ISSN 0963-8253

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Volume 44 Number 1 2002



Please note that FORUM is only available as whole issues/numbers,
i.e. single articles within issues/numbers are not available.


Editorial, 1
Tributes to Brian Simon, 2
Annabelle Dixon, Mary Jane Drummond, Susan Hart & Donald McIntyre. Developing Teaching Free from Ability Labelling: back where we started?, 7
Clyde Chitty. The 2001 White Paper and the New Education Bill, 13
Derek Gillard. The Faith Schools Debate, 15
Annabelle Dixon. Just Words? A Critique of the KS1 Spelling Test, 24
Elise Alexander. Childcare Students: learning or imitating?, 25
Colin Richards. Letter, 28
Thomas Balchin. Male Teachers in Primary Education, 29
Elizabeth Burn. Do Boys Need Male Primary Teachers as Positive Role Models?, 35
John Wadsworth. Breaking the Mould: the issues facing men working in early childhood education, 42




The headteacher half apologised that the children were singing the old fashioned hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ but reassured me that they no longer sang the verse ‘... the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high or lowly and ordered their estate’. Yet, metaphorically speaking, in her ostensibly politically correct school it could be said, as for countless other schools, that rich men are indeed still sitting in their castles and the poor at their gates. The junior children are all in streamed classes and the younger ones are streamed within their classes by the familiar recourse to the names of large animals, small pets and primary colours. Children, teachers and parents alike are under no illusion as to the location of the castles and the gates. They are also aware of the potential riches accruing to those in the upper streams.

The only change is that the Lord is no longer held to be responsible for the way in which such things are ordered and anyway we are told it is not intended for life. But we know and always have known, that streaming is nearly always for life. At a conservative estimate it has been reckoned that 88% of all those children placed in streams or sets, as they now are on government recommendation from four and a half, will remain in those same groupings until they leave school. It is peculiarly and oddly British and it is a practice against which FORUM has been campaigning for over thirty years, inspired by Brian Simon, its co-founder, to whom many tributes are paid in this edition of the journal.

In microcosm, the school aims to represent what the government says it is offering -

social justice. ‘Differentiation’, a supposed example of such justice is designed to give children of varying ability a fair chance according to their place in the rank order of such things. It is a use of the term ‘social justice’ though, that doesn’t bear too close an examination. In the name of justice or even of fairness, a system of differentiation continues to exist in schools that we know by numerous research studies, is of little or no benefit to pupils. Indeed to some groups it is positively deleterious. Socially, it is harmful to all and is regarded by many who have experienced it as the very antithesis of social justice. It is a form of ‘fairness’ that is both suspect and dubious, based as it is on an unquestioned belief in the notion of fixed ability and/or intelligence. As Clyde Chitty pointed out in the previous edition of FORUM, this notion has recognisable historical beginnings and it is not hard to find the influence of the Eugenics Society. It has now permeated educational thinking to the extent that we are now seemingly and even dangerously unaware of the degree to which it influences decisions at many levels and in many contexts. Brian Simon recognised the danger and fought against it all his professional career and it is timely that with his passing we should be re-emphasising what he stood for.

In this context we are very pleased to publish Susan Hart’s innovative article on developing teaching free from ability labelling. Based on an account of a recent research project (‘Learning Without Limits’) at Cambridge University Faculty of Education, it describes the differing practices of nine teachers, both primary and secondary, who rejected the notion of fixed ability. Importantly they did not subscribe to the practice of mixed ability teaching either. This, as Susan Hart points out, is but another version of fixed-ability teaching and one that has bedevilled the comprehensive school argument and distracted educationalists from properly engaging with the notion of fixed ability. Instead, their approach can best be described as the ‘ethic of everybody’. Supported, and in some cases constrained by their circumstances, these teachers in their different ways, arrived at an approach to teaching and learning that Susan Hart has described as one of ‘transformability’ and one that emphasised not only those things that they did because they saw them as lifting the limits to their pupils’ learning but the things that they did not do because they saw them as creating or perpetuating already existing limits. It is an article that takes forward our thinking about teaching without reliance on the notion of fixed ability in a new and important direction.

Michael Armstrong in his tribute to Brian Simon in this issue of FORUM, writes that for Brian there was always a simple test for any new pedagogy: does it serve to promote and support the common intellectual worth of every student? The idea of ‘transformability’ undoubtedly passes that test.

Annabelle Dixon


PO Box 204, Didcot, Oxford OX11 9ZQ, United Kingdom