Critical Professional Learning

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On this page you will find items that I hope add perspective to our thinking about the learning of professional educators. There will, for example, be some articles that were written some time ago making points that, in the rush to implement ‘new’ policy, we have forgotten. You will familiar with the professional cry, ‘but we have done this before’; well here you may find something to give meaning to the moan. I also intend to include up-to-the-minute material that will do something similar.



I think it was 1991 when John Major decided to give us his wisdom on GCSE. He did not like coursework. The students loved doing research but for him exams were what he had been used to when he was at school. I am not sure if anyone tried to explain differentiation by outcome to him, but he wanted questions to be levelled. That led to tiered papers. Try writing a set of them while ensuring that all the assessment objectives are equally involved in each tier. Three dimensional chess.

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Woke in the night to hear Radio 3 playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. It brought me back to studying for A-Levels and State Scholarship. I played a lot of Bix, Mel Torme, Bing Crosby (the autobiographical album which helped me understand more about the 20s and 30s), Duke Ellington (Nutcracker Suite) and Oistrach, father and son, the Violin Concerto. Oh and some Basie (solo piano stuff).

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My first attempt at a PhD was concerned with Quality Assurance in Education. Having done some work on this while an LEA advisor part of my early retirement severance packet was the payment of a year's fee. I have written elsewhere about my futile attempt to prevent the concept of Quality Assurance in Education becoming captured and I shall concentrate upon my second PhD. First, just a reminder that to make sense of how governments see QA it helps to think of military hardware. Pick up your rifle, point it at the chosen target, pull the trigger and the bullet should be on its way. The trigger mechanism must work properly, the bullet cannot be a dud and the aim must be true. That, I believe, is how governments perceive education.

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I have so often convinced myself that it might be possible to take hold of a government initiative and, while doing what we were ordered to do, humanise it and transform it into something almost good. Examples that come to mind include my attempt to place the assessment of the National Curriculum within a Record of Achievement framework. The idea being that whatever a SAT score said about you there was a lot more that could be said about you. And little of what could be said came with a score. Education is beset by the urge to measure.

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While I was still at university there was a request that three students might volunteer to help tutor a young lad at Walton Prison. I became one of the three. My job was to try to get him through O-Level History. But why was this young lad in an adult prison and why had he been there since he was thirteen? Working in a prison you are not supposed to know much about how prisoners got there. Often what you 'know' is infected by gossip.

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Having a chat with a professor of English I asked him how the English Department was doing. He explained that he was temporarily in charge of the Music Department. This opened the door to a witticism worthy of Basil Brush. "So", I said, "you have exchanged semi colons for semi quavers." BOOM BOOM!

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TEACHING IN A ROOM NEXT TO A N EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL.His name was Dave Mumberson, known as Mumby and Mumbo. My room was disgracefully untidy. I got away with it because Dave set a standard for untidiness that was unreachable by an ordinary mortal. A few weeks after I began professional life the head gave me a red, cardboard backed notebook. He called it a Record Book. "What is this?" I asked Dave. He explained that after every lesson or whenever I could I was expected to critique the lesson, just a short paragraph about what went right and what went wrong. I told him that was a nuisance. He showed me into his stock room. On a shelf he had a complete row of record books. "Every one of them", said Dave, "has been lost". I looked puzzled. He explained.

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SOME REFLECTIONS OF AN EXAMINER - who does not like the word

One more report to write and that will be the end of my career as an examiner. I have been an external examiner for fifteen universities, the external at possibly more than forty five validations of, mostly, masters programmes, stood in for about a dozen other external examiners when they could not make a meeting and evaluated four faculties.

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Some of my reviews of books I have called ‘responses’ because to review can imply making a judgment and I wanted to emphasise the effect that a book had on my thinking.

Today the intention of the government of Israel to throw off all restraints upon its actions has made it more urgent that the governments of other countries colluding in this are brought to their senses and held to account.

I am not expecting agreement with my views and I do make mistakes that I am willing to have pointed out.

Cliff Jones 8th. September 2017

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On the day that I was fifty I was busy marking GCSE papers and refused all suggestions from a friend that she would come round to ours with champagne. From our front room I saw her car arrive so I went out. She said she had a present for me. It was Stephen Kemmis the Australian academic whose short book, written with others, is known as Towards the Socially Critical School.

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Reflection on feeding back, feeding forward, winning a prize, practising a profession

The Report of the Task Group on Assessment and Testing (TGAT), December 1988, introduced me to the term ‘feed forward’. Not a particularly elegant term but it served to remind us that when tutors comment on students’ work it involves more than delivering judgment: more than feeding back: assessment is a sense-making process integral to education; and education is not time bound.

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Danger! Alert! Enter the CPD Cyborgs

Note: I drafted this in October 2008. I thought it would make a good editorial for CPD Update. And now that I search and cannot find it in my archive of published copies it is quite possible that I refrained from being too rude about the decision of the Training and Development Agency for schools (TDA) to disregard all the great work it had done on Postgraduate Professional Development (PPD) and to bypass (at the beginning) the real experts it had on its staff in order to impose what promised to be a dumbed down masters degree, the Masters in Teaching and Learning (MTL).

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Continuing Professional Learning in England back in February 2005

It could have become coherent, cogent, comprehensive and consensual.

A few years earlier Secretary of State Estelle Morris launched her CPD Strategy . It promised an opportunity to develop professional learning by, with and from professional educators. In my mind I connect this with the proposal from Denis Lawton in 1975 for the profession to develop a national curriculum and, in the same year, Lawrence Stenhouse’s encouragement of schoolteachers to perceive themselves as researchers . Perhaps Estelle might have been reviving (a little) what I now describe as professional proactive autonomy.

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The Thinking Teacher in the Thinking School in need of a Thinking Minister in a Thinking Government

David Miliband was Schools Minister from 2002 to 2004. He used to wear glasses. When the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) went to see him about the establishment of what became Postgraduate Professional Development (PPD) in England (masters degrees and doctoral programmes for schoolteachers) he referred to The Thinking School. It was a slogan that appealed to him. We had hoped to be talking about the thinking teacher in the thinking school but although he had called the meeting he did not seem to know why we were there. I remember that it was like talking to a clever sixth former who hoped to impress despite not having bothered to do his homework.

The glasses? With them David Miliband was the spitting image of Clark Kent. He no longer wears them.

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Tidy or Untidy CPD

Time perhaps to employ that well known phrase, the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

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From Breaktime Magazine, Spring 2011

I have encouraged the use of the perspectives outlined below for many years but as the education policies of the Coalition Government gathered speed I felt the need to draw further attention to them.

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Stagnant Schools and a Stagnant System

Much of what follows was written as a blog for the British Educational Research Association (BERA). It must be twenty-five years ago that I had the idea to write something with the title Oxbow Schools. Twenty-three years ago I met Stephen Kemmis and told him of my intention. He said that if I didn’t use the title he would. If he ever did I must apologise for not having noticed; you can’t catch everything.

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CPD Update editorial April 2005 and a letter to the editor

The title I chose for my second editorial might have been written yesterday or, even, tomorrow. I am sure that no matter how far into the future we gaze there will be someone, somewhere, anywhere, in the world using the phrase: ‘What goes around comes around’.

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CPD UPDATE - My first editorial from March 2005

Near the beginning of 2005 I became the editor of CPD Update. It was a monthly journal, not long, that was subscribed to by schools, universities and organisations such as the General Teaching Council for England (abolished by Michael Gove). Back then education was run by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) was about to become the more humanely run Training and Development Agency for schools (TDA). Insertion of the ‘D’ word helped us to accept the ‘T’ word. Ralph Tabberer was its chief executive and with him I felt that we were entering a time when the possibilities for partnership were increasing.

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