British Values

This is a really useful post about #BritishValues posted by my colleague Sam Shepherd who has managed to hold his nerve for long enough to make some sense out of all of this.

Sam Shepherd

Not for the first time, I’m glad I am a teacher and not a home office civil servant. Because I means I don’t have to make an effort to define stuff like British Values. I’m using the capital letters on purpose, you understand: I’m talking here about an official definition. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what is meant by British Values:

  • Democracy
  • The rule of law
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Freedom of speech
  • The rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind.

Normally, I couldn’t care less about this kind of thing except in a pub philosophy kind of way. However, now I have to take a proper, sober interest in such things not only because of the Prevent Duty, which is troublesome at best, but also because of the new common inspection framework, which states that where I work will be assessed…

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Teaching without teachers

I worked for a long while in Further and Adult Education and remember a distinct moment when everything changed. We – the entire team of academic staff – were told by a VP that students should no longer be known as students. Instead we were – from that day forward to refer to them only as ‘learners’. Since this time I have noted various OfSTED texts, notably How Colleges Improve – does not mention students at all. Not once. Not once in the entire text. Or to be precise, students are mentioned a few times in this OfSTED summary of how colleges might improve their performance from within the OfSTED framework, but only parenthesis. That is, the only time the word ‘student’ appears is when they are quoting text produced by one of the colleges to which they refer.

It is as if someone somewhere took that joke that busy academics make towards the end of the year when we are busy trying to tie up all our loose ends but somehow – there is still  a queue of people outside your office, ‘My job (as a teacher of students or a manager of people who teach students in an organisation whose existence is premised on the existence of students) would be so much easier of there were no students involved.’

There is so much to say about this!

At a recent Programme Board of which I was chair, an external examiner commented on the learning [sic] goals that trainees [sic] set themselves on their ILPs. All seemed, he said, focused not on what the trainee was teaching, but on what the recipients of that trainees practice were learning. The pupils! Those whom we may no longer refer to as students.  There is a good reason for this. OfSTED wants impact and so we give them impact. The teacher is merely the conduit through which knowledge travels, the one who delivers impactful learning outcomes. What matters is learning, the teacher is merely the unencumbering incumbent through which learning is accomplished.

I think this is connected to the sort of thing which Biesta refers when he develops this concept of ‘learnification’.

Claims and statements such as these clearly show how the language of learning, particularly in its constructivist form, has repositioned the teacher from someone who is at the heart of the educational process to one who literally stands at the sideline in order to facilitate the learning of his or her ‘learners.’ Some of the arguments that have contributed to the rise of the language of learning are not without reason—there is indeed a need to challenge authoritarian forms of education; the rise of the internet does raise the question as to what makes schools special; and, to a certain extent, it cannot be denied that people can only learn for themselves and others cannot do this for them (although this does not mean that there are no limits to constructivism; see Roth, 2011). However, the language of learning falls short as an educational language, precisely because, as mentioned, the point of education is never that students learn but that they learn something, for particular purposes and that they learn it from someone. The language of learning is unable to capture these dimensions partly because learning denotes a process that, in itself, is empty with regard to content and direction; and partly because learning, at least in the English language, is an individualistic and individualising term whereas the educational question—if, for the moment we want to phrase it in terms of learning—is always a matter of learning something from someone. 5 From this angle it is just remarkable, if not shocking, how much policy— but increasingly also research and practice—has adopted the empty language of learning to speak about education. Yet if this is indeed the only language available, then teachers end up being a kind of process-managers of empty and in themselves directionless learning processes.

Biesta (2013)

Does any of this matter? I think it does. In 1999, Colin Griffin linked the discourse shift from education to learning to a wider shift of the State’s withdrawal from public life. The individualization and privatization of functions that had at one stage been public, shared, collective, social. If learning is an individual endeavor, a State can not have an learning policy. It can have an education policy because education is not the responsibility of an individual – it is the responsibility of the state.

It is evident, however, that the learning focus of lifelong learning could never have been an object of public policy in the same way that the provision [of education] could. It is being argued here, on the contrary, that this way of thinking about lifelong learning should be understood more in terms of the withdrawal of the state from public policy-making as part of a strategy to reform the welfare state.

Griffin (1999)


Barrow (2014) The beautiful risk of education, Pastoral Care in Education: An International Journal of Personal, Social and Emotional Development, 32:4, 308-310,

Biesta, G. J. (2013). Giving teaching back to education: Responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice, 6(2), 35-49.

Griffin, C. (1999). Lifelong learning and welfare reform. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 18(6), 431-452.

Would you like some xenophobia with that coffee sir?

me and my son!

In 2010 the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL)  awarded the University of Hull a small research grant to explore ethical leadership in FE. The purpose of the project is to develop new thinking on the subject of leadership and to develop ideas that have both academic rigour and practical utility.

Working in partnership with both Professor Ann Hodgson, from UCL Institute of Education and Professor Jill Jameson, University of Greenwich, Principal Investigator, Dr Carol Azumah Dennis from the University of Hull is seeking to identity 10 Further Education colleges who would be willing to participate in the research. The research team will produce 10 case studies which asks and answers the question: what does ethical research look like in practice. More critically: how do Leaders (or leadership teams) in FE retain sight of their principles when working in a hostile and unsympathetic policy environment. In this is study we are interested in what counts in FE in sharp contrast to what can be counted. The project s interested in what college leaders declare as their commitment through conversation, through mission statements and the explicit espousal of their values. But we are even more interested in how those values are embodied in a leadership team and manifest on how the colleges conducts its business. Our aim is to grasp the mist of college ethos to hold it in our hands and analyse it.

The Leadership for Learning project is steered by an advisory group with representatives from both HE and FE. Included in the FE representative is an experienced, qualified and retained OfSTED inspector. As part of the project, the research team is keen to generate case studies to inform the research while offering colleges feedback in the form of what for the moment at least we are calling a ‘leadership’ profile. This leadership profile (or ‘ethical’ profile) will be generated through one-to-one interviews, an online survey of the entire college community and focus group interviews with managers and staff plus attendance at a everyday college management meeting by a member of the research team. At the end of the process we will feedback to the college a profile that evidences their work towards Question 4 of the newly devised OfSTED framework: The successful promotion of learners personal development, behaviour and welfare. This is not the explicit purpose of the case study, but it is an interesting and valuable outcome that we feel case study colleges might appreciate. The profiles will be reviewed and approved by the advisory group.

In a week where our Prime Minister has declared that Muslim communities on England and Wales are ‘quietly condoning’ terrorism and placed on colleges a statutory requirement to ‘prevent people being drawn into terrorism, which includes not just violent extremism but also non-violent extremism’: how will educators reconcile this requirement and the sanction non-compliance risks with a father’s right to spend time with his son and Abdul’s right to drink coffee wrapped in a paper cup?

If you would be interested in becoming a Case Study College or would like to find out more about the research, please contact: carol dot dennis at hull dot (ac) dot (uk).

Or leave a comment below.

coffe and terrosim

Friend or foe! The Professionalisation Agenda: Teacher Educators in the Lifelong Learning Sector (LLS)

In this post, Charmaine Brown from Greenwich University asks a few important questions about the professionalisation agenda:

 Do you find this title provocative?

Are you passionate or indifferent about your role as teacher educator in the Lifelong Learning Sector?

Do you wish to have a dialogue with other teacher educators on the Professionalisation Agenda and what it means in real terms?

Friend or foe! is the title of my journal article(Brown 2011). It provokes reflection on the impact of the education policies [Success for All (2002) Equipping Our Teachers for the Future (2004) Prosperity for all in the global economy; world class skills’ (2006) ‘The Wolf Review’ (2011) Professionalism in Further Education – The Lingfield reports (2012)].

I decided to write this article after many discussions with colleagues and discovered that teacher educators needed a platform to discuss the potential impact of the policies on our professional identity and how we might be affected psychologically.

I remain passionate about my role as teacher educator having entered the profession in 1988. I enjoy promoting creativity into the learning environment. I see some of the boundaries of the curriculum a challenge which can only extend the expertise of the teacher educator. Problem solving; adapting to the learning environment and learners are but some of the challenges which we face given the successive government policies designed to improve our level of professionalism.

My preliminary investigation conducted as part of my doctoral research has indicated that we are fragmented in our opinions on the impact of the Professionalisation Agenda.

By completing the questionnaire you are being given an opportunity to have your say. You may download a copy of the questionnaire here:

Please return by 28th February 2015 to Charmaine Brown –