:
1.      Research can’t tell you what could be
2.      Research is rarely clear enough to guide action

As Tom Bennett noted in his TES article:

“Teaching can — and needs to be — research informed, possibly research augmented. The craft, the art of it, is at the heart of it. Working out what works also means working out what we mean by ‘works’, and where science, heart and wisdom overlap and where they don’t.”

So schools, like Uplands Community College, are working with other schools to see how we can start to be more evidenced based.  As members of the National Teacher Enquiry Network we are into our second year of Lesson Study.  This is a process of working with other teachers to investigate how to ensure students make better progress in their learning.  You can find out more here



in reaction to ‘Ha! Academies’ smoke-and-mirrors sleight of hand with GCSE results exposed for the sham it is!’

I know let’s all keep believing that we all play on a level playing field, that all students are the same and that academic History is the most important subject that you can learn…well when i say learn i me rote learning obviously.  The fact is that most people don’t need a University degree to have a successful life and in fact many degrees are a hindrance to many of the skills that are desperately needed in our economy.

The fact that ‘vocational’ education is looked down upon because all hard working students can be successful in it is the real smoke and mirrors here.  It is so easy to damn the schools for putting students through education that suits them rather than whatever the Universities or the Daily Mail rate as valid.  Take away the Architects, Doctors, Pharmacists  dentists, Vets and Lawyers and you are left with a huge field of work that requires people that can learn on the job using vocational skills – computer engineers, physiotherapists, nurses, nutritionists, plumbers (skilled), etc etc.  These careers used to be championed by the Polytechnic until the Academic snobbery made them desperate to become Universities.

All of this comes with a axe over the heads of Senior Leadership Teams in difficult schools.  Get 30% or get fired.  Many of these schools delivering a traditional academic curriculum could outperform FFT-D and still not hit the baseline target.  What do these schools do?  Didn’t Einstein say that doing the same thing year after year and expecing the outcome to be different is the definition of insanity.  So we moved students onto vocational subjects to allow them more opportunity for success.  Whatever you believe about these subjects it has opened up post-16 education to a whole group of people that were excluded under traditional curricula.  People don’t bemoan L3 BTEC, so why this argument should be levelled at L2?

So want the smoke and mirrors to stop:

1. Get rid of league tables

2. Get rid of arbitrary figures for pass rates

3. Allow a level field for achievement across all sectors and career paths – Dr of Sociology = Master Craftsman

4. Stop trying to force students down one route in education that is fixated on universities

5. Recognise that the Russell Group isn’t meant for all

6. Actually see what happens in schools that we are only teaching to the test now (what the hell is AfL if it isn’t towards an outcome).

7. Celebrate all achievement by revisiting the Tomlison reforms

Vocational education is supposed to be different.  It is our lack of imagination that has to equate them with an ‘academic’ qualification.  A BTEC passed at the Diploma level, should just be seen in its own right as a significant achievement, not equalled to 4 GCSEs.

I do know that maintained schools feel hard done by when the Government keep announcing how well Academies are doing in comparison, and while the current desire to make all schools into Academies makes a mockery of the original intention which was to put a stop to the LA ‘sink’ schools.  In the main I believe that the original Academies have done that.  Taking difficult schools in difficult areas and changed the outcomes for those children.