Is our society too obsessed with qualifications?

Henry Stewart's picture
”Each year thousands of young people, who have left school at 16 without English or Maths GCSEs, undertake a child care level 2 qualification at college. But when they achieve this they are not yet qualified to work in childcare. For that, they need the level 3 qualification. If they don’t have the Maths GCSE required for this, then they simply leave and become unemployed.” The speaker was Richard Brooke, former Director of Strategy at Ofsted, speaking at the Fabian conference education debate this month. His point was that our young people are often badly advised on options available to them.

However I was thinking something else: Why do young people need a Maths GCSE to look after young children?

Who decided that to take care of a 5 year old, it is really important to be able to solve a quadratic equation or calculate the angle on a triangle?

It is an absurdity.

We are talking about adults working with children up to the age of 8. Now there is an argument that some basic numeracy is sometimes needed (eg, helping them with basic arithmetic and times tables). But I have never come across a parent who said “what I really need in the carer for my child is a good understanding of algebra and geometry”.

If you discuss this requirement with parents they will say it is bonkers. But question it at events like the Fabian debate and you will be accused (as one questioner was) of "not supporting the Standards agenda". And not supporting the standards agenda makes you an outcast in polite educational society. The fact that you can't see the point of requiring skills that are not needed in a job is interpreted as having too low expectations.

Maths GCSE includes many elements that are crucial for those going on to study Maths, Physics, Engineering, Architecture, Economics, Computer programming and many other courses of study. However of the majority of the population it includes a lot of elements that are never used in later life. When did you last use trigonometry?

In my working life I run a training business. And we never ask for a Maths GCSE when recruiting staff. Never. Our administration staff do need some numeracy, to be able to calculate VAT on prices and understand key metrics in the business. So we test for those skills (or the ability to learn them) but we never ask for the GCSE. As in most jobs, we simply don’t need the skills that are tested in that qualification.

As a governor of a Hackney comprehensive I encourage and challenge the school to get as many young people as possible through Maths and English GCSE. And its not for the league tables. I know that achieving those qualifications will, in our society, make a material difference to their life chances. But what I don't know is why so many careers require not just numeracy and literacy but GCSEs that include skills that are not needed in these jobs.

Sixty years ago far fewer jobs required qualifications, even for the professions. Journalists might have worked their way up through the local newspaper, lawyers through the article route, or even accountants by starting out as a bookkeeper. And one result (because poorer children, then as now, achieved less qualifications at school) was greater social mobility.

Is it really so radical and off-the-wall to suggest that when a job requires a specific qualification, it should cover skills that are actually needed in that job?








Henry Stewart | Chief Executive | Happy Ltd | 07870 682442

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Neil Moffatt's picture
Sun, 08/02/2015 - 19:13

Spot on Henry. It is like the Emperor's new clothes - taboo to question the established paradigm, in spite of farcical aspects. We torture children with maths so esoteric that many will never encounter a need for it in the rest of their lives whilst simultaneously labelling anyone failing to acquire these esoterics as failures.

Regardless of how easy basic numeracy is, that should be the base qualification, if indeed we are to continue to use qualifications to try to measure capability.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/02/2015 - 22:22

I usually agree with Henry and Neil. However in my view the main purpose of education is to produce a cleverer, wiser and more humane population. What use to anyone were Galileo's observations of the moon's of Jupiter? Is ignorance really bliss?

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 08/02/2015 - 22:43

Henry, you have touched on some difficult questions. Should a line be drawn between the not always complementary relationship between education and training? If so, where? What are the relative roles for employers, education providers and policy makers in helping young people take their place in adult life? Is education such a broad and essential humanising feature of life that it should be divorced from all attempts to use it to deliver employment training?

My view on this is that these questions remain largely unanswered, notably by the political elite. My interest is more geared to an agenda very close to my own heart as an educator. I am highly critical of the interventions by politicians into education reform. I would much prefer it if the political classes took a constructive lead in addressing the changes in employment and the restructuring of our economy that have come about since the decline in our manufacturing base and stopped meddling endlessly and disastrously in education. We might end up with a more humane education system and develop different roles and responsibilities for significant others in relation to skills for employment. Out of this would come more confident, roundly educated young people who have not been put off life-long learning because of the inhuman testing regime (with its inevitably shallow learning) that has infected our whole education system.

This thread, posted by Roger, offers some hope that more effective pedagogy might counter some of the common sense concerns many share about maths in particular.

A shift in focus to clarify understanding of knowledge, skills and attitudes essential to a rounded life including employment is overdue. However, instead, our masters insist on mucking about with education, a vital service they know so little of value about, instead of tackling deep rooted problems related to employment. Clearly, the challenge for our leaders is great. Maybe too great for them. But, any thinking person, even the short-sighted party faithful, should grasp the pressing need for our globally connected culture to develop an alternative to the capitalist system that, left to continue unchecked, will do nothing to tackle the huge structural changes that have taken place to employment. Failure to act will likely produce a scorched planet, unfit for human habitation.

So, the sooner the campaign to set up a new system of education governance and take education reform out of the hands of politicians the better. It will give them time and opportunity to focus on this important structural change to the ailing global economic climate.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 05:46

Henry is right Roger and the qualifications race is insane. They are designed to fit a person to do a task. What they do now is define education and cut out options. And now they stop people doing jobs.

Dance, for example, is likely to vanish from the school curriculum (in primaries, we don't yet know about secondary under performance 8) as it is not tested. Maths and English are. Yet 5million kids dance and get immense benefit. How can this be sensible?

On the example Henry gives, things are even worse than he thinks. \The maths GCSE is becoming harder.... assuming the current row over AQA maths is solved, and Warwick \mansell should have something about this in the guardian tomorrow Tuesday.

So more kids will fail. Sorry, they will of course leap up and clear the bar as the Westminster Village idiots believe 'raising the bar' means everyone getting the higher qualification. \Of course.

The reality is that we will have fewer kids getting maths, and massive problems from 2017 in kids getting jobs and shortages in key professions like child care which DO NOT need higher maths standards. So lets see this as an area for activism

Making it harder for kids to get jobs by demanding qualifications they do not need is insane. And we should look at the real driver of this.... Nicky Morgan claims by 2020 England will hurtle up the PISA tables....

Has anyone notice MOrgan is more dangerous than Gove? Far Worse. Gove was a gift for us, such a brute. Morgan is the wolf in sheep's clothing

Trevor FIsher.

agov's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 10:39

"the main purpose of education is to produce a cleverer, wiser and more humane population"

How does that relate to the possession of irrelevant qualifications?

Surely much of the insistence that irrelevant qualifications be held comes from personnel departments who can't be bothered or don't have time to read CVs? It also serves the purpose of keeping the young away from the jobs market for as long as possible so that the unemployment figures can be fiddled.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 15:12

agov - If the school curriculum is to be confined to qualifications relevant to the jobs market, who is to decide what is relevant and what isn't? This would depend on the aspirations of the learner at a point in time. How many people finish their working lives in the job they aspired to at age 14/16?

Qualifications should not define the curriculum but should flow from it.

The greatest flaw at GCSE is the distinction between 'good' and 'bad' passes divided by the grade C threshold. A subject studied at school as part of a broad and balanced curriculum is not 'good education' at GCSE grades C-A* and 'bad education' at grades G-D. This division is all about judging schools for marketisation purposes, not providing an assessment framework to support a 'good education'.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 12:09

I think Henry's piece is right on the money.

It is truly lamentable that as nation we persist with a formal silo based approach to each and every subject. Yes, every young person leaving the compulsory phases of education should be both competent and literate in the national language and be numerate. No, not every young person needs to achieve that at GCSE level. Indeed, I believe that linguistic competence in the national language has the edge on numeracy.

Competence, like a lot of other skills and personal characteristics, is linear starting with basic and working through to clever and beyond. But it also has to be said that for some it matters not how much cognitive support and intervention they are unable to attain a GCSE grade C or above. Under the last government it was evidenced that very many GCSE drop outs did achieve at a sufficiently high level in terms of functional skills in English and Maths.

In overall terms I am remain a total supporter of both relevance of education and its goals within a parallel framework of setting learners up to succeed. The latter is not dumbing down to the lowest denominator and must therefore involve challenge but the art of combining challenge and success is that the goal must be perceived by the leaner as being achievable; to set an impossible target is to set a person up to fail.

Neither should the reality of and need for lifelong learning be forgotten. This is essential in terms of the rapid changes to the workplace and how things are done and also as the learning pathway for the late developer (maturation impacts again and again), the reluctant learner (perhaps didn't see or understand the relevance of the school curriculum), the hard to reach learner who takes time to overcome personal issues - this is not intended as a definitive list of reasons.

In relation to education shaping more humane individuals this for me has roots not so much in the learning process and grappling with content but in the relevance and contextualisation of learning and exploring issues such as citizenship, moral authority and how humanity decides on people treat and interact with each other. It is about supporting individuals in becoming better informed and better equipped for life (and in the context of this thread, life after school).

Is the goal of education to enable individuals to take a full, constructive, balanced, participative place in their local, regional and national communities equipped with appropriate skills, competences and qualifications to be financially self-sustaining or are the 12-14 years in compulsory education focused on the national place in the PISA international league tables?! To my mind there is no political party that promotes education for the benefice of those undergoing it or the national economic good. Rather I see the politically blinkered drive to climb the slippery PISA pole purely for political and ideological bragging rights. Among many other things I think that's called (blind) hubris.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 12:59

Andy - brilliant! '...the politically blinkered drive to climb the slippery PISA pole purely for political and ideological bragging rights.' Couldn't agree more.

The politically blinkered ignore international league tables that show English pupils in a more favourable light (TIMSS, PIRLS) because it doesn't fit with the 'English state education is failing so it must be reformed' agenda.

The politically blinkered ignore any evidence which doesn't chime with their prejudices.

The politically blinkered misuse statistics to mislead the electorate.

I could go on...

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 16:17

This is what I wrote about PISA and TMMS in 2013

The discussion that followed shows that not much has changed in relation to the positions taken on the issue on LSN

This is a summary of what I posted then, which I still believe to be true.

TMMS assessments are cruder than PISA and are more content related. PISA at least tries to test deep learning and understanding. I am not saying that China and possibly other countries don't fiddle their PISA results.

If marketisation has damaged the English school system by introducing perverse incentives that favour shallow over deep learning, then you would expect the English system to do well on TMMS and badly on PISA.

This is just what seems to be happening.

So what are the PISA critics saying?

PISA tests do not actually test deep learning but something else that is irrelevant to the quality of education and so can be ignored?

We don't need deep learning - never mind the quality feel the width?

Marketisation and privatisation of the English Education system have been a great success as is proved by the TMMS results and the astonishing rear-on-year results improvements we have seen in GCSE until 2014?

Having studied some PISA questions it seems to me that teaching aimed at developing pupil's cognitive ability so that they perform well in them would be a change for the better in English schools - rather than cramming our kids for school league tables purposes.

In my view Gove and Wilshaw have always been right about declining standards.

Where they are wrong is in thinking that the cause is not enough rote learning, not enough military style discipline, too many pupils' shirts with the top buttons not done up, not enough Performance Related Pay, not high enough salaries for Academy Chain executives and not enough entrepreneurial spirit in the leaders of Free Schools and Academies.

When the doctor believes in blood letting but the patients continue to die and the conclusion is that not enough blood has been drained out, then we need a different doctor and a different theory.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 13:14

I think what Henry is talking about (correct me if I'm wrong) is GCSE C and above - the so-called 'good' GCSEs.

When GCSEs were first established they were meant to measure achievement ranging from basic to excellent (G-A). Basic was the level of functional literacy/numeracy.

In theory this still holds - GCSE Grades G-D are Level 1 qualifications which gain entry to basic level jobs. In practice, however, GCSE Grades G-D are written off as 'poor' GCSEs which show failure.

But GCSE G maths include such skills as Identifying percentages from a shaded diagram, calculating simple fractions of quantities, ordering decimals and finding median and mode using single digits.

Under the new GCSE descriptors, Maths Grade 2 includes 'recall and use notation, terminology, facts and definitions; perform routine procedures, including some multi-step procedures' and 'interpret results in the context of the given problem'.

Despite GCSE G (and the future Grade 2) showing basic maths competence, many employers and providers of apprenticeships insist on Maths Grade C (or possibly Grade 5 in the future) for jobs that don't require this level of Maths competence.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 16:52

the problems with GCSE are about to get very bad and as Janet says, are driven by PISA and not by the needs of the people concerned. The new maths GCSEs are set up to "drive up standards" or "raise the bar", and while John Mountford makes some good points the elite have a clear idea that the drive for qualifications trumps everything else, which puts them at odds with the public schools (where most send their own kids) and the CBI.

However, immediate issues first. The maths GCSE is in serious trouble, so please keep an eye out for Warwick Mansell's piece in the Guardian tomorrow. It may be a little focused on the gaming issue, which is no bad thing, but the underlying issues are whether the bar has been raised to a point where the future for most kids is failure.

I recommend schools to go to IGCSE. Link the GCSE and the IGCSE narratives and it is clear the government has an agenda which has to be opposed. Failure for our kids, not that they admit this.

trevor fisher

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 11:13

The 'Progress 8' measure won't improve matters. On the surface, it appears fairer to judge schools by the progress pupils make based in prior attainment than to judge them on the proportion of pupils gaining 5 GCSEs A*-C (or equivalent) including Maths and English.

But there's are snags. Pupils have to take at least 8 exams which count towards league tables (IGCSs, remember, are out). This will affect schools with a large number of previously-low attaining pupils who are less likely to take 8 exams which count.

And what's expected progress? The DfE says a pupil entering secondary school with a Level 3 is expected to get a D while those entering with Level 5 should get a B. Is the expected progress for low-attaining pupils actually stricter than for previously high-attaining ones?

Children don't progress uniformly. If they did, they would all be at the same level throughout their lives: walking at the same time, talking at the same age, drawing at the same level of competence etc. But they don't. And children spurt forward, drop back, mark time. Progression isn't consistently vertical.

Finally, pupils in England are among the most-examined in the developed world. Few countries have high stakes exams at 16+. If they do have tests, these are few in number (no more than 5) and limited to core subjects (eg native language, maths and science). And they're not used to judge schools but to decide post 16 progression.

Obsessing about judging schools diverts attention from education to measurement.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 18:28

"This division is all about judging schools for marketisation purposes, not providing an assessment framework to support a ‘good education’." Looking backward to the inception and introduction of GCSEs it seems to me that the key reason for replacing the GCE 'O' Level was to enable a move toward a more skills and competency based qualification; not marketisation.

The decision to keep an alphabetically based grading was a major error of judgement because employers and the media instantly took the (new) GCSE A-G to be a direct read across from the GCE 'O' Level A-C.

The second major error was the complete disconnect between the GCSE and GCE A Levels. The politicos in government and education department completely failed to factor in that the while the former 'O' level was a natural bridge to the 'A' Level the GCSE simply wasn't, and hence in a short period of time the mismatch caused difficulties and hence the ongoing tinkering with the much loved and feted gold standard.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 10/02/2015 - 22:53

Roger, I accept that many of the recommendations coming out of the OECD as a result of their analysis of the PISA tests are sound. So I question myself why it is I am uneasy about the process.

Unlike you, I have not analysed the tests but accept your assessment of the difference between TMMS and PISA. The latter seem to offer cognitive challenge to participants and as such undoubtedly have a positive impact on pupil learning.

Like you, I am appalled at the fact that standards have been declining and that the relentless testing regime in our country largely accounts for this. It is certainly chief among the causes.

Left at the mercy of politicans of all persuasions, there has been a reckless drive to introduce more and more testing throughout the system. The more data they have been able to muster, the more they have distorted them, purely out of self-interest to seek justification for their many unproven policy shifts. It is this issue that leads me to question the use of PISA data to compare the effectiveness of nations. Our 'lot' need no encouragement to leap at international comparators to add to the crude weaponry they use to denigrate hard-working professionals and in so doing destabilise the system for their own perverse ends.

The problem lies in the choices made by those that presently govern our education system. I still believe that there are issues around interpretation of data and that the OECD is not a lot better than some lesser agencies in this regard. The data are not complete, as we know from what happens to students who should be included in the testing in Shanghai, for example and on top of that the range of testing is very narrow. You could well argue that the OECD does not dictate how their reports are used in different domains but in England's case, that's like asking a dog not to bark.

agov's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 10:54

Roger - as I understood it Henry was questioning why employers demand job applicants possess particular qualifications when those qualifications are irrelevant to actually doing the job. You said he was wrong and talked about the purpose of education. I asked why that conflicted with Henry's point (as I understood it). Now you seem to be saying qualifications offered by schools should not be job-specific. I would have thought you should be agreeing with him.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 11:30

agov - I take issue with Henry over the following.

'Now there is an argument that some basic numeracy is sometimes needed (eg, helping them with basic arithmetic and times tables). But I have never come across a parent who said “what I really need in the carer for my child is a good understanding of algebra and geometry”.

Henry is right that lots of specific knowledge acquired in school turns out to have little direct utility in specific careers and jobs. However, I would want a bright and well educated carer, able to have wise and well-informed conversations with my child.

Studying algebra and geometry are profoundly developmental in cognitive ability terms.

Algebraic concepts are required to calculate advertised discounts. Geometric concepts are necessary for understanding why night follows day, the cause of tides, and are essential to the understanding of the physics of motion and multiple aspects of why the world is the way that it is.

To suggest otherwise is to imply that pupils' educational experiences should depend on their teacher's limited career expectations of them.

This reminds me of the discussion between Billy Caspar and the Careers advisor in Ken Loach's 1969 film 'Kes'.

What schooling was required of Billy in order to, 'go down the pit'?

But Billy might have become an official in the NUM and eventually an MP, serving on a Parliamentary Select Committee calling to account bankers and tax evaders.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 14:16

"But Billy might have become an official in the NUM and eventually an MP, serving on a Parliamentary Select Committee calling to account bankers and tax evaders", I appreciate that you are using this as an analogy but surely this is where lifelong learning comes to the fore (e.g. day release, night school). As 'Billy' matures and develops as a person and refocuses his life this is where the likes of FE and OU come into play. It does not give a blanket rationale to shoe horning youngsters down subject silo routes and academic immersion.

Breadth, flexibility and relevance are surely key to a balanced curriculum.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 14:28

Andy - I very much agree with lifelong learning. In Leicestershire in the 1970/80s this was very strong thanks to the Leicestershire Community Colleges, FE Colleges (both no fees if not in employment and then only modest) (especially Charles Keene College in Leicester) and Leicester University. I know of ex secondary modern school adults who eventually progressed to Leicester University degrees (no fees) through these routes. The Principal of Countesthorpe College taught GCE English and English Literature at evening classes.

However, many lifelong interests are first nucleated at school as a result of exposure to a broad and balanced curriculum.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 14:51

But, and there invariably is one, this does not mean that every pupil has to undertake GCSE En/Ma. Nor does it mean that GCSE grade C+ En/Ma be compulsory for so many FE qualification/training pathways.

As you are aware I underwent secondary modern schooling and as an adult entered University and achieved a 2.1 honours.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 15:38

You are right Andy - In fact you have hit the nail on the head. The problem for me is not with EBacc subjects, which simply form the core curriculum for any 'well educated' person. What is crazy is expecting 50%+ of pupils to get C+ grades at GCSE in them. As if any of the four lower grades D - G are not worth having at all, regardless of the utility or general education merits of the subject and its knowledge content.

I took my GCEs in 1963. Only selective schools took GCEs. Less than 20% of pupils went to selective schools. Not all grammar/technical school kids got C+ grade GCEs. This put the C grade threshold at more than the 80th percentile.

When the CSE was introduced in 1965, it was aimed only at the top 60% of the ability range (the rest were designated 'non-exam') and left school at 15, placing the lowest 16+ pass level of Grade 5 (GCSE G) at the 40th percentile. This exam/non-exam threshold is now the floor target for pupils to get 5+C+ grades including and maths.

Heads get sacked and schools Academised if the target is not met. Something very odd must have been going on over the last 50 years in relation to the grading of our national 16+ exam system.

This all gets a very full discussion in Section 1.10 of my book.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 16:00

Other than possibly for interested parents I do not see the need to include EBacc in the performance tables. Unless they are treated as the equivalent of Progress 8 there is no floor target for EBacc and Ofsted has no remit to evaluate and judge pupils performance (achievement of pupils) based on EBacc. EBacc is then a red herring.

The description "well educated" is fraught with danger. That is to say, whose definition is being used to determine that EBacc forms a "well educated" young person, and what is the basis for such a definition. For example, I would describe such a person as being one that can function and contribute meaningfully in their community while having economic resilience to compete in the jobs market - see my comment above at 9 Feb 12:09.

I took a combination of GCE O Level and CSEs in '71-2 in a non-selective school.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 16:47

Andy - I agree that the concept of 'well educated' is indeed fraught with danger so I will duck it by saying I am happy to go with the Conservative government's TVEI requirements of the 1980s. How it worked was that the school got quite a lot of extra money/facilities/resources if the TVEI criteria were met. I am going on memory here but I think they included the following.

1. Appointment of a TVEI co-ordinator to liaise with the parallel LEA post.
2. A broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils in KS4. This must include:
science (double award)
a European language
a humanities subject
3. access to option courses in technology/computer science/arts/drama/cookery etc
4. evidence of effective measures to combat gender stereotyping in option choices and A Level/FE course choices

There were no minimum grade thresholds.

In the schools in which I taught over that period it worked well. At KS4 we got girls into technology, boys into drama/cookery and significant numbers of girls taking maths, science and technology A levels and getting top grades.

Since the demise of TVEI, in terms of gender stereotyping it has been downhill all the way and seems to be getting worse every year.

So you will see that I think your definition is too insular. We are all citizens of the EU (whether we like it not) giving us rights of free access to all EU countries for all purposes including leisure, education, work and permanent residence, so I think our schools need to equip our young people to access those possibilities and to confidently travel further afield should they wish.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 17:32

Still others might urge that a "well educated" person must have had a private education, and even then this became diluted post WWII.

Rather than get on a merry go round of definitions it may perhaps be more useful to focus on the basis of a curriculum that prepares young people for the next steps in their life - post compulsory education - and ensuring awareness of the need for and availability of lifelong learning. All of which brings us back to Henry's views at the top of the thread.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 11:57


'Other than possibly for interested parents I do not see the need to include EBacc in the performance tables.'

I do not see the need for the performance tables.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 12:04

Neither am I a fan of performance tables that have morphed in school league tables; as well you know. My references to EBacc have been predicated by your comments regarding the topic and as such are in response to your position. The fact that I mention EBacc and the uselessness of them in official data is in no way the slightest support for such data tables.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 12:16

roger, you are putting up a false dichotomy. You do not need to have algebra to be on a select committee. However you do need statistics, which is not taught and should be on any general education. Algebra is not. And as for cognitive skills, we do pretty well in England as the last PISA tests showed (for once these skills can be seen as validly assessed by PISA: most of their work is statistically invalid) but the idea that a good high level general education demands the curriculum of the C19th public school is completely false - and both you and Gove share the same platform.

I am profoundly concerned with high level skills where required, but the old grammar school curriculum (which is the EBacc) is wholly out of date. If we go down that path we end up in Hammersmith, where the West London Free |School demands compulsory latin (worked for Samuel Pepys) and another Free school is opening which offers only vocational subject.

In fact we want comprehensive education which offers both. Which the best did. But not an old grammar school education, and certainly not algebra or geometry, which have no relevance to the world in which a knowledge of computer is essential, but not of the algorithms that drive them, except for specialists. We need to know the working of the blood stream, but only a doctor needs to know haemotology.

The falsity of this dichotomy leads to the JCB academy in Rocester, linked to Cambridge University, not getting any points in the manipulated performance tables because they will NOT do the Ebacc.

On this point, I agree with them. High level technical education post 16 - post 14 is too early - does not need the old Victorian public school curriculum. On this point the left tradition which started when Harold Wilson talked about grammar schools for all is wrong and Henry is right. We do not need to push kids through curricula which are irrelevant to them. In two weeks time I will be seeing a former student of the local comp who specialized in dance. Ended up taking over from Michael Jackson's sister Latoya as lead dancer of the Moulin Rouge. Fabulous career. Forced to do the Ebacc she would be, as she was for a time, a shop assistant in Stoke on Trent.

Loose core curriculum with some compulsory elements, but more and more choice as the kids get older. ANd Kes was based in a secondary modern

Sorry to be assertive, but as you and I are both technical school graduates we should know that the old grammar school curriculum AND a narrow technical education are wrong. Vive la Comprehensive.

trevor fisher.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 13:26

I think geometry is great and well worth studying. But not necessarily for a qualification - just for the sheer fun of discovering relationships between parts of a 2-d and 3-d shape or singing along to Danny Kaye about 'the square on the hypotenuse...'.

So is algebra - for manipulating symbols. But again, the emphasis should be on enjoyment and discovery not passing a test.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 13:58

Janet - You bring in another important point; the purpose of assessment and exams. Effective teaching and Learning needs formative Assessment for Learning, but there is nothing wrong with terminal qualifications and their syllabuses that are required to be followed. What has corrupted KS2 and GCSE tests is the use made of them. They are not now primarily for the benefit of pupils or teachers. They are for schools, or more correctly, they are the high stakes (dubious) performance indicators necessary for driving our uniquely marketised education system.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 13:50

Trevor - We will have to agree to differ on this. I believe in a broad and balanced curriculum up to 16 for all pupils regardless of ability and putative career ideas.

The TVEI era had it right.

It is a crude caricature to describe EBacc as a grammar school curriculum.

The following is from Section 3.3 in my book.

Intellectual development however has in the past always been regarded as what schools are for. Subjects are studied not just for their own sake but also for their value in developing the wider cultural, scientific or artistic understanding of the individual. These fundamental educational assumptions are rooted in the rational values of the European enlightenment, and the comprehensive school movement was about ensuring that the advantages of such an education were made available to all. The levels achieved as a consequence of such schooling obviously depend on the prior cognitive ability of pupils as well as on the quality of teaching so a wide range of performance is to be expected.

This does not mean that broad and balanced education only benefits the most able. A participatory democracy requires the highest possible level of development of intellectual development in all sections of society. The national curriculum was introduced in order to secure this aim. The difficulties in implementing it with the less able half of the ability range give rise to pedagogical challenges that our comprehensive schools were meeting with ever increasing success before the introduction of arbitrary standards that the government defined as thresholds that all pupils were expected to meet.

By this argument a less able pupil, and society in general would benefit from and should feel able to value, D to G grades obtained at school in mainstream GCSE subjects more than pseudo-vocational qualifications that fail to stimulate or provide intellectual challenge and lack credibility with Further Education providers and employers.

I am pleased that you agree with me that all career specific vocational education should be post-16. On this basis vocational secondary schools such as the JCB Academy are on the wrong track. They are short changing their pupils by not allowing them to follow a broad and balanced curriculum.

My own Birmingham Technical School was 'technical' only in relation to excellent provision of facilities, not the curriculum. My major criticism of it was that it tried too hard to ape many undesirable grammar school traditions like casual beating of pupils, stupid tassles on school caps, prefects (I was too rebellious to be made one), and compulsory cross country running in the rain.

I took the following subjects at GCE and got C+ grades in all of them.

English, English literature, physics, chemistry, art, French, geography, technical and engineering drawing and woodwork. That is an EBacc curriculum, but in no sense was it 'Victorian'. There was not a single subject I took that I regret studying, even though I have never made a mortice and tenon joint since I left school and never will.

On the subject of Victorian schooling, there were many positives as I describe in Section 5.8 of 'Learning Matters' in relation to the work of Richard Dawes at Kings Somborne school in Hampshire.

I think that in relation to EBacc you are confusing subjects with pedagogy. In relation to the former we could do with a lot more Victorian eclecticism. In relation to the latter it is quite wrong to assume that studying EBacc subjects implies grammar school teaching methods.

Cognitively developmental teaching strategies, for which all the EBacc subjects provide rich opportunities, are essentially practical and discursive in nature. I would never agree with marginalising creative and technological subjects. The TVEI curriculum did the opposite without compromising the basic principles of breadth and balance and no specialisation pre-16 that excludes any later career choices.

However this is your worst nonsense.

'But not an old grammar school education, and certainly not algebra or geometry, which have no relevance to the world in which a knowledge of computer is essential, but not of the algorithms that drive them, except for specialists.'

Without algebra and geometry there can be no meaningful science education at all above mere description. You actually write off all secondary school science teaching.

In relation to computers, the move now is rightly away from simply training in how to use commercial software packages, and is indeed towards understanding algorithms and programming, including in the primary school.

The arguments should be less about subjects and more about how they are taught.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 14:01

I forgot to mention maths in my GCE subjects.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 10:22

Roger, a point I'd like to highlight - and which, if I'm honest is a personal hunch - is that skills in geometry and algebra are transferable skills. When I sat GCE maths all those years ago in 1979 my favourite lessons were those on algebra and geometry. I did not take my maths learning any further, however, because I was mad on languages and ended up studying French, German and Latin (aye, Latin in a comprehensive school!) for A level. I would contend that the systems of thought for maths and languages are complementary and at a deeper level re-inforce each other. My husband, who is in his fifties, did maths A level and was good at it. He is now battling away with his French and after a particularly taxing attempt to understand difficult grammar patterns declared: "It's like speaking maths out loud".
I always thought of algebra as mathematical language and loved it for all its intricacies and internal logic. I feel the same way about the grammar rules of the languages I embraced.
Geometry has served me very well for all manner of 'making things' projects I have undertaken, especially engineering pop-up designs for classroom displays and cutting dress patterns. So the sound reverberates long after the gong was struck.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 10:38

If we are talking about transferable skills then lets focus on them, and not try to shoehorn kids into a nineteenth century world. THe argument about languages teaching logic is weak, as all languages are different and any attempt to see deep structures in the English system fails as there are no rules that apply. French does have rules, which is why it is the language of diplomacy, English would be a disaster, as was shown at the Battle of Balaclava (the light brigade misunderstood the Order Lucan had written down).

If we are to think about logic, and its time we did, then music is far better. Why I do not know, but there is clearly a connection between music and maths and I recall one of the Black Paper people making that point.

But music is being squeezed out by Ebacc - and as Roger has given a list of core subjects, what is in the league tables is key. Ebacc (which does not exist outside performance tables) are 5 subject groups, namely English, Maths, Sciences, Modern Languages and Humanities, the latter being History and Geography - RE was furious about being excluded, and rightly so.

5 subject groups. These are exactly the same as Balfour laid down in the 1904 regs for grammar schools, and latin has always been seen as a qualifiying language, as Toby Young keeps pointing out. Which is why latin is compulsory in the west London free schools.

It is not clear whether the Lib Dems succeeded in getting computing in the EBacc list this year, as I have not checked. But transferable skills for the twenty first century would certainly include speaking and listening, which Gove chopped out and MOrgan did not put back in.

Reading up on Marlowe yesterday, I actually found myself warming to the Mediaeval Tripartite system which included logic and rhetoric. All exams at Cambridge in the 1580s and across Europe were conducted by viva. Developing spoken presentation was key. How in 2015 did the government get away with paper and pencil exams in the era of voice activated televisions and video conferencing?

I suspect that the vision of a grammar school education remains the dominant one on the left, grammar schools for all being the treadmill comprehensives walked on. However the best schools in all sectors have always done more. Has anyone noticed what A Levels Cameron did at Eton? Not Ebacc that is very clear.

Time to junk the old grammar school curriculum and no mistake.


Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 12:07


'The argument about languages teaching logic is weak, as all languages are different '

No they aren't.

You need to read Chomsky and Steven Pinker's, 'The Language Instinct' and 'The Blank Slate'.

And you are missing the point. It is not that French has things in common with English in relation to logic, it that learning French and other languages has generally cognitively developmental consequences as Michele Lowe's husband points out (12/02/15 at 10.22am)

agov's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 10:59

This is all very interesting but I still can't find the bit where Henry suggests carers should be dim and ignorant. Nor where he implies that schools should instruct pupils only enough to ensure they stay that way.

Janet occasionally draws our attention to the concept of a school leaving certificate providing a broad view of a school leaver. Possibly that might be useful in enabling schools to provide good education but also in weaning employers off irrelevant qualifications.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 12:08

I can't find that bit either agov.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 13:10

agov - you're right I've long been an advocate of graduation at 18 with each young person receiving a school leaving certificate which could be obtained by multiple routes. These routes would be a combination of the following and would be unique to each school leaver:

1 Exam results - tests taken at 16*, A/S levels, A levels, ASDAN, BTEC etc
2 Work-related experience (eg apprenticeship info, work experience)
3 Participation in sports clubs/events.
4 Activities such as Young Enterprise, DofE Award, scouting, CCF etc
5 Music and drama - music grade exams, LAMDA certs, drama productions, choirs, orchestra, bands etc

*These should be few in number, not high-stakes and used to decide post-16 progression and not used to judge schools.

I would hope that one political party would include this in their manifestos with the proviso that implementation would be gradual, based on consensus and trialled before being rolled-out nationally. But I'm not holding my breath.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 13:41

Janet - This looks like 'Records of Achievement'. What happened to them?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 16:19

Roger - that initiative seems to have died. Can't find out when. The good thing about them was they stored all a young person's achievements in one place. The not-so-good things were that a lot of time was spent in preparing personal statements. The folders looked good but were inflexible and it was a devil of a job shoving certificates etc into the very tight pockets. I've got one somewhere which I did for myself for fun - the papers are now stuck to the inside of the pockets and the printing has leached on to the plastic.

The RoI actually gave interviewers etc too much to read. No interviewer can spend time ploughing through numerous sheets of A4.

That said, a good quality folder with exam certificates, certificates of participation in various activities, final statement from school/college (no personal statements) could suffice.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 11:34

Michele - You are absolutely right. That is the argument for 'plastic intelligence' based on Piaget's crucial recognition that cognitive ability (general intelligence if you like) develops in stages that have identifiable characteristics across subjects. In their 1981 book, 'Towards a science of science teaching' (Heineman), Shayer and Adey produced a taxonomic classification of topics in the secondary science curriculum in terms of their Piagetian demand. Later work developed this in maths and then in all curriculum areas.

The vital point you make is that as more sophisticated and powerful personal cognitive strategies are developed they have the general power to enhance understanding in all subject areas. This leads to a powerfully optimistic and progressive pedagogy that recognises that all cognitively developmental gains in any subject context (in schools) or any other contexts out of school, are general in nature and apply to all other learning contexts. Pupils only make cognitive gains when they struggle with problems that confront their current cognitive strategies. Effective ways to achieve this are through 'social learning' as described and specified by Vygotsky.

Maths is a subject that is especially rich in cognitive challenge. Simple stuff gets hard to understand very quickly - that's the joy of it! Think about counting pebbles - maths can't get any simpler. But the concept of zero is necessary in order to manipulate the numbers in a meaningful way. It doesn't stop there. When you progress from setting out the pebbles in a straight line to arranging them in geometrical patterns you very quickly get into the concept of prime numbers, the study of which can earn you a Nobel prize.

This is what the Mathematics Resilience movement is about. There is a link from my website.

Sue Johnston-Wilder (a leader of the movement) is clear that the process of grappling with maths leads to general cognitive development that results in progress in all school subjects. Shayer and Adey made similar claims for CASE (Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education) and produced shedloads of peer reviewed research that showed that it happens.

That is why both Henry and Trevor are so wildly wrong and (in this respect) Michael Gove is right.

All pupils are entitled to have their cognitive abilities developed through their schooling. Those that are functioning at the lowest levels need it most. Should a 'care worker' be denied a cognitively developmental education because you don't need algebra and geometry to look after little kids? Whether pupils will ever directly use in their later lives the subjects that successfully developed their cognitive abilities is irrelevant to the main function of education (in my view of course).

Having your cognitive ability developed is (or should be) the main function of schools and education generally. Philip Adey said exactly that (and is quoted in my book).

Needless to say, this is all covered at length and in detail in my book especially in Part 5. Section 5.4 deals specifically with the role of maths.

I am sure you would love my book Michele, and I have no grubby financial motive for saying that.

Trevor Fisher's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 14:51

Records of achievement died because the independent sector would not do them. Always factor in the actual curriculum of our most effective schools, who know what works in terms of the rat race.

If language is valuable, and I will back Estelle Morris in abandoning them for more cognitively valuable exercises which are a great deal cheaper - the ATL are keen on chess and that seems a very valid approach except I can't see our kids today doing chess.... maybe look at video games, as long as they are not Call of Duty type shoot em up devices - then that would be a way forward in an exercise driven world.

On maths. I will take this up at a later date. The immediate issue is that however you cook the pot, there is a supply crisis of maths teachers coming. Those who can get better paying jobs are doing so.

There is also an existing crisis of producing language teachers, and I would suggest looking at the figures for the supply of language graduates, which should concentrate minds.

Then the work of the Association for Science Education on what is wrong with maths reform., Gove is wrong Roger, not merely on trying to turn the clock back to 1904 on the curriculum but in mishandling the teacher supply and curriculum links issue.

The ASE have just told me they have, with Nuffield, set up a project to educate teachers in the language of maths for scientists. because the new maths GCSE is so far out for what scientists need that it is a crisis. It will however not be available till the autumn term, and will be overshadowed by the wider GCSE crisis.

This is a further sign that the attempt to turn the clock back is failing. As Gramsci said, every crisis is an opportunity. And at this point in time, an opportunity to junk the old grammar school curriculum for a valid (and cognitively demanding) 21st century approach.

One question which has not been answered. Did the LIb Dems get computing put into the EBacc? I have not had time to check the current performance tables.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 15:27


I agree with you about absolutely all of that except your interpretation of your penultimate paragraph. I don't need to tell you my view of how the government is wrecking the education system for ideological reasons in all sorts of ways.

However teaching maths and science to all pupils in a way that enhances their general cognitive ability is not one if them. Neither the laws of nature, nor the innate curiosity of children changed in the years 1900 or 2000.

When I first started out as a science teacher in 1971 the Nuffield Science programme was in full swing. The idea was to find better ways of teaching really difficult and cognitively challenging concepts. Nuffield Secondary Science was aimed at the bottom half of the ability range - but was it short on difficult topics? Definitely not. The core was Newtonian dynamics. Will most of the children ever have had the need to apply the knowledge gained? - Probably not. Was it good education? - I and Nuffield thought so and we were right.

But you never know when Newtonian dynamics might come up in child's conversation.

We have a computer chair with a revolving seat. One day I got my youngest granddaughter (5) to sit on the chair with her legs and arms spread out as far they would go. I then set her spinning around on the chair. When I told her to pull her arms and legs right in she suddenly spun like a top, much faster. She loved it. She never visits us now without making me do it.

This is straight out of Nuffield Secondary Science, which I first taught to bottom set kids in 1971. Note the link between physics and dance.

"Why does that happen, grandad?"

I admit answering that question is a bit of a challenge and, "because of conservation of angular momentum", doesn't crack it. However I do my best to provide a satisfactory answer. Will this experience prove formative later in life? Will she do physics A level? I hope so, but who knows?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 15:32

My grandchildren love chess. There is an active chess club at our 10 year-old's primary school. Why would modern children like chess any the less because of the existence of computer games?

Michele -Lowe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 17:17

Trevor. Do you say "all languages are different" because you have languages other than English to draw on? They are, of course, different from each other, but they are not stand alone unique systems. They share common traits. I could go on about Welsh and Latin sharing common traits such as ablative clauses and what is colloquially called 'the Welsh i-dot pattern', but this gets rather esoteric.

I'm not convinced by your assertion that English has no rules. It does. You're just not aware of them. But I reckon you're right about English's tendency to ambiguity e.g. a road sign saying 'Heavy Plant Crossing'. It used to make me think about triffids when I was a kid.

I still think my hunch is right about maths and language patterns. I come at this from an experiential point of view as I have never really read up on linguistic (apologies to Chomsky et al). My language learning was heavily literature based and practice in the field. It was also grammar based, where you learnt there weren't so much rules as patterns. Rules are constantly flouted in language.

My husband, who is now a script writer, says one of the most important things maths gave him was the notion of how a good story ark works. He cites learning to use imaginary numbers in equations to solve problems involving square roots of negative numbers. As long as you balanced the imaginary numbers, one on either side of the equation, and then removed them before the end you could work through your problem. Writers like introducing plot devices which are there to push the action on and then remove that part of the story to concentrate again on the main action. Hitchcock called it a McGuffin (sp?). It is rumoured, too, that a noticeable proportion of the script writers on 'The Simpsons' have maths degrees. Maths and its potential for cognitive acceleration can take you in unexpected directions.

Roger, I think I ought to read your book. My experience working as a class assistant in primary schools and now as a volunteer tells me that kids have a large capacity for intellectual growth if you can foster it. The argument that intelligence is plastic is one I see played out on a sometimes very ordinary scale. As an example, the weak readers I work with have one thing in common: no one reads with them from one week's end to the next. You can tell this by looking in their empty home-school contact books and from chit chat with them. When you do talk to them they can surprise you with their thoughts. You can see the potential in them. I don't usually see the strong readers, but last week, by a fluke, I did. The difference in flow, expression and -critically - comprehension was stunning.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 17:24

I will step into the lion's den here and moot the thought that there is a lot of perceived and alleged correlation going on in this digression (e.g. physics and dance and maths and languages) but not a lot of causation.

Forgive me for what some will inevitably see as my naivety but being good at or understanding physics does not make a person a good dancer and vice versa. Neither is there a link between gymnasts and other athletes and qualifications in physics and vice versa. Yes, a dancer, gymnast or athlete can benefit from being being coached/trained by a person who has studied and understands the physics behind the body and its movement and utilisation of muscle power, but this is not the same as the recipient holding or studying physics (even at GCSE level). Equally, being strong in maths does not make one good at languages and vice versa.

A strong case can be made for benefice and impact on cognitive abilities through engagement with philosophy and associated debate, research and exploration of ideas. The latter can be seen in the practice of Philosophy for Children (P4C). Notably there is no connection between philosophy and science or maths.

There always have been and always will be people who find that maths and science help them in other seemingly unrelated spheres of activity but not is by no means evidence of cause and effect. Rather it highlights the wonderful uniqueness of individuals and how their brain works. The latter is of course under constant investigation through neuroscience and latter has already helped inform the observations undertaken by psychologists.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 20:03

The impact of the Shayer and Adey approach in the form of CASE was such that 75 - 50% of pupils in the control group made less or no improvement. Thus 25 - 50% did show improvement:

"Results published from the Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) project suggest enhanced cognitive development and science achievement for between 25% and 50% of children involved; other children showed less or no improvement when compared with control groups (Adey and Shayer 1990, Shayer and Adey 1992a, b). In explicating their findings, these researchers appear to have focused upon children for whom successful intervention is reported. For children failing to respond to CASE techniques, no adequate theoretical explanation is provided."

It is also worth noting that Piaget's theory and position is subject to several reasoned and valid criticisms e.g.:

Criticisms of Vygotsky's theory usually emphasize that:

1. It doesn't take into consideration gender differences,
2. Underestimates abilities and ignores role of an individual,
3. Does not address the issue of how outer world is brifget to internal mind,
4. Valuing performance children accomplish together may result in children becoming lazy and expecting help even when they can accomplish something on their own.

Santrock, John W. Child development. McGraw-Hill, 2003

I point up these factors to highlight the potential for difficulties when theories are placed on a pedestal as being the answer. With wishing to appear overly trite, life is just not that simple.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 13/02/2015 - 10:14

Andy - You are misunderstanding the evidence of transferability of CASE type interventions. Chapter 1 of 'Learning Intelligence', Shayer and Adey (2002) explains and sets out a large body of data from many studies that show significant cross-curricular gains resulting from CASE and CAME programmes. Michael Shayer understands the difference between correlation and causation as do his peers who review his work.

That such gains are also achieved through similar (but non-CASE) approaches is widely recognised, as you will find if you read the work of Claxton, Johnston-Wilder & Lee and Hymer (Growth Mindset Pocketbook). All of these also quote further studies, from workers in many countries that produce similar conclusions.

Another example is 'Philosophy for Children' (P4C) which advocates CASE type approaches to teaching and learning in a completely different subject context. Barry Hymer (Growth MIndset Pocketbook), is also the author of the 'P4C Pocketbook'

Your own reference to this

makes similar claims and sets out the closeness of the pedagogic approach to that of Shayer and Adey. This is what is claimed.

"However, two British psychologists recently (2006) carried out a systematic review of research on P4C and only included studies that met stringent research criteria(1). One of those studies was by co-director Steve Williams. All the selected studies showed some positive outcomes in the following areas:

Developments in cognitive ability
Developments in critical reasoning skills and dialogue in the classroom
Emotional and social developments

The researchers then conducted their own research in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, to find out if previous positive findings could be replicable in large classes (30 pupils) facing the ‘normal’ constraints of funding and professional development time?(2) Their conclusions can be summarised as follows using extracts from the report:

Developments in cognitive ability. ‘The results suggest that even one hour’s use of an enquiry-based teaching methodology each week can have a significant impact on children’s reasoning ability. There was anecdotal evidence from both teachers and pupils that the use of enquiry-based methods extended well beyond the ‘Philosophy hour’. Also, those pupils who had been involved in the Philosophy programme improved their self-esteem (as learners) scores over this period. There was no significant difference between the pre- and post-test results of the control pupils.

These results suggest that enquiry-based approaches are conducive to promoting self-esteem in learning situations.’

Developments in critical reasoning skills and dialogue in the classroom. ‘The rate of pupils supporting their views with reasons doubled in the experimental group over a six-month period. Teachers doubled their use of an open-ended follow-up question in response to pupil comments. The percentage of time that pupils were speaking (compared to the percentage of time that the teacher was speaking) increased from 41% to 66%. The length of pupil utterances in the experimental classes increased on average by 58%. There were no significant changes in the discussions taking place in the control classes.’

Emotional and social developments. 'The study provided evidence of improvements in pupil’s communication skills, confidence and concentration. It also suggested that the process of community of enquiry helped pupils learn to self-manage their feelings/impulsivity more appropriately.'

Sustainability of cognitive gains. The researchers tested the pupils again after the second year of secondary school. Though neither the control group of the philosophy had done philosophy in secondary school, ‘the philosophy group that had achieved significant cognitive gains at primary school demonstrated that these gains were fully sustained following two years of secondary education. Similarly the control group who had showed no cognitive gains in primary school also showed no gains in secondary school.

The main conclusion arising from this additional study was that cognitive gains achieved through regular participation in collaborative classroom communities of enquiry proved sustainable despite the absence of further experience of classroom enquiry in secondary school’.

I regret not including a section on P4C in my book.

You argue in favour of P4C in your post (12/02/15) but you seem to imply that the reason for the cognitive gains are attributable to the subject itself rather than the teaching methods. You state:

"Notably there is no connection between philosophy and science or maths."

Andy, that's the point - general cognitive gains are transferable across subjects.

Now we come to Piaget and Vygotsky. Of course there are doubters and sceptics. It's a bit like 'man made climate change'. No shortage of sceptics there either. I recall having a debate with you about that too on LSN.

Finally I will resort to anecdote - It certainly worked in my school. I seem to recall science teacher FJM (much missed where are you?) making the same claim on LSN. I have 35 years experience as a science teacher and have met hundreds of other science teachers. I have never met any that have taught CASE and not been convinced of the general cognitive gains that result.

You conclude:

"I point up these factors to highlight the potential for difficulties when theories are placed on a pedestal as being the answer. With wishing to appear overly trite, life is just not that simple."

There is nothing simple about the CASE approach. It is profoundly counter - intuitive to argue that the way to help pupils to understand difficult concepts is to encourage them to struggle to understand and to make lots of mistakes. Managing CASE type teaching, which requires encouraging pupils to discuss, debate and argue, also places very heavy demands on the ability of teachers.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 13/02/2015 - 11:03

However there ARE plenty of connections between philosophy and maths and science.
Marx is a case in point and so for that matter is Adam Smith.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 13/02/2015 - 12:23

I am not going to get caught up on the which came first debate.

The reality is that Science and Maths are the sole or superior keys to cognitive development. Neither is the use of philosophical approaches within learning subordinate to any other subject. Rather the Socratic communities of enquires approach promoted by SAPERE since 1992 (and even earlier) is a philosophical T&L approach that has and continues to be very successful at unlocking subjects and engaging learners across the curriculum.

I fear to float this idea because of the potential for being misunderstood but feel it is necessary to say that being protective and precious about a particular subject or perceived elite group of subjects and pedagogies is the path to a self-limiting blind alley. Hence I am unable to subscribe or support a position based on science and/or maths being the crucial or most important subjects in relation to cognitive development. Rather it is the pedagogical strategy embedded in the T&L that engages and develops the cognitive abilities (e.g. Socratic communities of enquiry that lead to learners thinking or themselves and being creative).

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 13/02/2015 - 11:42

Roger - Oxford offers a course which combines Mathematics and Philosophy.

Oxford also offers one linking Computer Science with Philosophy.

The 'Understanding Science' website (hosted by Berkeley, I think) has a page on philosophy of science. Aristotle was the big daddy of science and the philosophy of science, it says.

I've quickly gone away from the page or I'd spend all day on there.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 13/02/2015 - 12:37


It also has to be recognised that the Shayer and Adey outcomes were that between 25 to 50% of the CASE control group improved which means 75 - 50% didn't. Thus CASE/CAME are effective tools in the kit bag but not silver bullets or panacea answers.


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