Tag Archives: professionalism

Stop Teaching Calculus!


Recently I was privileged to be part of a discussion between two of my trainees on the Distance learning PGCE. This course, apart from being transformative for many of us (students and teachers), is also based upon the premise of ‘The Community is the Curriculum’. I purloined this phrase from Dave Cormier, and have been heavily influenced by his #Rhizo MOOCs over the years.  Emma and Stephanie (yes, these are their real names) are happy for me to re-post the discussion here. Our G+ Community is a closed group – perhaps it shouldn’t be but there we are -so I am unable to provide a link. Do continue the discussion using the comments below.
This was Emma’s first post:
For anyone else looking at maths, I stumbled upon this guy really like his ideas. He challenges the purpose of maths. Thought it would be a good link to mastery and problem solving.
Stephanie replied – and this is what piqued my interest and curiosity to watch the video. Before this I may not have entered the discussion and would probably have just left them to it. I thought that I didn’t have anything productive to contribute as mathematics teaching is not my specialism.
Thanks for posting this Emma.  Have sat through the whole thing and I have to say that I disagree with some of his opinions.  He says that computers are the only way forward in mathematics but agreed ‘times tables are somewhat useful.’  He would have been brought up learning his times tables over and over again due to his generation – something which maths in primary education is returning back to.  Therefore, do you not need to have the basic maths embedded, to be able to move forward and progress to doing mathematics on a computer?  Maybe technology is the way forward, but as demonstrated with his phone – it is not ready for us yet.
As soon as I watched the video and thought about Stephanie’s response I realised that the debate resonated so well with my reading and research during my PhD. Why do I seem to find John Dewey at every turn?
Here is my contribution.

Thanks Emma for posting and Steph for your challenging critique. Why is there a chasm (according to Wolfram) between mathematics in education and maths in the world? Does the answer lie in the separation between the abstract and the concrete (the knowing and the doing). A reading of Dewey can help here, as he recognised the problem of education and schooling.

“On the other hand, if an experience arouses curiosity, strengthens initiative, and sets up desires and purposes that are sufficiently intense to carry a person over dead places in the future, continuity works in a very different way. Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into”. (Dewey, 1938, p. 37-38) – Experience and Education.

Wolfram demonstrated the fallibility of computers during his demonstration, and he failed, in my view to reposnd well to Jon Snow’s question on this. He is also , again in my view, looking down the wrong end of the telescope. From his perspective he already has his ‘facts’ learned probably by rote and continued practice at school, yet he rejects the premise that they should be taught in schools. is that a risk worth taking? Perhaps we need to hear from a mathematician who was taught entirely by experiential learning (Montessori etc).

Experiential Learning theory implies the continuous interaction between the person and the context with reflexivity at the heart of learning from experience. However, there is a significant difference between the ideal and the reality. Stott (1995), commenting on Dewey’s influence on educational practices in North America puts it thus:

“Dewey’s educational experiment-revolution designed to bring democracy to North America has not been successful: its humanistic promises lie unfulfilled, and classroom group activities can be even more oppressive and less growthful than superior class instruction. Education is at the crossroads”. (1995: 32)

I find his conclusion troubling when listening to the recent ideological debates around Traditional v Progressive education (see here:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/nick-gibb-teach-children-important-facts-not-joyless-processes-minister-urges-a6859401.html ).

…but for me Dewey’s pragmatism, and Wofram’s endorsement  entail an enlightened profession that connects the knowing and the doing. Are we there yet?

Dewey, J. (1963) Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books.
Stott, L.(1995) ‘Dewey a Disaster?’. International Journal of Research and Method in Education. 18 (1), pp.27-33.

Those of you familiar with the networked power arising from twitter spats around progressive v traditionalist teaching may, like me, become more optimistic about the next generation of teachers – as I am when working with Emma and Stephanie.

“Precarious forms of employment”

I have found time to reply to a comment on my post about Stephen Ball’s work. Theresa raised the problems that sessional tutors sometimes find when attempting to collaborate and connect with professional development. It brought me back to my research into the participation of student teachers in the lifelong learning sector in England. The most recent campaigns by UCU concerning zero hours contracts don’t seem to be making much impact on HR processes, certainly in colleges. What follows is a review of some of the literature concerning the lifelong learning landscape, post fordism, and managerialism. I hope it helps with some of the background and context.

The landscape

Professor James Avis argued that under performance-led regimes prevalent in the FE sector (following the incorporation of FE colleges in 1993), contradictory phenomena emerge that on the one hand deny the legitimacy of some forms of professional practice, while on the other hand providing a context for new forms of ‘active ‘ professionalism (Avis 2005:212). Under the conditions faced by FE teachers characterised by accountability, ‘blame cultures’ (2005:250) and strategic compliance, both pragmatist and progressive practices can operate together. We may acknowledge here, too, the benefits of shared spaces for teachers, including social media.The resources marshalled for teachers include the development of a repertoire of professional knowledge and practice derived from repeated classroom experiences, increased confidence and frameworks by which to reflect on experience. What is often lacking however, particularly for sessional tutors is space within the institution to develop their expertise, pedagogy, and intellectual enquiry.

Allen and Henry (1997) discuss how perceived flexibility in the labour market translates into risk for those employees faced with a relationship based on contractualisation. While their research is about the contract service industry, it is their assessment of Beck’s characterisation of employment risk that might resonate with those who face ‘precarious forms of employment’ (Allen and Henry 1997:181). Both employer and employee can view their contracted labour as flexible on the one hand, and as risky and uncertain on the other, but when people work in what Beck calls ‘a risk-fraught system of employment’ (Beck 1992:143), the very constraints caused by insecurity can lead to a resourcefulness derived from individual biographies rather than collective identities.

Conversely, Avis suggests that resourcefulness can emerge from performative cultures (Lyotard 1984) that are based on Fordist industrial relations and low trust. Avis et al. (2009) invoke Giddens (1998), framing the teaching workplace as a process of reflexive modernisation ‘where restructuring has become commonplace’ and, more alarmingly still, where professionalism based on the legitimacy of pedagogical and curricular expertise has been rendered untenable and replaced with a conditional trust (Avis et al. 2009:245).


According to Brehony and Deem (2005:398), Post-Fordism is defined as the ‘decentralization, flexibility and the widespread use of [computer] technology in organisations’. Flexibility and willingness to undergo CPD are features of a post-Fordist interpretation of recent developments in the LLS since incorporation, as are customization, autonomy and accountability. Its use has become subsumed with ‘the knowledge economy’ and the ‘learning organisation’, yet aspects of the definition sit less well with current practices, one being the assumption of the worker having a sense of autonomy and being able to shape the identity of their organisation. This may be because of the confluence of post-Fordist principles with those of managerialism in the LLS.


Randle and Brady (1997) provide a list of characteristics of what they term new managerialism, such as strict financial management, devolved budgetary controls, efficiency, productivity, performance indicators, consumerism, accountability, flexibility of the workforce and the ‘right to manage’. For them, these characteristics set post-incorporated FE colleges in the mid 1990s in direct opposition to lecturers and academics who predicted a loss of professionalism as a result of the changes to the command and control of their duties and responsibilities (Hayes 2003). They argued that managerialism, as a paradigm, was incompatible with professionalism (1997), and that the limitations of professional control needed to be addressed through collective action. O’Leary (2013) argues that it represents a range of private sector inspired management techniques used as a template to improve productivity, performance and accountability. Ball (1990) and Enteman (1993) provide reductionist definitions where bureaucratic society is replaced and becomes a function of the sum of the application of organisational practices. In particular, Enteman argues that
The relationship between managerialism and the LLS is illustrated well by Pusey (1991:22), albeit from an Australian perspective, arguing that:

There can be no quarrel with the notion of efficiency as such. The inherent problem lies instead at another level – with the criteria that define what count as costs and benefits; with the loss of social intelligence; and with the number and range of potentially constructive discourses that have been suppressed.

If we accept this portrayal of the landscape for the lifelong learning workforce then we could ask 3 questions:
Who benefits?
So what?
What next?

I would be grateful for your thoughts.


Allen, J. and Henry, N. (1997) ‘Ulrich Beck’s Risk society at work: labour and employment in the contract service industries’. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 2 (2), pp.180-196.

Avis, J. (2005) Beyond Performativity: reflections on activist professionalism and the labour process in further education. Journal of Educational Policy. 20(2), pp.209-222.

Avis, J., Fisher, R., and Simmons, R. (eds.) (2009) Issues in Post-Compulsory Education and Training: Critical Perspectives. Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield Press.

Ball, S. (1990) Politics and policy making in education: explorations in policy sociology. Oxon: Routledge.

Ball, S.J. (2008) The Education Debate. Bristol: Policy Press.

Brehony, K.J. and Deem, R. (2005) Challenging the post-fordist/flexible organization thesis: The case of reformed educational organizations. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 26 (3), pp.395-414.

Enteman, W.F. (1993) Managerialism: The Emergence of a New Ideology. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.

Giddens, A. (1998) The Third Way. The Renewal of Social Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Hayes, D. (2003) New labour, New Professionalism. In: Satterthwaite, J., Atkinson, E., and Gale, K. (eds.) Discourse, Power, Resistance: Challenging the rhetoric of contemporary education. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books, pp.28-42.

Lyotard, J.F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

O’Leary, M. (2013) Surveillance, performativity and normalised practice: the use and impact of graded lesson observations in Further Education Colleges. Journal of Further and Higher Education. 37(5), pp.694-714.

Pusey, M., (1991) Economic Rationalism in Canberra: A Nation-Building State Changes its Mind. Cambridge University Press: Melbourne.

Randle, K. & Brady, N. (1997) Managerialism and Professionalism in the Cinderella Service. Journal of Vocational Education and Training. 49 (1), pp.121-139.

Where’s the Evidence of Evidence Based Practice? Exposing the ruinous twins of evidence and policy in Teacher Education

Professional Practice Conference, Saturday.

18th May 2013.

Hull University.


I examine how ideas associated with what are commonly termed evidence-based practice (EBP) and evidence based teaching (EBT) have been re-formed and interpreted by governments and state funded gateways for teachers in the lifelong learning sector in England (such as LLUK, SVUK, LSIS, DFE, Ofsted). I chart the relationship between interpretations of educational research and EBP/T and teacher education policy and practice in the sector from the early 1990’s until the most recent reviews of vocational education (the Wolf

Report) and Professionalism in Further Education (Lingfield Report 2012). Links are made between notions of routinised practices (Iredale 2012) and the ‘ruinous twins’ of evidence and policy. The conclusion will caution against the influence of both simplistic ‘evidence-based’ approaches on teachers, systematic review, and the rising tendency for policymakers and managers in the sector to lose interest in wider more critical educational research.

“HERE is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it”.

Jill Jameson on professionalism

Jill Jamesons paper on professionalism from The 12th LSRN National Research Event.


Yvonne Hillier on professionalism


These slides were presented at the 12th LSRN National Research Event in November 2012. More slides and materials can be found here: