It’s not ‘direct teaching’ v ‘enquiry-based learning’, Mr Gibb. It’s both.

Janet Downs's picture

Schools Minister Nick Gibb attacks education ‘experts’ in his speech to Education World Forum.  But he then sets himself up as an expert.

I’ve written before about how Gibb’s ‘evidence-based’ teaching is only evidence he accepts.   Anything contradictory is ignored.

Take ‘peer instruction’.  Gibb’s speech sneers at this.   But the Education Endowment’s Foundation (EEF) Toolkit, a resource which Gibb promotes, found peer tutoring can have up to five months impact, the same as Gibb’s favoured mastery learning.  While the EEF found evidence for mastery learning was ‘moderate’, that for peer tutoring was ‘extensive’.  Despite the extensive research which supports the effectiveness of peer tutoring, however, Gibb mocks it

One survey which Gibb cites is USA Follow Through.  He says it found ‘Direct Instruction, a teacher-led programme, comprehensively out-performed a multitude of ‘child-centred’ approaches.’  But Follow Through had problems: imprecise definition of the skills to be tested; narrow measurement criteria and suspect analysis.  Other studies contradicted the findings.

The academics who discovered the above flaws concluded that ‘models that emphasize basic skills are not better – at least not as demonstrated by the Follow Through evaluation.  No approach was demonstrated to be better than the others.’ (My emphasis)

If Gibb is aware of defects in the Follow Through project and its evaluation, he’s chosen to ignore them.

Gibb mines the OECD PISA report 2015 for a quote which he said undermined the support for enquiry-based instruction: ‘direct instruction’ of science resulted in higher results (p36 Volume 2*).   But ‘direct instruction’ wasn’t just telling.  As well as the teacher explanations, it included ‘classroom debates and students’ questions’ (p63 op cit*).   PISA found a correlation between direct instruction in its widest sense and higher performance.   But Gibb seems to have missed the significance of the last two strategies.  And he also missed PISA's positive comments about enquiry-based learning - something I will return to at the end of this article. 

The schools minister had nothing to say about adaptive teaching methods whereby teachers adapt their lessons to pupil ‘needs and knowledge’ (p 66 op cit).   But PISA found pupils who said their teachers used adaptive instruction ‘more frequently’ scored higher in PISA science tests.

Why the omission?  Perhaps Gibb’s reluctance to mention adaptive teaching methods was because PISA advised giving schools greater autonomy to ‘adapt to the students’ needs, rather than simply stick to a detailed curriculum’ (p69 op cit).

Gibb also misses what PISA said about his much-loathed ‘enquiry-based teaching’ (p69 op cit): enquiry-based instruction was ‘particularly important’ in teaching science.  It required pupils to do experiments.  It challenged pupils and encouraged a ‘conceptual understanding’.  Top-performers were found to take part in such enquiries.

But Gibb complains ‘Teachers are implored to allow pupils to debate and discuss ideas, design and carry out their own scientific experiments and analyse historical sources.’  Yet PISA, which Gibb cites approvingly when it suits him, says such investigations are 'particularly important'.

Is Gibb really saying that children should NOT be encouraged to analyse primary sources, debate, discuss and do experiments?  If so, his idea of education is narrow and mind-numbing.  Worse, it suggests Gibb thinks the purpose of education is to produce compliant adults who unquestioningly accept anything told to them by those in authority.  In this post-truth and alt-facts age, that is dangerous.

*downloadable here

NOTE: Gibb also seems to have missed this PISA comment (p34 op cit):  ‘Australia, Canada, Ireland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia and the United Kingdom are high performers in science.  Their 15-year-old students hold strong beliefs about the value of scientific enquiry’.  Disappointing, then, that a schools minister in England and his supporters don't hold the same belief.





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