ISSN 0963-8253

Other issues available | Journal home page | Publisher home page

Volume 47 Numbers 2 & 3 2005


CONTENTS [click on author's name for abstract and full text]


Annabelle Dixon, 1940‑2005, 43 VIEW FULL TEXT
Annabelle Dixon
. Space, Schools and the Younger Child, 51

THEME Reclaiming the Radical Tradition in State Education

Michael Fielding. Putting Hands Around the Flame: reclaiming the radical tradition in state education, Editorial, 61
Michael Armstrong. Teaching Imagination, 71
Mary Jane Drummond. Professional Amnesia: a suitable case for treatment, 83
Alison Peacock. Raising Standards: what do we really want?, 91
Mike Davies. Less is More: the move to person-centred, human scale education, 97
Michael Fielding. Alex Bloom, Pioneer of Radical State Education, 119
Jo Boaler. The ‘Psychological Prisons’ From Which They Never Escaped: the role of ability grouping in reproducing social class inequalities, 135
Ivor Goodson. The Exclusive Pursuit of Social Inclusion, 145
Tony Booth. Keeping the Future Alive: putting inclusive values into action, 151
Sheila Dainton. Reclaiming Teachers’ Voices, 159
Patrick Yarker. On Not Being a Teacher: the professional and personal costs of workforce remodelling, 169
Derek Gillard. Rescuing Teacher Professionalism, 175
Helen Gunter. Putting Education Back into Leadership, 181
David Limond. Illuminating Schools and Communities,189
Pat Thomson. Who’s Afraid of Saul Alinsky? Radical Traditions in Community Organising, 199
Clyde Chitty. The Challenges Facing Comprehensive Schools, 207
Francis Beckett. On the Comfort of the Wilderness: the significance of Lord Andrew Adonis, de facto Secretary of State for Education, 212
Stephen J. Ball. Radical Policies, Progressive Modernisation and Deepening Democracy: the Academies programme in action, 215
Terry Wrigley. Another School is Possible: learning from Europe, 223


Putting Hands Around the Flame: reclaiming the radical tradition in state education


Against the Claustrophobia of Contemporary Culture
The culture in which we live is perhaps the most claustrophobic that has ever existed; in the culture of globalisation … there is no glimpse of an elsewhere, of an otherwise. … The first step towards building an alternative world has to be a refusal of the world picture implanted in our minds … Another space is vitally necessary. (Berger, 2002, p. 214)

This Special Double Issue of FORUM is a collective refusal to accept contemporary educational presumptions as they exist in England in 2005. It takes comfort from John Berger’s re-assurance that ‘in this resistance is hope. A hope that we are desperately trying to recognise’ (Berger, 2002, p. 214) and takes seriously his suggestions that ‘the act of resistance means not only refusing to accept the absurdity of the world picture offered us, but denouncing it’ (ibid, p. 214). Contributors to this Special Double Issue do, indeed, denounce the absurdities, injustices and daily inhumanity of much that makes up the explicit norms and, more importantly, the underlying assumptions of contemporary state schooling in England. Both their denunciation and their advocacy connect to a further motif of Berger’s fine collection of essays, namely the importance of continuities. His remarks on the claustrophobia of contemporary culture which open this Editorial come from that part of his stirring ‘Against the Great Defeat of the World’ in which he reflects on the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Our capacity to interrogate the present with any degree of wisdom or any likelihood of creating a more fulfilling future rests significantly on our knowledge and engagement with the past and with the establishment of continuities that contemporary culture denies. These presumptions persist most often as a susurrus beneath the surface of much of what Berger has to say. Occasionally they are more openly articulated, as in his engagement with Bosch. Occasionally, as in his essay on ‘Giorgio Morandi’, we encounter them as a vibrant sense of grounded hope. ‘Traces’, says Berger, ‘are not only what is left when something has gone, they can also be marks for a project, of something to come.’ (ibid, p. 144)

In ‘Reclaiming the Radical Tradition in State Education’ we are engaging with ‘traces’ in Berger’s double sense. We do so because, as with Russell Jacoby, we fear that our ‘society remembers less and less faster and faster. The sign of the times is thought that has succumbed to fashion; it scorns the past as antiquated while touting the present as the best’ (Jacoby, 1977, p. 1). This is not just a matter of intellectual regret: it has more far-reaching consequences for, as Russell Jacoby again so eloquently and so terrifyingly reminds us, ‘society has lost its memory, and with it, its mind. The inability or refusal to think back takes its toll in the inability to think’ (Jacoby, 1997, pp. 3‑4). It seems to me that we now need to do two things: firstly, we must reclaim and revoice narratives of our radical past which sustained those who fought for an education worthy of the name; secondly, we must create new spaces and new opportunities where teachers’ work can not only connect with their radical heritage, but articulate their own stories and weave their own narratives into the fabric of the future.

With regard to the first of these imperatives – the necessity of reclaiming and revoicing narratives of our radical past – many of the authors of the Special Issue remind us how important this is. Thus, contrary to current government misinformation, Mary Jane Drummond remind us that ‘in the years before the Education Reform Act of 1988, by and large, teachers did their own thinking, turning to a variety of sources to enrich their understanding and help them make a case for their principled pedagogical decisions’. Sheila Dainton concurs and exposes the intellectual waywardness of Michael Barber’s, now sadly well known, depiction of the 1970s as a period of ‘uninformed professionalism’, a portrayal that is not only ‘deeply hurtful, but much more important, historically inaccurate’.

With regard to the second imperative – the creation of new spaces and opportunities for teachers to review and re-energise the radical state tradition in England – journals like FORUM, professional forums like the Socialist Education Association, university units like the Centre for Educational Innovation at the University of Sussex, national networks like Human Scale Education, must find new ways of engaging with school staff who have been robbed of a language capable of voicing their encounter with the world and their desire to change it, a language rendered inarticulate under what Tony Booth later in this Special Issue describes as ‘the shadow of managerialist absurdity’.

In sum, we need to develop counter-narratives that reconnect to our radical heritage. We need to retell narratives that transcend what Shelia Dainton so beautifully calls ‘the wearisome appeal to Middle England’. We need to name different realities. We need, with the narrator of William Morris’s Dream of John Ball, to reflect on

How men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (Morris, 1968 [1886/87], p. 53)

We need, in the spirit of John Berger, to put our hands around the flames of our own stories to protect them (Berger, 2005), to help us see the presence of possibility in the gloom of troubled times.

Imagination, Freedom and the Necessity of Respect
In addition to the tributes to Annabelle Dixon’s life and work we open our Special Issue by republishing her Space, Schools and the Younger Child in which she asks some searching questions about whether we give enough consideration to the actual nature of the different kinds of ‘spaces’ that children need, inhabit and experience in their school lives. While these include physical, geographical and interpersonal spaces, they are also include inner spaces in which we can nurture and extend their imaginations. Echoing concerns taken up later in this Special Issue by her friend Mary Jane Drummond, Annabelle warns us that too often what should be expressive, exploratory and evanescent in young children is rendered mute, myopic and moribund by a curriculum that is ‘flawed, shallow and deeply unserious’.

The power and importance of the imagination is exemplified in all its subtlety and beauty by Michael Armstrong’s Teaching Imagination. Michael is one of the most profound and eloquent advocates of the radical progressive tradition in this country. Here he brings us back to fundamentals: to the transformative power of imagination that all young people exercise; to the necessity of acknowledging the respect it invites and the attentiveness it demands of us. In a sensitive and highly-attuned response to the moving work of a 14 year old boy Michael exemplifies all that his advocacy names: imaginative entry into the work of the child; response to that work with critical sympathy; and suggested lines of future enquiry and imaginative engagement.

Mary Jane Drummond’s Professional Amnesia: a suitable case for treatment testifies, again with great beauty and power, not just to the necessities, but to the joys of imagination, respect and attentiveness in the substance and the manner of what she has to say. She reminds us through the work of Edmund Holmes, Susan Isaacs, Ruth Griffiths and others that, in Ruth Griffiths’ words, children’s ‘most urgent need is freedom to grow and think’. This is in large part also true of adults who teach them and they are ill-served by contemporary policy assumptions that teachers know nothing and thus need to be told. In Mary Jane’s view, we did and do know something, indeed some very important things, and ‘we did not and do not need so much telling. The time is ripe for some critical remembering.’

Radical Approaches to 21st Century Primary and Secondary Schooling
Two of our next three contributions come from serving headteachers. The first, Raising Standards: what do we really want? by Alison Peacock, headteacher of the Wroxham School, a one-form entry primary school in Hertfordshire, suggests that ‘schools have become so busy trying to do as they are told by a range of masters that they have forgotten to respond from the heart’. Inspired in part by the life and work of Annabelle Dixon whom we honour in this Special Issue, Alison argues that ‘we need to rekindle joy amongst teachers in order that we can nurture and enhance the natural love of life and learning of our children’. The results speak for themselves.

Mike Davies is Principal of Bishops Park College, Clacton, arguably the most radical secondary school in England at the present time. In his Less is More: the move to person-centred, human scale education he reminds us of the legacy of the 1970s and 1980s that laid the spiritual and practical foundations of the work of the college before describing how the principles and precepts of the radical tradition in state education can not only be continued into the 21st century, but grounded in new ways which express ‘a move to educate on a human scale, to end the isolation of the teacher and the taught, and bring a sense of community and belonging as the foundation for dignity, challenge and excellence’.

In his Alex Bloom, Pioneer of Radical State Education Michael Fielding argues that in this once internationally renowned headteacher of a secondary modern school in the East End of London we have someone whose work in the first decade after the Second World war anticipates and still outreaches even the most creative periods of the comprehensive movement that were to follow. Here is someone whose understanding and practice of ‘personalised learning’ was immensely more profound and more inspiring than anything to emerge thus far from the DfES. Here is someone whose commitment to ‘student voice’ is a humbling reminder of how far we have yet to go in even approximating to what he achieved. We have much to learn from him.

Taking Inclusion Seriously: consequences for setting, subjects and values in action
The three articles by Jo Boaler, Ivor Goodson and Tony Booth explore three aspects of the radical state tradition that are fundamental to the integrity of the movement. These have to do with our commitment to a pedagogy that is not only creative and engaging, but also socially just; a commitment to a curriculum framework and subject content that rejects the elitism of the 1904 Curriculum Regulations which still shape what we are required to do in 2005; and a commitment to a form of inclusive education which is essentially about, in Tony Booth’s words, ‘new ways of living together’.

Jo Boaler’s The ‘Psychological Prisons’ From Which They Never Escaped: the role of ability grouping in reproducing social class inequalities is in many respects a landmark article. Her research suggests that setting significantly depressed and obstructed the life chances of students in her study, thereby creating the ‘psychological prisons’ of her title. Conversely, students taught in mixed ability arrangements in a progressive school in one of the poorest areas of the country helped those young people to become upwardly mobile. She concludes her article with the devastating question:

If the Labour Party really cares about promoting ‘social justice’ then an important part of their agenda for the future must be to learn about equitable and effective grouping policies that promote high achievement for all and reduce rather than reproduce social inequalities.

Issues of social equality lie at the heart of Ivor Goodson’s The Exclusive Pursuit of Social Inclusion which opens with a reminder that ‘New Labour policies have in fact worked not to broaden social inclusion, but deepen social exclusion’. Part of the reason why this is so has to do with the fact that ‘many of the traditional building blocks of schooling are themselves devices for social exclusion, not inclusion’, in particular the dominance of the curriculum by traditional school subjects which are ‘exclusionary devices’, as he compellingly illustrates with reference to the history of science as a school subject.

Tony Booth’s Keeping the Future Alive: putting inclusive values into action is a passionate affirmation of his own commitments to and experience of inclusion ‘as a principled approach to education and society, as a task of putting particular values into action’. The article explores some of the difficulties and joys of working in this way and ends with an acknowledgement that despite the obstacles and absurdities of managerialism that frustrate our work, ‘principled action is its own reward. The painstaking task of linking inclusive values to action, keeps alive a resource for acting otherwise’.

Reclaiming Teacher Professionalism
The next four articles explore different aspects of contemporary teacher professionalism in its struggles to retain its collective memory, its voice and, consequently, its educational integrity as we move into the 21st century. Sheila Dainton opens her Reclaiming Teacher Voices with the observation that ‘there is surely something deeply and profoundly worrying about a profession that could well be in danger of forgetting its collective history and, perhaps worse still, of losing its collective voice – and the voices of individual teachers’. Her devastating demolition of Michael Barber’s four-fold matrix of late 20th century professionalism is one of the many joys of this Special Issue of FORUM. Having offered a quite different version of recent history the article concludes with three tentative suggestions of ways in which the teaching profession might begin to reclaim its voice.

As a very gifted, utterly committed teacher of many years experience in secondary comprehensive schools Patrick Yarker’s On Not Being a Teacher: the professional and personal costs of Workforce Remodelling makes compelling and disturbing reading. This is a article of great significance and sadness. In it we confront the dilemmas of all those who try to live out the unity of values and action Tony Booth advocated earlier. ‘How far’, asks Patrick Yarker, ‘is it proper for a teacher to stay silent, or be silenced and to disregard their personal views, in the implementation of education policy?’ Finally, the tensions generated in teachers by having to implement in the classroom what they cannot agree with – the cumulative deluge of ‘delivery’, SATs, ‘levels’, ‘gifted and talented’, and the effective abandonment of QTS – takes its toll.

The sustained attack over many years on teacher professionalism which contributed to Patrick Yarker’s resignation is clearly mapped out in Derek Gillard’s Rescuing Teacher Professionalism. Like Shelia Dainton, he too makes a number of suggestions for change and ends his article with the salutary reminder to governments offered by Lester Smith nearly 50 years ago: ‘You cannot have it both ways – the right to interfere and the right to expect initiative and imaginative leadership’.

The question of leadership and its relation to the independence of thought and judgement that lies at the heart of any legitimate notion of professionalism is explored in a variety of ways in Helen Gunter’s Putting Education Back into Leadership. What comes through particularly strongly is the notion that educational leadership must be concerned, not just with efficiency and effectiveness and with ‘measurable productivity’, but also with ‘challenging the power structures and cultures that are inherited and can act as barriers to democratic development’, or, as she puts it in her concluding sentence, ‘the processes of learning within the public domain’.

Schools, Community and Democracy
The next two articles explore different aspects of schools and their relations with their communities. In the first of these, Illuminating Schools and Communities, David Limond warns us against what for many seems a positive development in recentring the wholeness and integrity of the child as a person in the ECM (Every Child Matters) legislation. Drawing on recent Scottish research and the history of the English community college tradition, David Limond argues, firstly, that what seems to be benign more often than not turns out to be an instrument of control. Secondly, he suggests that in their failure to understand the richness and importance of their own distinctive traditions and histories those who framed the legislation have by-passed alternative models and practices that hold out more hope of a democratic commitment to authentic learning.

David Limond’s warning against a ‘medicalised surveillance’ model of community engagement is echoed in Pat Thomson’s Who’s Afraid of Saul Alinsky? Radical Traditions in Community Organising. The work of Saul Alinsky, often described as the ‘father’ of community organising, still has much to teach us. Those North American colleagues inspired by his work argue that ‘educational schemes must shift away from patronising and paternalistic notions of needy communities that require co-ordinated services – as in the case of the Comer full service schools model – designed and delivered by professionals’. We need to reclaim our own radical traditions, resist the Blairite manufacture of civil society and remember, in Alinsky’s words, that ‘The central principle of all our organisational efforts is self-determination … We’re not there to lead, but to help and teach’.

Contemporary Policies, Radical Critiques
The next three articles explore in very different ways how we might understand and respond to current government policies from the standpoint of the radical state tradition. Clyde Chitty’s The Challenges Facing Comprehensive Schools honours the work of one of the early comprehensive pioneers before taking a close look at some more recent developments, such as Tim Brighouse’s advocacy of a collegiate framework now apparently championed by central government, and returns to some of the residual topics of debate such as the neighbourhood comprehensive principle and curriculum reform. What comes over particularly from the article is, firstly, the truth of Roy Hattersley’s withering remark that ‘the government has no philosophic compass with which to guide its policies’ and, secondly, Clyde Chitty’s own rich sense of what some of the magnetic orientations of that compass should be.

For Francis Beckett, the magnetic poles of New Labour’s third term education team confirm earlier apprehensions about an apparent co-incidence with the guiding principles of neo-liberalism. In his On the Comfort of the Wilderness: the significance of Lord Andrew Adonis, de facto Secretary of State for Education Tony Blair’s strategic appointment of Lord Andrew Adonis in Education prompts a retreat to the wilderness. In any event, it seems likely that campaign groups, such as ‘Comprehensive Futures’ to which Francis Becket belongs, will make the difficult and depressing decision to uncouple themselves from what, as he ironically reminds us is, ‘the only major political party that believes (in comprehensive education)’.

Stephen Ball’s Radical Policies, Progressive Modernisation and Deepening Democracy: the Academies programme in action engages with one of the most contentious of New Labour’s third term dynamics, namely the Academies programme. Locating the programme within the wider context of ‘progressive modernisation’, Stephen Ball raises important issues, not just about the Academies and their very serious dangers and shortcomings, but also about ‘the new localism’ which turns out to be neither local nor empowering of those who can legitimately claim to be local. Instead we have the glitz of ‘fast policy’ imposing ‘elite solutions’ on local communities.

Learning from Europe
We end our Special Issue by looking outward, not across the Atlantic, but to radical traditions in mainland Europe which seem to retain greater proximity to contemporary governments than we have thus far managed to achieve in England. Terry Wrigley’s Another School is Possible: learning from Europe offers inspiration and hope from Scandinavia and particularly from the Laboratory School in Bielefeld, Germany. It is interesting and helpful to note that the ‘common feature of these approaches are that they provide a secure but flexible structure for teachers and learners, alongside scope and encouragement for choice and initiative within a common theme and activity,’ something that, for instance, Alex Bloom (the subject of Michael Fielding’s article) would have recognised fifty years ago and Mike Davies in his Less is More would recognise and applaud today.

The Urgent Solidarities of Humankind
We are living at a significant moment, not just in the history of education in England, but in the wider context of western culture and its engagement with other nations and traditions across the world. For the two authors whose work inspires and speaks through this prefatory contribution to this Special Issue of FORUM this evinces a sense of profound apprehension and insistent hope.

For John Berger, who underscores what he sees as the urgency of his book, The Shape of a Pocket, from which these extracts are taken, the apprehension is palpable. ‘There are,’ he says, ‘historical periods when madness appears to be what it is: a rare and abnormal affliction. There are other periods – like the one we have just entered – when madness appears to be typical’ (Berger, 2002, p. 177). For Russell Jacoby, writing the revised introduction to his book, Social Amnesia, originally published twenty years earlier, the observation that ‘the wholesale rejection of the past as past bespeaks the marketing mentality, the assumption that today is necessarily better than yesterday’ (Jacoby, 1997, p. 58) leads him to suggest that ‘Even if newer cars, telephones, and x-ray machines are superior to older ones, new philosophers, psychologists, or literary critics may not be’ (ibid). Indeed, it may well be that ‘intelligence is dwindling in advanced industrial society. Undoubtedly we have more information and data but we may understand less and less’ (ibid).

Whilst Berger and Jacoby articulate deep disquiet with disturbing eloquence they match their unease with an equally articulate hope. Thus, for Russell Jacoby his book remains ‘less about political than intellectual resistance, thinking against the grain – an endeavour that remains as urgent as ever’ (Jacoby, 1997, p. 50). John Berger’s book is itself an act of resistance, rejecting the madness he exposes with such delicate and terrifying insight; it is a magnificent denunciation and ‘when hell is denounced from within it ceases to be hell’ (Berger, 2002, p. 215).

I end with an extract from the Argentinean poet Juan Gelman’s Selected Poems Unthinkable Tenderness, cited more than once in Berger’s book. Here are the last two stanzas of the poem ‘They Wait’:

death itself has come with its documentation /
we’re going to take up again
the struggle / again we’re going to begin
again we’re going to begin all of us
against the great defeat of the world /
little compañeros who never end / or
who burn like fire in the memory
again / and again / and again
(Gelman, 1997, p. 45)

Those of us in the radical tradition of state education are ‘little compañeros … who burn like fire’. Others will see our fire, others will warm themselves by it as we warm each other, and together we will light beacons of hope again in England. We will see other fires in Wales, in Scotland, in Ireland, in Europe, in North America, in Australasia, and in other places and countries across our small planet: a radical tradition worthy of its name invites and offers the urgent solidarities of humankind.

Professor Michael Fielding
Centre for Educational Innovation, School of Education, The Sussex Institute, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QQ, United Kingdom

Berger, J. (2002) The Shape of a Pocket. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Berger, J. (2005) Interview on Radio 3 ‘Nightwaves’, 25 March.
Gelman, J. (1997) Unthinkable Tenderness: selected poems. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Jacoby, R. (1977) Social Amnesia: a critique of conformist psychology from Adler to Laing. Hassocks: Harvester Press.
Jacoby, R. (1997) Revisiting ‘Social Amnesia’, Society, 35(1), pp. 58‑60 [This article is the revised preface to the 1996 edition of Social Amnesia]
Morris, W. (1968)[1886/87] Three Works by William Morris. London: Lawrence& Wishart.


Space, Schools and the Younger Child


This article first appeared in FORUM, Volume 46, Number 1, 2004, pp.19‑23, and appears now as a tribute to the late Annabelle Dixon. In this article Annabelle looks at the nature, potential and changing character of the spaces provided for younger children in present day schools from the viewpoint of an Early Years teacher. In typically elegant and insightful fashion she asks, ‘Do we, should we, give enough consideration to those spaces required by the development of their imagination, for instance?’ before going on to explore the issue of space in all its interpersonal, geographical and curricular richness.


Teaching Imagination


‘It is imagination, above all, that drives learning forward’. With the eloquence and insight always associated with his work Michael Armstrong considers how to recognise children’s imaginative achievement: how to observe it, interpret it, value it and promote it. The child’s exemplification of the power of the imagination demands our respect, but more explicitly our attention. It is this closeness of attention that marks out the act of interpretation as the polar opposite to standard assessment procedures that dominate educational practice on both sides of the Atlantic at the present moment. There could not be a better moment to reassert the primacy of the imagination in the process of learning and the value of interpretation in the business of teaching.


Professional Amnesia: a suitable case for treatment


Early Years educators have always had a particularly secure feel for what lies at the heart of vibrant education, for ‘a principled understanding of learning’. Here Mary Jane Drummond reminds the reader, not only that professional knowledge exists outside ring binders, but that, prior to their emergence, we did know some very important things we would do well to return to. In reconnecting to the richness and depth of twentieth-century pioneers she reminds the reader how things might yet be. All the writers she cites emphasise that children’s ‘most urgent need is freedom to grow and think,’ an insight that it as is true for teachers as it is for children: the time is ripe for some critical remembering.


Raising Standards: what do we really want?


When taking up her headship of a one-form entry primary school in ‘special measures’ Alison Peacock’s approach was to begin to rekindle joy amongst teachers in order to nurture and enhance the natural love of life and learning in children. She refused to label children by ability, preferring to value all individuals and celebrate success. Applying this to staff as well as to children, gradually the spark and the joy returned. In this now very successful school two points emerge particularly strongly. Firstly, an environment of discovery, team work and professional trust were more effective than current obsessions with rigorous lesson observation and targets. Secondly, through radical whole school student voice work a system of school democracy developed that had ‘a revolutionary effect on our school’.


Less is More: the move to person-centred, human scale education


Bishops Park College, Clacton, is arguably the most important single educational innovation at secondary school level the United Kingdom has seen for 20 years. Here the Principal, Mike Davies, begins by reflecting on ways in which forgotten pioneers can help us develop a more profound approach to truly ‘personalised’ learning, before providing an inspirational and passionate account of the first English school designed and built to house a ‘schools-within-schools’ approach to learning. At Bishops Park such an approach is based on the belief that we must start with relationships that enable us to know and shape each other’s learning in depth. For this to happen we need continuities of time, place, and persons and a wide-ranging, extensively negotiated curriculum.


Alex Bloom, Pioneer of Radical State Education


Alex Bloom is one of the greatest figures of radical state education in England. His approach to ‘personalised learning’ and the development of a negotiated curriculum was immeasurably more profound and more inspiring than anything to emerge thus far from the current DfES. His approach to student voice was much more radical than anything presently emerging from the current new wave of activity. His school, St George-in-the-East, a secondary modern school in Stepney in the East End of London, utterly rejected regimentation, corporal punishment (still the norm at the time) and the use of marks, prizes and competition. On the fiftieth anniversary of his death it is fitting to return to learn again from his still unfulfilled legacy.


The ‘Psychological Prisons’ from which They Never Escaped: the role of ability grouping in reproducing social class inequalities


In stark contrast to the recommendations of the current White Paper, Jo Boaler’s recent research suggests that the radical progressive state school commitment to mixed ability teaching has, in the case of this landmark study, led to better results and better life-chances than its more traditional counterpart whose ability grouping practices created, in the words of one ex-pupil, ‘psychological prisons’ that ‘break ambition’ and ‘almost formally label kids as stupid’. If ability grouping reproduces social class inequalities any political party that really cares about social justice must look again at the norms of ability segregation that blights so much of contemporary practice. In their stead we need equitable and effective grouping polices that promote high achievement for all.


The Exclusive Pursuit of Social Inclusion


Despite its best intentions, social exclusion has grown rather than diminished under New Labour’s education policies. In order to understand this Ivor Goodson argues that we need to engage with the history of the formal curriculum and the long and continuing fight over what counts as proper knowledge. Taking science and environmental science as his examples he reveals a shameful story of intellectual and social prejudice that remains immovably with us today. Commitment to social inclusion that ignores the exclusionary nature of the curriculum we are required to teach will, inevitably and ironically, defeat attempts to undertake deep reform of a profoundly unjust and in some respects intellectually dishonest system of education.


Keeping the Future Alive: putting inclusive values into action


Tony Booth has fought for inclusive education all his life, arguing that the labelling of children as ‘having special educational needs’ serves to devalue a group and obscure their diversity. It encourages educational difficulties to be seen primarily in terms of the deficiencies of children thus deflecting attention away from the contextual barriers to learning. In reflecting on the struggle for a democratic, participatory practice that values all students and staff equally he re-affirms not only the central importance of socialist values, but also of the language and legacy of the radical progressive tradition that invites us, once again, to understand the importance of ‘honesty’ and ‘joy’ as they ‘blink hesitantly under the shadow of managerialist absurdities’.


Reclaiming Teachers’ Voices


In advocating the importance of reclaiming teachers’ voices Sheila Dainton argues, not only that the DfES myth of 1970s ‘uninformed professionalism’ is historically inaccurate and embarrassingly oxymoronic, she also observes that ‘‘delivering’ someone else’s thoughts, ideas, strategies and lesson plans’ hardly counts as ‘informed professionalism’. Concluding a wide-ranging, passionately argued account of thirty-five years of teacher professionalism she suggests the current emphasis on performing and attaining, rather than learning and achieving, seems similarly puzzling as icons of professional aspiration. Sheila draws the final section of her paper to a close by suggesting three ways in which the teaching profession might collectively begin to reclaim its voice, its enthusiasm and its capacity to change what matters.


On Not Being a Teacher: the professional and personal costs of Workforce Remodelling


The introduction of Workforce Remodelling poses profound questions about 21st century teacher professionalism. Here Patrick Yarker explores, not only the dangers and duplicity of one particular ‘reform’. These moving, insightful reflections of a gifted, courageous teacher expose the personal and professional dilemmas that will always face those who work for radical change within the state education system. In asking ‘How far is it proper for a teacher to stay silent or be silenced and disregard their personal views in the implementation of education policy?’ he raises questions we are often too busy or too apprehensive to consider. And yet, ‘What we teach is ourselves’. It is our relational engagement with young people that is at the heart of education.


Rescuing Teacher Professionalism


If teachers are to reclaim any sort of agenda – let alone a radical one – they need to be taken seriously as professionals. Why aren’t they? Derek Gillard surveys the history of teaching in England and argues that teacher professionalism was a short-lived phenomenon which has been in decline for thirty years. Far from rescuing it from the Tories, New Labour has extended the process of de-professionalisation. With a third of the teachers recently saying they are considering leaving the profession within the next five years because of workload, initiative overload and the target-driven culture the issues Derek Gillard identifies as key to the process of professional renewal take on a particular significance.


Putting Education Back into Leadership


Leadership must always be suspect in a radical tradition, not because it is unnecessary or unimportant, but because it too readily re-enforces the status quo, even when it tries hard not to. Helen Gunter argues that leadership needs to re-engage with learning, not merely focus on performance, and that we need to have the courage to exercise judgement. Educational leadership is not just the must of delivering efficient and effective organisations, but is also about challenging the power structures and cultures that are inherited and can act as barriers to democratic development. It is about the central importance of re-engaging with the specifically ‘public’ nature of what education and schooling should be in a democratic society.


Illuminating Schools and Communities


The UK Government’s commitment to Full-Service or Extended Schools is now firmly established in the Every Child Matters legislation. Here David Limond examines these developments, largely inspired and dominated by North American models, and in the light of older English and Scottish traditions argues for a more radical approach that exemplifies people’s capacity to take charge of their own lives without bureaucratic interference. He argues that modern British Third Way communitarianism animating the current agenda is too often haphazard, poorly thought-out, driven by novelty and easy prey to authoritarian tendencies. He suggests current models of community school are little more than the extension of medicalised surveillance into the lives of certain people and the industrialisation of education as a whole.


Who’s Afraid of Saul Alinsky? Radical traditions in community organising


Community involvement too often becomes a patronising, paternalistic process designed and delivered by professionals to control rather than enable and empower. What alternatives are there? Pat Thomson argues that within the international radical tradition we have some important answers and urges us to draw once again on the work of people like Saul Alinsky who encouraged those made poor by economic, demographic and social changes can take an equal part in designing solutions for their problems. In addition to those wider solidarities she also reminds us of our own traditions of community organising that have deeper roots and more tangible relevance to local concerns and everyday lives than the ‘manufactured civil society’ we are in danger of creating.


The Challenges Facing Comprehensive Schools


This article is an edited version of a talk written for delivery at a conference organised to celebrate 50 years of Kidbrooke Comprehensive School with the overall theme ‘The Comprehensive Ideal: taking it beyond the individual school’. Having honoured the pioneering work at Kidbrooke, Clyde Chitty then takes a close look at three key issues: the ‘collegiate’ scheme proposed by Tim Brighouse, the long-running debate about catchment areas, and the centrality of curriculum reform. The article concludes by arguing that we cannot allow the government to redefine the comprehensive ideal simply as a means of legitimising the introduction of yet more diversity into an already complex and unworkable secondary system.


On the Comfort of the Wilderness: the significance of Lord Andrew Adonis, de facto Secretary of State for Education


Here Francis Beckett, formerly Education Correspondent of the New Statesman and long-time member of the Labour Party ‘Comprehensive Futures’ group set up to further the cause of non-selective schools for all children reflects on the prospects for radical state education in New Labour’s third term. He argues that with Andrew Adonis made a lord to enable him to be kept in charge of education the likelihood of progress in directions this journal would support seem highly unlikely. In these circumstances Francis Beckett opts for a ‘wilderness’ that he suggests is likely to be a more comfortable place to be than contemporary alternatives.


Radical Policies, Progressive Modernisation and Deepening Democracy: the Academies programme in action


One of the tricky things we have to wrestle at present is whether or not we should believe what often sounds like good policy, policy that trumpets the involvement of those who are to be affected by it. Is ‘engaging with the local’ to be taken seriously or not? Is the language of participation a linguistic sleight of hand or an indicator of a revival of our democratic way of life? In looking in some detail at the Academies programme Stephen Ball pushes us back to wider issues such as these and suggests that too often we end up with ‘fast’ policy and ‘elite’ solutions in which government and big business impose their own aspirations and intentions on local communities.


Another School is Possible: learning from Europe


In this impassioned attack on the profound failure of the current English system of schooling Terry Wrigley reminds us of inspirational European alternatives, particularly but not exclusively, from Scandinavia. They not only produce better ‘results’ as measured by international league tables; they also produce better ‘results’ in the wider, more exacting senses that radical democratic progressive education advocates. The challenges, both national and global, that education now faces are daunting. Yet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to think outside the frame, especially for younger teachers perhaps who have not known anything else. Studying alternative traditions in Europe and elsewhere, as well as pockets of enlightenment here, may have a significant role in helping us to think outside the box.


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