Tag Archives: progressive

A Glossary of U.K. Education (Vol. 1)

Debates around education on social media can sometimes be hard to follow if you aren’t well versed in the jargon of education in the U.K. With that in mind, we’ve produced this handy glossary of commonly-used terms.




1. the process in which a school undertakes a Faustian pact resulting in the handing over of its pupil data to Amazon, the selling of the school fields to Starbucks, and eternal damnation for all staff in exchange for better SATs/GCSE results.


2. the process in which a school merely alters a word on their signage and stationery.




small human beings cared about by progressives and hated by traditionalists.

free school

/friː ˌskuːl/


evil, bloodsucking entity, set up to appease the greed of its vengeful ruler by educating the children of the local community.

Gove, Michael

/ɡəʊv ˌˈmkəl/


pantomime villain, originally from Old English folklore where he is often depicted as having the body of a Tory MP and the head of an agitated baby; in many stories in which he features, Gove is vilified by the adults of the village for trying to give their children more knowledge.




Kraftwerk tribute band marked by their performance style in which one of the members arranges all of the songs, plays all of the instruments and prepares all of the lighting, sound and stagecraft, whilst the rest of the band take the opportunity to muck about and do nothing.

learning styles

/ˈləːnɪŋ ˌstʌɪlz/


antimicrobial resistent organism that continues to thrive despite numerous attempts to medicate against it.




word used as part of a compound noun to give an air of legitimacy to an otherwise woolly term, e.g., digital literacyvisual literacyliteracy literacy.




versatile combining form that can be adjoined to the beginning of any noun in order to make that thing sound more sinister than it actually is.




traditionalist, only more sinister. Synonyms: right-wingTory, Nazi, Sith Lord, Agent of Hydra.




capricious inspectorate, prone to systematically dishing out unfair judgements. Unless that judgement is ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’, in which case it is entirely accurate and should be emblazoned across letterheads and banners. 




from the Greek παιδός, (paidos), “teachy”, and ἄγω (ágō), “teaching”: literally, “teachy teaching”.




1. a teacher committed to the values of progressivism.


2. a teacher just out of initial teacher training.

Robinson, Sir Ken

/ˈrɒbɪns(ə)n ˌˈsəː ˈkɛn/


chivalrous knight of YouTubian legend; the folk tales tell of how Sir Ken is bestowed with a golden tongue by TED the Enchanter, and of how he uses this tongue to defeat the Great Sages of Rote Wisdom by invoking the Spirits of Dance.

rote learning

/rəʊt ˌˈləːnɪŋ/


1. that which Sir Ken Robinson opposes, instead suggesting more dance in the curriculum.

2. the most common and effective way to learn how to dance.

Shift Happens

/ʃɪft ˈhap(ə)nz/






a diabolical cult dedicated the denigration of fun, posters, role play and group work; based on ideology (cf. progressivism, which is ideology-free and entirely based on pragmatism and principles); followers of traditionalism dislike children and can be mostly found in schools.




to disagree with a view on education that one holds; this is a transitive verb which can only be done unto the first person me and not unto second or third person pronouns such as him, her or you – “he trolled me” is correct usage, whereas “I trolled her/you” is incorrect.


someone who disagrees with your view on education.



The Reconciliation of The Debate (Is it possible? Is it desirable?)

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about how important debate around the distinct philosophies of teaching has helped me. I’ve had some really positive responses to it, but I thought it particularly pertinent that a large number of people echoed my experiences of watching and taking part in the debate. By way of showing the extent of the debate and how it has helped shape a number of teachers’ understanding of their practice, I thought I’d share some of the tweets where people claim to have undertaken a similar journey to me. I think this shows how important and useful the debate has been.

There have been some really thoughtful blog posts on this topic too:

Can a false choice be an object of research? by Greg Ashman

Varieties of boredom by David Didau

Boredom by Toby French

Dangerous Conjectures by Horatio Speaks

Shutting down debates by Rory Gribbell

The Unexamined Life by Phil Stock

In the last of these links, Phil Stock expertly draws our attention to the importance of the “insights that can emerge from holding two opposing ideas in tension.” Phil also alludes to the way that many teachers who dismiss the debate actually try to reconcile the two philosophies – he notes how people say things like “one day I am traditionalist and another I am progressive”. As Phil points out, this confuses methods and philosophies, but a wider point that we might draw from it is that some see the goal of the debate to reconcile these ideologies. Indeed, if they claim to be bored of the debate and to have moved on, as Anthony Radice points out, the assumption is that they have managed to reconcile them:

If this is the case, I would dearly love to see someone – who positions themselves as having moved on from the debate – write about how they have reconciled these two competing philosophies. At the moment, I follow Phil’s opinion that holding these opposing ideas in tension is where the power of both of them lies, but I’d be incredibly interested to read, from any commentators, about the reconciliation of progressive and traditional education philosophies.

As you can see from the tweets above, I am confirming my own biases that the debate is useful. This is a genuine open request to challenge those biases. Over to you.

I Was a Teenage Progressive: A Defence of the Debate

I listen to a lot of podcasts and one of my favourites is David McRaney’s ‘You Are Not So Smart’, in which he discusses and explores the cognitive biases and self delusions we all have as humans.

Yesterday, as Twitter responded to some prominent bloggers’ attempts to suppress the debate over progressive and traditional philosophies of education, the latest edition of YANSS hit my iPhone. It was called, ‘Bullshit’. The episode mainly discusses PhD candidate Gordon Pennycook’s excellent work on the topic of, well, bullshit (apparently it is a clearly defined concept which is marked as quite different to mere ‘lies’) – work which you can read here.

But the preamble to the podcast really reminded me of my formative years in teaching and on Twitter, and how taking part in the progressive vs. traditional debate, as well as observing it, has helped shape and develop my understanding of the differing philosophies of teaching. You should listen to the whole podcast, but I’ve transcribed the first seven or so minutes of it below.

The podcast starts off with David McRaney narrating the story of web developer, Seb Pearce, who then picks up the story himself…

David:  Seb told me that, as a teenager, he became fascinated with new age thinkers, new age writings, and new age personalities.

Seb: When I was about 19 or so, I was kind of a self-help junkie.

David: But the more he learned about new age ideas and new age personalities, the more he read books by these people and the more he connected with them and their online presences, the more he noticed something that… unsettled him.

Seb: I noticed after being involved in that stuff for a while that there were a lot of things that they were saying that didn’t really match up with what they were doing.

David: Public tantrums, egotistical behaviour, flaunting of wealth and status… you know: people stuff. It all began to take a toll on Seb’s belief and his trust in these supposedly enlightened individuals.

Seb: It all culminated in this debate I was watching on YouTube one time. It was a debate – I can’t remember where it was, but it was called ‘Does God Have a Future?’

David: ‘Does God Have a Future?’ was a debate televised on ABC in which science communicators, Sam Harris and Michael Shermer, debate famous new age figures, Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston.

Seb: When questions were asked to Chopra and Houston, their answers were just kind of like the spiel that they would do on their book tours and stuff that was just… it was like selling their product. Full of buzzwords – yeh, they would throw out these words that they knew that other people didn’t understand, um, but they sounded scientific and so that kind of lended (sic) authority to them I think.

David: Here’s a sample of what Seb is talking about…

Deepak Chopra (clip from ‘Does God Have a Future?’): Science tells us that nature is a discontinuity, that is, an on-off phenomenon. That there are gaps between every two ones where you find a field of possibilities, a field of pure potentiality. Science doesn’t call it God, but what is God if not the immeasurable potential of all that was, all that is, and all that will be? Science also tells us that there’s a field of non-locality where everything is correlated with everything else.

David: Seb was so struck by what he heard as a nonsensical verbal smokescreen, that he wondered if he could write a computer programme that could replicate it. Basically, he took all the buzzwords that he could think of that felt ‘new-agey’ and fed them into a programme that was written to obey the rules of English sentence structure. And then he added code that would produce the sort of statements that use, as he explains on his blog, “language games and emotions that lure people into this stuff”.

Seb: You notice the people who think that they do understand it, like the followers… even they don’t understand it – to them understanding it just means not disagreeing with it, I think.

David: Yeh, because its purpose is to create an emotion, to create a feeling…

So Seb created the New Age Bullshit Generator, which is quite good fun. You can play with it here.

But it isn’t what Seb created that struck a chord with me, it’s his journey from self-confessed new age ‘junkie’ to skeptic that seemed very similar to my development through understanding philosophies of teaching.

You see, I was once what you might consider a progressive teacher. I believed in progressive aims of education, and my approaches in the classroom reflected this. But – and this is important – I didn’t actually know that my philosophy was progressive. I thought I was just teaching and that the beliefs I had and approaches I undertook were entirely neutral in their ideology. They were just what was handed to me by my entirely impartial and objective teacher training.

And then I got involved in social media. I saw people like Andrew Old arguing against some of the things that I believed in. I argued against Andrew. He was obviously wrong and was tied to some ideology. I made it clear that what I was doing was free from ideology, it was just common sense in teaching. Andrew very patiently argued his case clearly and coherently. It was frustrating. Infuriating, even.

And I watched others argue against Andrew. And like Seb with his new age thinkers, I started to see how what they were doing didn’t stand up to the arguments Andrew made against them. Andrew was patient. He wouldn’t deviate from his argument. His arguments were logical. I noticed that the arguments against him were often fallacious and the behaviour of his interlocutors often didn’t match up with what they were saying – here were people arguing for group work, social interaction, critical thinking, individuality, etc., and yet they were displaying behaviour that seemed antithetical to this. What’s more, and this is hard to admit: I was one of these people behaving this way.

I started to understand that there were these two movements: progressive and traditional education. As I began to understand that my philosophy came from a tradition – that of progressive education, I also began to debate what I believed. Some of my beliefs stood up and I still hold them; but many of them, under scrutiny and challenge, shifted and changed. They often didn’t change in the moment of debate, but more likely over time as I took things away from the discussion and reflected on them. I would defend the same idea against different challenges from different people and each time I was able to add light and shade to my belief: sometimes the idea stood up under challenge, and sometimes it crumbled. I would go away and seek out reading and research based on the debates I was having or witnessing.

The discussions were never framed as Progressive vs. Traditional, but the knowledge that these competing ideologies were circling around the debate was vital to understanding them.

So, like Seb, I shifted from one side of the debate to the other because of my experience of seeing the debate in action. Where Seb shifted from new age junkie to self-help skeptic, I too have swung from being knee deep in progressive education to being heavily skeptical about its claims. I even wrote about how I’d changed a while ago.

So I am thankful for the debate. I hope it continues to enlighten people as to the philosophies and ideologies of education that are often hidden from us when we train. It may not change people’s beliefs as it has mine, but it will enlighten them as to the tradition of their beliefs. It may even strengthen the beliefs that they already hold.

Like Seb, I listened carefully to the debates and it took a toll on my belief and trust in what I had been told. But, unlike Seb, I wouldn’t go as far as to call progressive education ‘bullshit’. That would be like calling a debate ‘boring’.