Tag Archives: re-evolution

Teachers as stick insects: the constant re-evolution of education

(This blog post was originally posted on Staffrm)


Up until recently, scientists thought that stick insects evolved away their wings when the species deemed them unnecessary – it was understood that they required more energy for reproduction than flying, so out went the wings.

But a discovery in 2003 by evolutionary biologists tells us that the very first stick insect, had already lost its wings 300 million years ago when it first appeared. But more interestingly than that, it has actually re-evolved wings and lost them again FOUR times since. Up until this discovery, entomologists thought that (loss of) wings only evolved once in insects – once they’d lost them, that was it: they were gone for good. It was assumed that the gene responsible for creating wings was mutated beyond repair as evolution had decided that they would never be needed again. But the gene was still there, and the wings re-evolved. And evolved away again. And back again. A few times.

This seems to me a lot like the life of a teacher.

Whether it be the decline of SEAL and the rise of Grit; the degeneration of the GTC and the advent of the mooted College of Teaching; or the death of National Curriculum Levels and the birth of things-that-look-just-like-levels-but-are-called-something-else, teachers are faced with endless re-evolution of edicts and movements that dictate the things we do, or how we are expected to do them.

Whilst entomologists were certain that the genes that created wings in stick insects were mutated beyond repair, teachers are often led to believe that we have heard the death knell of a certain precept or approach, only to see it grow wings again.

This re-evolution is one of the most tiring things for teachers. If it were an ever-evolving realm, the sense of forward motion would be stimulating. The feeling that we were always moving forward as a field would energise teachers, I’m sure. But the constant re-evolving can actually be quite exhausting.

This re-evolution is largely due to the fact that education policy is directed by politicians, who are shuffled regularly by both government and by the electorate. However, I would never want a system that doesn’t give stakeholders the power to elect (and so also remove) those that control education.

So what is the answer? Can education become evolutionary? Or do we just prepare teachers for constant re-evolution during teacher training? Shall we just tell trainee teachers to prepare for a career as a stick insect?

“Just tuck those wings in a drawer. You’re probably going to need them again in a couple of years.”