Tag Archives: research

The Architecture of Inclusive Assessment: Power, Risk and Participation

Ann Winter (find her blog here) and I recently presented our ongoing research at a conference hosted by the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory at the University of Plymouth (PEDRIO).

The following post represents the conversation that Ann and I held during our presentation. The resulting short paper is published here.

We thought we would reproduce it in our blogs, to give it a wider ‘airing’. We would be grateful for any comments and further discussions.

The post is represented as a conversation about the development of our ideas for the theme ‘Inclusive Assessment’. Most of our conversation was conducted online using @padlet and face to face during visits to Oldham Library, The Hepworth Wakefield, and Shibden Park .  We were experimenting with the notion of dialogue as assessment (perhaps not when we started, but certainly as we went along). Ann’s voice and mine are therefore separated as subheadings.

The Status Quo


Thinking back to when we started preparing our abstract Alison, we held our discussions and exchange online through Padlet, which now gives us a chronology of our thinking and ideas. Following my initial reading I think I coined the phrase ‘Initial Assessment (IA) has landedjanus lightly’ and it did with me as it was intuitively appealing, especially coming on the back of my involvement with the BA(Hons) Health and Community Studies (HACS) students during the 2013/14 academic year.

Couple the diverse range of assessments (mind maps, reports, e-portfolios, individual and group presentations, essays and group workshops and portfolios) with the use of dialogic and written feedback it felt as though the diversity and differences in and between the students had been acknowledged in the assessment planning.  A further opportunity to invite third year students into the traditionally closed academic space of assessment design reflected engagement with students in a new dialogue and perhaps went a little way in developing shared meanings and understandings.

I’d accepted IA as a ‘good thing,’ and saw the anticipatory assessment variation and flexibility along with the engagement with students as a marker for IA whereas you were bringing in talk of risk, confidence, knowingness and policy architectures.

I recall Alison that we found ourselves agreeing with Waterfield and West (2010) that the meaning of IA has been taken for granted and having a status as an idealised target.


Our initial conversations about the innovative, diverse assessment practices on the HACS course, and the impetus that the abstract call gave us to think more about assessment design, brought my PhD thesis into a fresh domain. I had been concerned about the ‘taken for granted’ assumptions about what is considered to be good pedagogic practice for some time. I recall being keen to challenge you Ann to look behind the design into the power relations surrounding participation and engagement in assessment. These were difficult conversations as it felt a little iconoclastic to suggest that the materiality of ‘inclusive assessment’ may fail to benefit the students that it is designed to serve.

Do you agree Ann that once we read Waterfield and West we found an anchor for our thinking – particularly the proposition that ‘inclusivity’ was an appropriate term and words such as elasticity, slippery, double meaning (Waterfield and West, 2010). Ann, can you take us through the contribution of Graham and Slee?


Graham and Slee (2013) challenge the reader to recognise an ‘invisible centre’ which entails constructions, otherness and marginal positions from which exclusions arrive and how reform agendas tinker at the edges to produce the appearance of inclusivity. A really pertinent question raised is whether we focus on how we move forward with inclusion or whether we make the invisible visible through deconstruction and disruption.

As such, Derrida’s statement that, ‘language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique’ (Derrida, 1967: 358) is particularly pertinent to inclusive education, for the movement is troubled by the multiplicity of meanings that lurk within the discourses that surround and carry it.

The Trigger



Multiple triggers prompted a deeper probing into the use of the word inclusive and IA. I found myself immersed in an ‘alphabet soup’ of Universal Design, UDI, UD, and UDL and began to feel uncomfortable with some of the IA discourse. Terms such as ’ bringing in’, ‘marginalised’ and ‘core’ appeared to simplify a complex social construct of difference, disability  and diversity and the deep structural, architectural mechanisms within teaching, learning and educational organisations.

Robert Mace, the  architect acknowledged as the founder of universal architectural design, felt that ‘the term universal is unfortunate… as nothing can be truly universal; there will always be people who cannot use an item no matter how thoughtfully it is designed.’ (Mace 1985: 4)

I was reminded of Graham and Slee’s (2013: 289) observations that talk of including can only be made by those occupying a position of privilege, and, that talk seldom revolves around recognising and dismantling that vantage and the relations of power and domination sustaining it.

Mace appeared to be calling for more than strategic rhetoric and a ‘technical fix,’ when he  called for architects to review everything, recognise features that could be barriers and design all products to be usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone.


This was another turning point for me as I began to link architecture, design, and power. The history of the Park Hill estate in Sheffield provides an analogy for this, where the architects felt a great sense of democratic idealism during the design of Park Hill. However it was only in the act of ‘living in’ these structures that the social and emotional costs became clear.

As teachers designing inclusive assessment, promoting engagement in inclusive assessment practices, and fostering participation, I wanted to caution about the reassurance of ‘knowingness’ (Smith 2006: 23). I thought about my research into confidence and risk for trainee teachers, and felt that there were parallels conceptually for this theme. Ann, I know that we spent a long time trying to find a conceptual framework for our paper. Then I suggested the power cube.

The Quest


don qixoteI vividly recall you bringing the Power cube to our discussions Alison, and about that time I was questioning the use of the word inclusive, preferring universal. I saw many similarities in the histories of UD and IA, and found the new Design for All European architecture philosophy of full integration and nothing less, refreshing and perhaps signposting us towards a design for all pedagogy.

Perhaps this relates to confidence and risk Alison, where we can either ‘pursue inclusivity through assessment practice…’ (Waterfield and West 2010) or ‘review everything and pay attention to all aspects’ (Mace, 1998).  I was anxious that having experienced assessment variability and flexibility in the first year of the course, we were placing the students in a liminal space – a space of transition betwixt and between traditional written forms of assessment and the experience of diverse assessment practice.

I likened the phenomenon to Deleuze and Guattari’s urban nomads (1988: 482), we were student and academic nomads in a shared space where we were looking to translate the complex language and social practices.

However, I was also reminded of Hargreaves’ (2003) description of teaching practices as deeply embedded scripts reflecting life experiences and taken-for-granted assumptions, and saw the power cube as a way into having conversations, disturbing academic and learner scripts and creating further shared space opportunities.

Alison, is this where you see a potential for the power cube analysis bringing about real change?

The Surprise


Yes Ann, in as much as it provides a tool for thinking that avoids the 2D of cause and effect. “If we do this” than inclusiveness will be the result. I was pleased to be able to bring the power cube into our discussion, as it allowed us to view assessment design from a range of perspectives, all of which create real dilemmas for teachers. Revealing the forms, levels and spaces of power sheds new light on the development of trust, confidence and risk-taking for students, particularly if we accept the premise that assessment has become a function of an HE that increasingly serves a market economy. I think we decided then to focus on the impact on the student of institutional change (flexibility in assessment mode), uncertainty (choice of assessment mode) and risk in the decision-making behind assessment choice.

Forms of power

Here I focus on visible forms of power. These can be visible such as the way that assessment is codified in programme and module specifications. They are visible because they become the way that we recognise the field of action in relation to assessment. They are both necessary to and a function of the curriculum. Before we begin to design inclusive assessment we need to acknowledge that students do not have easy access to these visible forms of power.

Participation and decision-making is not accessible by all, so the resultant products and processes are restricted to those with access. The success of specific change to products and processes is a result of prevailing interests of those who have access and can participate, not those who can’t (i.e. students and sometimes teachers).

To be able to challenge the prevailing discourses behind IA design and practice students and teachers need to use their voices in a mobilising action through visible channels. However one dialectical dilemma here is that students are diverse, and representation channels are often complex and take time.

Are our students able to articulate their issues, and do they have the resources, organization and agency to make their voice heard? If others speak for them, they may, themselves be caught up in the visible forms of power.

Ann, in your work with the students how did your decision to use mind mapping impact on the students


The surprise for me was that the students didn’t appear to want a different form of assessment. They’d anticipated written assignments and this was a nuisance an added risk in a high stake context. The regular essay format was their overwhelmingly preferred default assessment mode and they were perplexed, anxious about the very different choices involved in making a mindmap. A very small number of them didn’t want to learn something that they hadn’t expected and didn’t know was going to happen. It was risky, somepowercubething new and challenging.

The anticipated freedom and openness of creating a mindmap was tempered by the student’s requests for guidance in how to make their branch, label, content, colour and design choices. These choices were not easy for them as they were unfamiliar ones. Paradoxically, the freedom originally envisaged became more disciplined and bounded as they strived for familiarity simplicity and structure in support of their choices. I liken my role to that of a choice architect (Thaler and Sunstein, 2009) providing a structure and feedback in order to simplify their choices and collaborating with them in making difficult choices easier.

Eagleton’s (2008) research includes MRI scans which show how the affective network (limbic system) lights up when a student is engaged and motivated, challenged, excited and interested. These areas light up when there is a novel learning task demonstrating a high level of cognitive activity; conversely, when a learning task is practised and familiar, the brain shows much less activity in these areas, because it has developed routines to reduce cognitive load.

This was also the time Alison when we spoke about graduateness, employability, learning outcomes and quality as well as students taking the ‘path of least resistance’ in assessment choice. You introduced me to the concept of ‘knowingness’ and Smith’s identified features as over-confidence and premature urge to completion and closure.

The Critical Choice


When we design inclusive assessment we are embarking on a quest for ‘knowingness’, where the student is able to meet the learning outcomes that have been set for them without knowing them as individuals. In the search for evidence of what is known about a topic. This lack of what Smith calls ‘contingency and finitude’ may actually work against inclusivity, rather than be a support to it, especially when we seek to inculcate confidence through assessment design. It is worth noting that for educational institutions, confidence is also relative to the culture and dominant discourses of a changing world. Wain (2006:37) suggests that institutions, fearinguncertainty and risk, are far from confident in what Smith (2006:23) called their ‘knowingness’. They are constantly seeking reassurance through ‘the language of skills and competencies, of measurable outcomes and transparent transactions in their decisions’ (Wain 2006:39).pooh bear

There could be a paradox here I suppose, in that in developing confidence a certain degree of openness and risk is required whereas the institutions may be risk averse and therefore favour a very bounded (competence based) approach.

“In short, the modernist – some would say Enlightenment – quest for equity and efficiency drives contingency from the university. Along with contingency much else disappears: principally the possibility of a relationship between a particular teacher and a particular pupil of the kind that Plato presents so carefully and movingly in the early dialogues. Such a relationship is, as Rorty writes, a matter of ‘‘the sparks that leap back and forth between teacher and student’’ (1999, p. 126).10 Such sparks are the source of the realization of forms of human freedom that otherwise cannot be imagined” (Smith 2006:30).

So tell me Ann, what choices did you make, and how did those choices enfold contingency for the students? Can you talk me through the experience with the BSc students?


The quest to improve things for all students and as W&W identified, the ‘taken-for-granted’ definition of IA has created a ‘Just Do It’ organisational approach. Particularly  as it resonates with current agendas around widening participation, DDA, equality and the QAA Codes of Practice.  However, when introducing the concept of knowingness Alison, you challenge some/many of the unspoken assumptions around IA, thus reflecting the ‘causal elasticity’ and ambiguity identified by Waterfield and West in the SPACE project. The danger is that as Graham and Slee (2013) identify we can tinker at the edges producing an appearance of inclusivity whilst the centre from which exclusions arrive remains invisible. Hence the relevance of a power analysis in identifying and exploring multiple power dimensions that affect IA, ie the ‘invisible constructions’ (Graham and Slee, 2013).

Co-constructing assessment criteria with BSc (Hons) 3rd year students was also an exciting opportunity to share and have a dialogue about academic language and expectations alongside students own ideas of what they wanted to achieve through a specified form of assessment. Both limitations and opportunities often unknown to students were opened up to debate and academic words deciphered, resulting in student led assessment guidelines and form to a pre-specified assessment form ie report. A shift from margins of assessment forms to a more central role for students, a space for traditionally marginalised voices, acknowledgement of the different identities of students and their difference.

Does this bring us to the point of where we are now and what’s next Alison?

The Resolution


I’ve changed. Initially I took IA at face value, a good idea, no, a great idea, I was asking why we hadn’t taken action like this before now. I do however; still have concerns about associated meanings with the word ‘inclusive,’ and its overriding use in considering choice and flexibility in the forms of assessment. However, it is more than this; it’s about power, privilege and difference (Guo and Jamai, 2014).

IA permeates my practice with students and the opportunities to have dialogues with students around assessment practice and form illuminates how IA creates an opportunity not just to give students choice but to involve them in co-creation of meaningful, assessment forms.

Selected references

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum.

Eagleton, M. (2008). Universal design for learning. www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1073.pdf

Eraut, M. (2000). Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work. British Journal of Educational Psychology 70: 113-136.

Graham, L. and Slee, R. (2013). An illusory interiority: Interrogating the discourse(s) of inclusion. Educational Philosophy and Theory 40(2): 277-293.

Hargreaves, D. H. (2003). Education Epidemic: transforming secondary schools through innovation networks. London: Demos. http://www.demos.co.uk/

Mace, R., L., Universal Design, in Designers West. 1985. p. 4.

Smith, R. (2006). Abstraction and finitude: education, chance and democracy. Studies in Philosophy and Education 25(1): 19-35.

Thaler, R. and Sunstein, C. (2009). Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. London: Penguin.

Wain, K. (2006). Contingency, education, and the need for reassurance. Studies in Philosophy and Education 25 (1): 37-45.

Waterfield, J. and West, B. (2010). Inclusive Assessment: Diversity and inclusion – the assessment challenge. Plymouth University.

Powercube site: http://www.powercube.net/

“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.

Education, justice and democracy – Stephen Ball

Stephen Ball calls for a new kind of teacher and a new form of professionalism built on collaboration and cooperative action. It is posted by BERA’s blog: http://berarespectingchildren.wordpress.com and is an edited extract from Professor Stephen Ball’s report for CLASS, the Centre for Labour and Social studies, which was published in September 2013.

Please follow the link to the BERA site here for the full post:

Education, justice and democracy: the struggle over ignorance and opportunity.

I have included some of Ball’s work in my PhD thesis, particularly his use of the word ‘performativity’. First used by Lyotard (1984), Ball defines it as:

a technology, a culture and a mode of regulation that employs judgements, comparisons and displays as means of incentive, control, attrition and change based on rewards and sanctions (both material and symbolic). (2003:216)

The use of the word performativity links hegemonic practices with industrial models to achieve measurable efficiency, resulting in a culture that:

requires individual practitioners to organise themselves as a response to targets, indicators and evaluations, to set aside personal beliefs and commitments and live an existence of calculation’. (2003:215)

Lucas (2007) describes the learning environment for student teachers within the lifelong learning sector as both ‘expansive’ and ‘restrictive’. He describes an expansive learning environment as a place where there are opportunities to engage in

multiple communities of practice at and beyond the workplace, access to a multidimensional approach to the acquisition of expertise, and the opportunity to pursue knowledge-based courses and qualifications. (2007:99)

Although there are opportunities for teachers in the lifelong learning sector to collaborate and co-operate more commonly they are located within small teams. The effect of this restrictive environment can be uncertainty, resistance to risk taking, and lack of confidence in their professional knowledge and practice. Moreover, in the case of student teachers there are also restrictions placed by a teacher education curriculum that has been part of a state apparatus transferring largely uncontroversial professional standards (Simmons and Thompson 2007). While the standards referred to by Simmons and Thompson were the FENTO standards, their replacement, the LLUK New Overarching Professional Standards (LLUK 2006) continued (until their revocation in 2013) continued to restrict student teachers to a set of criteria aimed at experienced teachers (Crawley 2012). Furthermore Ellis (2010), referring to schoolteacher education, sees the landscape of teacher education as a process of acculturation to the

existing practices of the setting with an emphasis on the reproduction of routinised behaviours and the development of bureaucratic virtues such as compliance and the collection of evidence. (2010:106)

I do hope that the Professional Standards for Teachers and Trainers in England will inspire those of us working with teachers and in the lifelong learning sector to join the projects for democracy and community building, and certainly it is teacher educators who can inculcate the products and processes of collaboration and co-operative action through the initial teacher education curriculum.



Always Evidence-Based Practice. Or Not?

Always Evidence-Based Practice. Or Not?.

Aporia……lost in transition

Some thoughts from my newest twitter friend Ann. I need to do some reading!!

annie's blogette

It was my twitter mentor, @alisoniredale. Unknowingly, she was the catalyst that caused my growing sense of confusion, panic and considerable disorientation. Just imagine, there I was playing with and enjoying twitter, feeling a little more comfortable in my solitary play mode, see January blog. When, suddenly and unexpectedly I realise that I’m engaging in a conversation. Questions were posed, but who to? I immediately felt unsure, a little confused.

View original post 462 more words

Attempts to educate teachers

I am grateful to HarryWebb (@webofsubstance ) for this insightful review and commentary. For the original article see:

Attempts to educate teachers.

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”.

Taylor & Francis Online :: Confidence, risk, and the journey into praxis: work-based learning and teacher development – Journal of Education for Teaching – Volume 39, Issue 2

I am really pleased to share the publication of a jointly authored article (with Dr Kevin Orr, Wayne Bailey and Jane Wormald) about initial teacher education.

This article examines the relationship between confidence and risk in relation to the initial education and continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers. The context for this examination is the Lifelong Learning Sector (LLS) in England, which sits between secondary schools and universities, and the discussion is illustrated with data gathered from trainee teachers in this sector. Understandings of confidence are considered and it is argued that the inculcation of confidence through risk-taking is important for new teachers in their journey to praxis. The article concludes by arguing that the transformative potential of critical engagement with professional knowledge on teacher education courses and through work-based learning (WBL) should be balanced with the need for the good and appropriate time necessary for the risky political act of reflection, not merely the immediate technical evaluation of practice.

Taylor & Francis Online :: Confidence, risk, and the journey into praxis: work-based learning and teacher development – Journal of Education for Teaching – Volume 39, Issue 2.

What’s the deal with Guided Learning Hours? Six nudges.


I have been teaching in further education since 1995, and looking back I didn’t appreciate how much my professional practice has been affected by the range of funding regimes. I accepted the rationale behind initiatives that reduced my time spent with students without realising that the quality of the student experience was being sacrificed in order to maximise funding. I didn’t question why the gains made didn’t seem to find their way into my classroom.

The Ofqual blog has prompted me to offer six nudges to any future thinking on funding methodology.  Many thanks to Bob Harrison for starting me off.

#1. Field of dreams: provide a funding methodology that focusses on process and the student, not units of production.

Any funding methodology needs to have the learner experience at the heart of the process. In recent years there has been an assumption that outcomes are already known, so curricula has been written around them. Clearly this logic is flawed. Granted there is a body of knowledge, and sometimes a known set of skills attached to curricula, but the outcome belongs to the the individual (curriculum as experienced) not the institution or the funding regime. Managerialist thinking has made the mistake of thinking that students are cans of beans. They are not. The Finnish system of education has taught me that where teachers are left to teach what they know is useful, interesting and engaging, students learn and flourish. Their outcomes are good, and they progress to their next study stage or employment with the confidence that they have achieved well. By building curricula from the foundations and researching the process (collecting data through formative assessment then coding and measuring that data) teachers and students learn. Build-measure-learn.

#2. Trust, responsibility and autonomy: provide a funding methodology that focusses on teachers making decisions about time and space in curriculum planning.

Teachers should be trusted to teach. Teachers need to take responsibility for their own development. Teachers need to feel that they belong to a community which can act autonomously in the best interests of those they serve – their students. I am regularly dismayed when I hear of  a good teacher who leaves the PGCE well equipped to begin his career in teaching only to report a gradual de-skilling through the pernicious management and control regimes. Mistakes, poor planning, unruly students, low achievement etc are part and parcel of the development of professional practice.  To think that by auditing and measuring, intervening and setting up capability mechanisms professional practice will improve is to miss the basic point that experience comes with practice, practice needs to be sustained and mistakes are how we learn.

#3. The teacher as researcher: provide a funding methodology that promotes research and curriculum development.

No other profession would allow its activities to ossify in the way that we have allowed in teaching. An outmoded industrial mentality still persists (see Ken Robinson – Changing Educational Paradigms), fuelled by the superstructure and educational reproduction ideologies (see Bourdieu and Passeron 1977). Tinkering at the edges (iPads in classrooms for example) fails to appreciate the diversity of activities that teachers promote and facilitate every day. Awarding bodies control the curriculum and all sections of society have a vested interest in a status quo, apart from the ones going through the process and they are rejecting the classroom in droves. Let teachers build, measure and learn alongside their students. A teacher is a researcher, just like a medic, and their practice will develop if they are encouraged to research.

#4. Trust, violence and responsibility (Biesta 2005) : find a funding methodology that reclaims teaching and education at the heart of the process.

When students are unruly attempts are made to ‘get the buggers to behave’. Whoever coined that phrase should be hounded out of the profession! Students behave inappropriately for a variety of reasons, and while their actions may be inappropriate at the time, their reasoning is usually very sound. Students know when they are being warehoused in the name of ‘learning’. Students are bored, especially with the five part lesson, especially in sixth forms, especially when they hear aims and objectives ‘shared’ at the beginning of the lesson. Why do teachers persist in ‘meeting every learner’s need’, having something for every ‘learning style’ or ‘multiple intelligence’? Because their grade depends on it. This is such nonsense and our students know it. Bring the students into the process. Share the vision not the outcomes, share the passion not the method. When students begin to think they are not a unit of production they will like the fact that their brains hurt.

#5. Pedagogy first: find a funding methodology that promotes pedagogy

We know that ‘pedagogy’ is a funny word. It sounds odd, a bit like ‘curriculum’, it is learned on a teacher education course and then promptly jettisoned in the drive to ‘deliver’ and administer classes. While ever accountants control the budget good pedagogy hasn’t got a chance. What does an accountant know about education? Nothing – and why would they? A teacher is not expected to be an accountant… no wait, actually they are!

The question of what is educationally desirable for a particular course is rarely asked. it should be the first question. Let’s take ourselves outside education for some parallels. The horsemeat scandal – G4S – Mid Staffs – Winterborne. One thing they all have in common is the drive to reduce cost without an understanding of the implications on the quality of outcome (food that is what it claims the be, sufficiently trained staff to support an event, patients who live, people who receive basic human kindness). How much does a typical college spend on teaching as a proportion of its overall costs? It should be a large proportion and be so proud of it that it is on the home page of their websites.

#6. Learn from the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement and Massive Open Online Pedagogy (MOOP): find a funding methodology that takes education out of the marketplace.

Buildings have to be paid for, staff have to be paid, libraries have to be stocked, college executives have to apply governance. All this costs money which has to come from somewhere. But education is not a commodity. Credentialism has created a market but it is a false one, based on a false premise. We all know this because we spend our adult time researching and learning using social media, f2f networks and online fora. Hundreds of thousands of us enrol on MOOCS, and millions of us use online tutorials to help us to understand a tricky problem. Some of us rely on our social and cultural capital to get by and get on.  We don’t ask for a certificate of achievement after we’ve solved our problem. Our credentials are there to wave when we need that first or next rung on the employment ladder. They do not represent the sum of all that we are, so why peddle this ridiculous notion to our young people? If employability is the new mantra then stop subsidising employers by doing their training for them. Make them pay a proper price for the training that colleges do (very successfully in most cases). If basic skills are lacking in 16 year olds then tackle the schools’ funding methodology first. Ask why our 16 year olds arrive in college with poor literacy and numeracy after 10 years of schooling. Colleges have about 2 years to compensate for the deficit caused by poor schooling, and add some vocational value for employers to benefit from. The funding methodology should recognise this and fund it as generously as in schools.

A Theory of Vocational Pedagogy

Professor Bill Lucas has produced a set of slides explaining the theory of vocational pedagogy. See them here: