Critical Professional Learning

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In this part of the website I shall be presenting extracts from some of my work in unfinished form and notes about what I am planning to write. Over the years I have encouraged colleagues and students to do this so perhaps it is about time that I joined in. Please do not hesitate to contact me to express your views.

Autobiography of a Professional Educator - A tale of a eugenically defined poor racial specimen

This is a draft of my professional autobiography. Towards the end, if you get that far, you will notice that there is a lot to do, including editing.

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Some reflection on some of my publications - Stage five of critiquing my curriculum vitae

There are only nine items in my CV list of publications. The words ‘relevant’ and ‘include’ are prominent as I hoped to create the impression that there was much more. There is much more. For over twenty years I wrote public examinations and mark schemes. Do they count as publications? My subject was government and politics. I wrote lots of reports on those examinations. I wrote letters, pamphlets and articles campaigning on issues such as education and unemployment. I am particularly fond of one that I called ‘Conforming or Transforming?’ or some such title, complete with a diagram setting out the policy options as educators in Liverpool (well, some of them) confronted the consequences of unemployment. I wish I could find it now. Like lots of my stuff it is probably somewhere in the loft.

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A short reflection on my sixteen years of school teaching (boys, girls, mixed and three major reorganisations) - Stage four of critiquing my curriculum vitae

I began school teaching in 1968 in a boy’s secondary modern in Bootle. My classroom was in a hut called H.O.R.S.A. The letters stood for Huts Organised for the Raising of the School (leaving) Age. The age change was from 14 to 15. My status as a probationary teacher could easily be gauged. Outside my hut were the bins and the coke for the boiler. Mr. Elliot, the head who had been there since 1937, came into my classroom minutes before the actual start of my career when my bunch of eleven year old lads were due to arrive and presented me with a big cane saying, “here you are lad, you won’t survive without using this.” It was illegal for a probationary teacher to give the cane and I never did, ever. Perhaps he thought that because I wore a suit I could not cope in the area. Not only had my sister and brothers been born nearby but also my own junior school was very similar to Balliol (pronounced properly, not like at Oxford University) Boys Secondary Modern. It did not feel strange to me.

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My reflection on (mainly) quality assurance - Stage three of critiquing my curriculum vitae

There are thirteen items here. In terms of presenting a CV I think the appropriate phrase might be ‘over egging the cake’. It includes a lot of Quality Assurance stuff, exemplifying the kind of things I did in Liverpool Local Education Authority (LEA) and then at the University attempting to embed systems for humans rather than robots. I felt that once the University officially discovered QA its systems became more robotic and, to me, the quality was lessened. Filling in the form correctly seemed to be the most important requirement; although, many years earlier, someone did insert the word ‘normally’ into university regulations. That word would often come in handy.

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My reflection on external examining in universities - Stage two of critiquing my curriculum vitae.

It looks like twenty-one years of external examining in higher education: fifteen universities, not to mention validating about forty-five programmes, interim reviews and departmental and faculty evaluations. A friend once asked if the standard was higher at Russell Group universities. Interesting word ‘standard’; to what does it apply? Cleverer students? Cleverer tutors? Tougher marking? None of those. For me it is the seriousness of the effort to enable students to fulfil their potential. I only experienced directly one example in HE of an institution not caring to do this. Later, a university whose masters I had validated as an external and whose staff were great, suffered from a dean whose policy was to pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap. As I write that dean is in prison. And no, the standard is not higher at Russell Group universities.

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There has been some interest in the writing of negative or anti CVs. For me this would mean raising all the awkward questions that I would ask if I were interviewing myself. They would include:

“So why did that initiative end so early? It seemed to have the potential to be developed further.” and “You do not appear to have published very often in conventional academic journals. Why is that?” or “There is a lot in your CV. What themes connect all these items?”

Years ago I learned to make much use of the word ‘include’ or ‘includes’. A very clever word because it suggests to the reader that if required you could produce much more. A clever word but it carries the risk that you may be asked to provide those further examples. From experience I believe that no interviewer wishes to hear more than three examples. At interview I would offer three examples, then pause to ask if that answered the question or would they like more? Always the answer was that they did not need to hear more. It is, therefore, a risk worth taking.

I don’t think what I am about to write will be negative or anti. I shall cling to the word ‘critical’ in the best sense

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That word SOCIETY has stimulated countless books, articles, policies, lectures, theories and arguments. The question is: if we wish to live together on what basis shall we do it? Other questions are: how shall we set about making such decisions, who shall take part in discussion? If the emphasis is upon our being subjects rather than being citizens then most key decisions about the shape and values of society shall be received from the already powerful.

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Prompted by Gordon Brown’s book my intention is to add this to other fragments and drafts to construct an overall article on how we have got into our current mess. Parts of this have appeared on my website before. There are no endnotes in this version.

The Greeks, particularly the Athenians, gave us these words and because they pondered upon meaning so much we see them as concepts for us to define, re-define and again to re-define. The Athenians did not, however, invent discussion or all variants of group decision-making. We constrain ourselves if we imagine that in order to define Politics and Democracy our only reference point is ancient Athens. My question is: while we have been making free with the words Politics and Democracy have we allowed them to become empty concepts?

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EDUCATION AND POLITICIANS - A possible way out of our mess

We need to attempt to expunge the old fashionedness of today and restore the modernity of the past. The proto-Thatcherite Keith Joseph once told a British professor of education that many of our problems came from John Dewey . For Dewey (born 1859) education connected to community, to society and no doubt today he would have added the word environment.

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Intellectualism and politicians

If a politician only thinks of their policies as nice shiny commodities that can be sold to the electorate in exchange for votes then, I believe, whatever the size and power of their brains and whatever the amount of knowledge stuffed between their ears, they are not intellectual. But they need to be. Why? Because there is less chance of cock ups if they and their courtiers open their minds to different perspectives: to dissent, dispute and discussion.

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It is not easy to work out where to begin. This is only a small fragment of what can be said on the subject but, hoping to stimulate critical conversation, I have suggested that we might go back to 1829 for guidance. It was an interesting time. The year before gave us the Catholic Emancipation Act and three years later during a time of relatively well-behaved revolution in a number of European countries Britain began to expand its franchise. That came from the so-called ‘Great’ Reform Act. A year later we got the first Factory Act. It was a time when a number of prominent Tories perceived a need to put on liberal clothing. I begin, however, in 1951.

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CONTENTS (yet to be drafted) PREFACE - This is my attempt to respond to Gordon Brown’s book. At a time when our current government seeks to prove that brains are not needed to do the job I believe that it is very useful, and salutary, to read the words of a political grown up, even a flawed political grown up. I shall try to use Brown and his book as a prism to help me make sense of rather a lot. Prisms are, of course, wobbly instruments especially when focussed upon governments that have grown in power at the expense of a diminishing political process. Since 1979 our governments have been consistently shifting rightwards while claiming to have stayed in a mythical middle.

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WHERE ARE WE NOW? Unfinished but posting anyway

In THE TORTOISE AND THE HARES (2008) by Giles Radice there is a description of the different approaches of Attlee and Churchill to chairing cabinet meetings during the war. If you have a hardback copy it is on page 115.

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Note: this is a fragment that I hope will contribute to what I have been writing using Gordon Brown’s book as a prism to understand the current political mess the UK is in. The title echoes Tony Blair’s EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION, spoken in response to a question about his priorities in 1997. Needless to say, he had no idea what he was talking about.

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Acknowledging The Platters (1955) Oh Yes, I'm The Great Pretender

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The Values of New Labour

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Gentlemen Versus Players

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Second version of my response to Gordon Brown's book. More to come.

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"IRAQ: HOW WE WERE ALL MISLED." This is the title of a chapter in Gordon Brown's book. "We"? "All"? Really?

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NOTE: this is a first draft of the early part of my response to Gordon Brown’s book. At a time when our government seeks to prove that brains are not needed to do the job I believe that it is very useful, even salutary, to read the words of a grown up. I shall have much criticism of him later on. This is the story so far.

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I love comprehensive schools and mixed ability learning. We often use the term ‘mixed ability teaching’ but that is to overlook the extent to which children can help each other to learn, irrespective of specific aptitude.

At the age of 13 I offered to cheat in an art examination and pass off a painting of mine as belonging to my friend Bob. It certainly deceived the teacher (or did it?) who gave it a higher mark than the one I submitted in my own name.

That was not quite what I meant by mixed ability learning. It was more like mixed ability cheating. The memory popped into my head and I could not resist including it here. Nevertheless, I think Bob did learn something about painting in the process. There was no educational theory involved, merely instinctive fun.

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Remember that Cameron paid £25k for a specially designed ‘shepherd’s hut’ for his garden in which he would write his memoirs. In this book he intends to explain how he had no choice but to hold a referendum; how an advisory vote somehow became a binding one without the electorate knowing; and how, compared to Theresa May, the world is sure to agree that he is among Britain’s greatest ever premiers.

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Autobiography of a Professional Educator Episode Two

Did Miss Pickering teach you? And a note about Bootle Others may have experienced or remembered my junior school differently (I began there in 1949)

Beach Road Council School in Litherland segregated boys and girls from the age of seven. The girls were downstairs and had a separate playground where they always seemed to be playing complicated skipping games accompanied with songs. Boys were taught upstairs and, observed from above, our playground must have looked like midges swirling around on a summer evening. We played lamppost tick, off-ground tick and relievo, also called allalio (alladio in a nearby Catholic school so I have recently been told). When we played ollies no fudging was allowed.

It has been pointed out to me that not everyone might have a complete grasp of what I am on about so I shall add some explanation at the end.

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Autobiography of a Professional Educator (unfinished) Episode One

From our back kitchen was one step down to the outhouse. I was on the bottom step and my mother on the top one having just brought the post through the house. I could see the brown official envelope in her hand. I knew that in it was the result of the test of my ‘general intelligence’ (called 11-Plus) but I prayed and offered deals to what I had been taught was God so that instead of the letter inside telling my mother that I was a failure it would be magically turned into something that would make her happy. My prayers and offered deals were unsuccessful and rejected, as I was about to be labelled and treated.

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Homegrown principles to re-humanise government and politics

Below are just a few of the reasons that prompted me to begin to write on this subject. I shall keep working on it and am always ready to pinch the good ideas of other people.

Police officers dressed as science fiction robocops

Multiplication of legislation to deal with terrorism (an abstract shape shifting noun applied to whatever a government wishes at any given time)

Growing gaps between rich and poor, powerful and powerless

Inhuman governmental policies, domestic and international

Shortsighted governmental incompetence

Disregard of the environment

In 1829 Sir Robert Peel gave us a set of principles for policing. He probably did not write them himself but as the then Home Secretary he endorsed them. The Conservative Party of that time had little in common with the party of today. It wished to preserve privilege but with the exception of the ‘Great Reform Act’ of 1832 that pretended more than it delivered it did not always try to pass off deform as reform, a word that in our history lessons at school we learned to respect.

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I am placing this in the In Drafts part of my website partly to stimulate response and partly in order to encourage myself to make some progress towards completing the article.

The academic exploration of learning by educators is not always confined to what happens in the classroom. Contexts vary and may require us to make critical sense of a range of political issues. Why would we not? If, for example, two cousins are at schools on different sides of a wall erected in order to separate them we cannot write about their education and ignore the wall. Why is it there? Who put it there? Why is it maintained? Nor can we ignore the impact upon the cousins, their classmates, their teachers and the split societies in which they live and grow.

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Social Fracking Discoursing on the impact of Gove and Co Exploring the values, origins and impact of policies Asking questions Becoming anxious Fighting back

What follows is a very much longer/larger version of previous In Draft documents but on the same theme. It is almost forty five thousand words long. The most obvious omissions are the notes and references for each section and clearly the book reviews that I have included are far too few in number: one is unfinished. In places you can see that I have merely written some notes for myself: ideas to develop or discard; and some paragraphs may be moved to more appropriate places in the text.

I am very much aware that by publishing in stages and drafts like this I risk negative criticism. Since, however, one of my main purposes in establishing this website was to stimulate critical conversation that is a risk I am content to take. There is much more to come. Beware!

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Coalition Education Policy Fracks Society with the help of a few other policies while politicians get away with it at a price paid by all (6th version)

This is about a forthcoming piece of much longer writing with, possibly, the same title.

Here are some notes and comments plus the first draft of the preface for what I hope will become a substantial essay that looks at how Coalition policies for education contribute to the further fracturing of society. For the moment at least I am making use of the terms ‘frack’ and ‘fracking’ because it seems to me that what is proposed for parts of Britain in the form of pressurising shale deep below the Earth’s surface in order to bring up oil and gas, thereby risking earthquakes and pollution, is very similar to what will happen to society as a result of education policy, especially in England.

From time to time I shall publish more first draft extracts, hoping to obtain feedback before putting it all together and typing the last full stop. So far the sections and sub-headings of the essay are as listed below together with notes and comments

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