Oh my word, not another flippin’ blog about progs and trads! I mean seriously? You honestly think this is necessary?


Happy holidays!

Why not relax by engaging in some professional to-and-froing with your twitter brethren about teaching? Sounds like fun, don’t it? And quite often it is. Sometimes – and by ‘sometimes’ I mean ‘often’ and by ‘often’ I mean ‘pretty much all the time’ – you could be forgiven for thinking that Twitter is on the blink as your timeline appears to be nothing more than a rehashing of comments you remember reading last holiday, and the holiday before that, and the holiday before that.

Fear not technophobes, your shiny new phone isn’t on the blink. It’s just that us teachers can’t move on from a single subject. For some reason our tiny minds are fixated with discussing the merits and failings of two different approaches to teaching. These approaches, or depending who you follow, theories / philosophies / beliefs / ideologies / disciplines / concepts / dogma / ways of life / only thing that matters / reason to walk across a crowded room in order to punch someone in the face, currently represent – if twitter is to be believed – the only thing that matters in education.

Forget the dire financial situation schools are currently in. Forget the collapse of social care around the country. Forget the increase in social, emotional and mental health problems that we are seeing in every area of our system. Forget the systematic dismantling of local authorities in favour of selective education. Forget the disconnect between key stages in relation to what is ‘expected’ of our pupils and students. Forget the ever-changing goal posts informing us of how better things need to be before we’ve had time to adjust to the last change. Forget the high-stakes system of results and Ofsted that cause panic and frustration when things are perceived to have gone wrong. Forget the pressures all of the above place on leaders, teachers, support staff and children.

None of that really matters.

What really matters is whether you’re a Trad or a Prog.

You should, according to some, know which one you are as knowing which one you are will improve your teaching. (As long you’re the right ‘one’ of course, if not then you’re just wasting everyone’s time.) Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start bashing either side or try to stop the debate. I think people thinking stuff is fine. People passionately believing in something is great. Evidence based research is, not exactly a laugh a minute, but can be interesting. Putting across your beliefs with the kind of feverish zeal normally reserved for religious preachers on dodgy cable-tv channels can be mildly disturbing but is seldom damaging. Watching debates on Twitter escalate can be a marvellous way to spend the time whilst you’re waiting for your morning egg to poach.

I love it. I don’t care that much about the trad/prog debate but I enjoy reading about it and sometimes I learn stuff. Only today I read Get Kids Cultured by the only man in the 21st century who can make a toga look both sophisticated and seductive: Martin Robinson. It was a right good read. Not only did I learn what neo-progressivism means but I also learnt that neo-progressives are a bunch of cynical swines obsessed with global capitalisation. It was very interesting and made me feel quietly smug that I too, like Martin, value ‘great art, literature…the humanities…a continual dialogue, a great cultural education’. I know nothing else about the chap but these few hundred words of his made sense and represent what I have tried to promote during my teaching career.

The important word in that last sentence is ‘tried’. Sometimes it’s hard to pull it all off because, well, you know that earlier paragraph where every sentence started with ‘Forget the…’? It’s hard to deliver that richness in education because of all that stuff. All that stuff gets in the way sometimes. Sometimes what you face in the classroom has to be dealt with first. And this isn’t wishy-washy bleeding-heart liberal child-centred clap-trap. It’s the reality of being a teacher and working with small but complicated human beings.

I did a teeny-tiny twitter poll recently about what teachers thought about the whole prog/trad thing. 71% of those that responded said they didn’t know what it all meant and didn’t really care either. Since that poll it appears to have been discussed at length on twitter. Opinions were mixed. It was a very badly executed and puerile poll. The divisive nature of such a poll indicates how low some educators are prepared to go to sully professional debate. These 71% are a disgrace to the profession. The fact that these teachers are disengaged with the most important educational issue of our time could indicate that those talking about it must be very dull. Maybe it’s not that important after all. The fact that some people don’t think it’s important proves that it must be important. I could go on…but don’t worry, I won’t.

The most Didau of all the Davids, David Didau, referenced the poll in his recent blog The Great Education Debate saying that it was ‘fascinating’ (thank you, David) and that the outcome could indicate that if teachers ‘aren’t clear about what’s at stake then it’s perhaps no wonder that they’re not willing to ante up.’ He then makes four points about the subject that are very wise and logical. I agree with his sentiments that sometimes teachers disengage with this debate because it can become ‘boringly repetitive’ and ‘ill tempered’.

For me though, another reason why many teachers do not know/engage/care about the prog vs trad saga is that they are too busy with those complicated external factors that threaten to derail children’s learning. There are times, on Twitter, when I feel that these factors are brushed aside as an inconvenience. Dismissed as a symptom of the damage done by those uncaring traditionalists or pampering progressives. It is, of course, always someone else’s fault that children have problems (unless you are a spectacularly bad or unprofessional teacher) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t your job to try and help. That may mean that your preferred teaching approach needs to be suspended as you take the time to create an environment that enables these children to become receptive to your teaching. This is neither a traditionalist nor a progressive approach. It is simply responsible teaching and what most of us do daily. It is the reason, I suspect, that 71% don’t know about or care about the trad/prog debate. They are too busy reflecting in the moment and adapting as necessary to get the job done as best they can. They are also probably too knackered to think that deeply about their philosophical approach to teaching. That isn’t an appalling refusal to engage with educational debate, it’s work-life balance.

I hope those who do manage to find time to ponder the great philosophical quandaries of education continue to share their thoughts on blogs for others to read. I hope discussions continue on Twitter and that they remain animated without being offensive. I hope teachers will always feel able to try out new approaches and share what works and learn from what doesn’t. I also hope that the academic discussions on the merits and failings of traditionalism and progressivism know their place and don’t interfere with teachers’ professional freedoms in the real world. I also hope that Edu-Twitter doesn’t completely disappear up its own backside believing itself to be an executive authority rather than a minority of people thinking stuff. Well, I can hope, can’t I?

See you at the next Twitter poll.

Trolling Con


Welcome to the hippest convention of 2017. The UK’s first single-genre uni-platformed mass event for the introverted edu-nation. The event promises to see tens of edu-bloggers and tweeters gathering in the Shepton Mallet Scout hut to celebrate, and learn even more about, the distinguished art of trolling.

First up, we have a key-note delivered by a distinguished troll who will work the crowd into a frenzy by reading out a choice selection of their most tedious comments. We don’t want to give any spoilers but we’re pretty sure we’ll see some old favourites such as:

@******* thinks what I do is wrong.

Replying to @******* Um, yes you do!

Replying to @******* you implied it by stating the opposite.

Replying to @******* I’m not being abusive, this is how a debate works.

Replying to @******* find me a tweet where I said that.

Replying to @******* that’s not what I meant.

Replying to @******* you clearly don’t understand.

Replying to @******* you’ve proved my point. Goodbye.

Once inside the hut, fans will get the chance to visit all our trolling guests who will be hanging around the place waiting to have their pictures taken with you. Why not ask them to send you a trolling tweet?

Regular insult: £5

Example: You’re clearly nothing more than a left-wing progressive.

Special insult: £10

Example: You’re clearly nothing more than right-wing alt-trad monster.

Sub-tweet £25

Example: So apparently, the person that just paid me for a sub-tweet thinks accepting money to be unpleasant is morally reprehensible. They didn’t mind paying for it though, did they? What a hypocrite.

The main event, of course, is our ‘battle of the trolls’. Gather around your own phone screen and watch a plethora of online arguments begin. Each conversation, sorry, ‘trollersation’ will begin with a seemingly innocent link to a moderate education blog, but will quickly descend into flurry of tedious online abuse. You will be amazed by how long these things can go on for. You will be flabbergasted by the lengths our trolls will go to in order to win. Expect to see a range of out-of-context tweets, from as far back as 2007, being used to make apparently relevant points. Only the dull will survive.

For those who paid for our advanced ticket, you will be able to tune into Troll FM where some our distinguished guests will be providing a commentary to the online trollification. Hear their uninteresting views about why the comments from their friends do not count as abuse. Listen to their analysis about why they are right and how any other viewpoint should be considered as a passive-aggressive attack on them.

The convention will end with the medal ceremony where our most successful trolls of the day will be bestowed with the honour of becoming blocked. Each winner will have their username taken away from them and be given a new duller twitter handle accompanied by an egg profile pic.

But it doesn’t end there….

The after-party is where it really heats up. Follow the hashtag and expose yourself to the truly explicit and hate-fuelled bile that is online trolling. Get caught up in the moment and maybe even dip your own toe into the cesspool. See how much happier you feel when you trade genuine discussion for insults, social graces for pathetic one-upmanship, your real-life sense of worth for online status. Enjoy the dizzying highs that can only be achieved by hounding people for longer than is necessary as you degrade your own professional currency with a trumped up artificial sense of superiority. Take pleasure in the self-perpetuating myth that you are the only one who isn’t afraid to tell the truth. Convince yourself that what you are saying matters.

So, what are you waiting for…get trolling!*


*Obviously, don’t. You idiot.

The Thinker


As I lay in bed wondering if I would ever walk again – having been cruelly crippled by chronic back pain and reduced to a whimpering husk of a man, desperately trying to cease all bodily movement until the time inevitably came to shuffle over to the side of the bed and wee into a bucket – it seemed an appropriate time to consider the changes I would have to make in my potential new life as a, now bedridden, beacon of education.

The harsh reality seemed clear to me: I was never going to be able to stand up, let alone walk, again. How would I continue? Would I have to face-time my assemblies and staff meetings? Would I have to employ my own special Hodor to carry me upon his back as I went about the school observing lessons? Did I now have a legitimate excuse to miss governor meetings? More importantly, could I, considering the school’s financial position, buy a new wee-bucket on the school’s credit card?

The saving grace was that I could still access Twitter. By propping myself up on a mountain of pillows, and using my copy of ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ as an arm rest, I could just about hold up my phone and swipe through my timeline. All was not lost.

And so, in agony, I purveyed the Twitter landscape. I stumbled across a blog entitled ‘Nobody’s actually against knowledge are they?’ by a little known blogger called @oldandrewuk. In it, the writer discusses the debate in education around traditionalism vs progressivism. Specifically, he considers how some progressive folk are denying that there is even a debate going on anymore. Some Progressives are coming out and saying that they too are in favour of teaching knowledge and they’re now wondering what these Traditionalists are getting so hot and bothered about.

This, to many Traditionalists, is bloody annoying. You see, the argument between Traditionalists and Progressives used to be so simple: traditional teaching = teach knowledge; progressive teaching = teach skills. Now it’s all being muddied with Progressives backtracking on all this ‘skills’ stuff and claiming that they don’t have a problem with knowledge. But, according to the writer, they can’t really be in favour of knowledge if they are against testing it, or, teaching an awful lot of it. If you’re against testing the amount of knowledge a kid has in their brainbox, or, want them to solve imaginative problems that will make them use and strengthen their understanding of the knowledge, then, you’re nothing more than a Progressive in a Traditionalist’s tunic.

I suddenly began to feel queasy. It wasn’t the fact that I’d taken ibuprofen on an empty stomach or that I’d lost sight of the wee bucket. It also wasn’t because I disagreed with the blog. It was because I was questioning my own mind. I thought I’d always maintained a nuanced balance regarding what I considered to be important in education. A subtle blend of the traditional and the progressive. But was I kidding myself? Had I, in fact, changed my stance and become more traditional? And if so, why was that? Had I seen the light? Or had I simply conformed, been beaten down by the curriculum, the tests, the tedious battles on Twitter between the two armies that tend to, in my opinion, be won by the Traditionalists only because they have the energy to keep on going when everyone else has gone to bed?

When confronted with change in physical form, as I was now (would I ever walk again?), I could consciously adjust my thinking (forget my holiday to climb Everest, I need to save up for a Stanner Stair Lift). But when ideological and educational reforms surround me, am I unable to consciously adapt? Or do they warp my thinking until I have convinced myself that not only was I right before, but I am also right now?

There was only one way to find out. I had delve into the deepest darkest depths of my mind. I closed my eyes and began to recite an old Tibetan chant that would bring about a zen like state and allow me to transcend my own consciousness. Then I realised that not only was I not The Ancient One but it would also probably be easier just to re-read some of my oldest blogs.

It took some time (my word I’ve written a lot of drivel) but eventually I found something I’d written in 2013. In a blog entitled ‘Goodbye Mr Chips, Hello Mr Squeers’ I gave my opinion on this ‘new’ curriculum of ours. I didn’t appear to be a massive fan:

This, as I see it is the biggest disappointment of the national curriculum: it’s just a list [of facts] that he [Gove] wants children to know… This expectation for mass content knowledge coupled with a lack of thought on curriculum skills may, I fear, mean that topics as I know and love them will disappear.

So, I thought to myself, I was a massive Progressive after all! I was exactly the sort of person Traditionalists in 2013 loathed. I even dared to raise the idea that you could get children to learn about historical events, personalities, bias, politics, and culture through art rather than by memorising facts. I can only imagine how I survived the inevitable onslaught of derision that this post must have garnered on Twitter as I appear to have blocked it from my memory completely.

Near the end of the blog however I start talking about pub carparks. I couldn’t quite grasp why until I remembered that this was written at about the time that Richard III was found buried underneath one. My main objection to the new curriculum, at the time, was that although knowledge is great, too much emphasis on ‘facts’ result in a weak level of understanding. Simple recall, without any application, evaluation or opinion, does not a learned person make. If all we do is teach single-subject facts, we will produce nothing more than a nation of expert pub-quizzers; learners able to demonstrate a veneer of knowledge at the drop of a hat but without the deeper understanding of why what they know is important.

I still believe this. But I am glad to say that my prediction was wrong. We are not producing ‘knowledgeable but ultimately useless eggheads’. And this is not because either the Progressives or Traditionalists have won the great educational debate. It is also not because I have changed my stance or because I believe in knowledge without testing. Testing is fine. Just don’t tell me that a perfect SPAG score means you’re an effective writer, or that because you can name all the Tudor monarchs you’re a historian, because that’s just silly. Instead, I think the biggest impact on children developing a deeper understanding of the knowledge they are learning is because of life beyond levels. As I said in May 2016, in a post called ‘Metamorphosis’.

We are no longer teaching a ‘progress’ curriculum; we are teaching a ‘knowledge’ curriculum. I like the move away from vertical progress. I think the opportunity to play around with the highest level of knowledge you currently have – challenging it, stretching it, strengthening your understanding of it – is rather liberating.

You can’t gain masses of knowledge without some traditional teaching methods. However, you can’t strengthen your understanding of said knowledge if you are not free to explore and try it out before you are tested on it. Schools are now free to do this in a variety of cross-curricular, imaginative and progressive ways because we have been freed from the shackles of vertical assessments. The 2016 SATs may have been a shambles, and the standards may have been ridiculously heightened but, so what? Continue to teach a well thought out and challenging curriculum effectively and most pupils have a chance of getting there by the end of key stage 2.

It was therefore with a sigh of relief that I closed my eyes and smiled at the realisation that I had not changed. I had evolved my thinking but, deep down, I was still as subtle an educator as I ever was. I realise that may make me twice as irritating to twice as many people, but hey, it’s only Twitter.

With that, I heaved my legs over the side of the bed, grabbed a walking stick and pushed myself up to a standing position. Bellowing a great howl as I straightened my back, and putting one foot in front of the other, I elegantly hobbled to the toilet. Because some things are not meant for the wee bucket.