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Forthcoming Events

IoI Forum
IoI Education Forum
Venue: London
Date: Ongoing


The Education Forum has created a culture of open debate and discussion between teachers and education professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

The forum was established in 2004 and is now in its eighth successful year. Since its inception the Education Forum has held monthly discussions in London, and now in the regions, as well as organising and contributing to national education conferences. Many members have a national profile and been involved in educational experiments as well as writing books, papers, and articles, and appearing on many Radio and TV programmes. Members have been invited to give evidence to parliamentary select committees and policy commissions.

Recent topics we have discussed include Home Schooling; The Myth of Racist Kids; Reclaiming Childhood and The Therapeutic Turn in Education (a full list with brief descriptions can be found below).

If you would like to contact an Education Forum spokesperson for a media contribution or to invite them to speak at an event, you will find full contact details here.

Professor Dennis Hayes is the national convenor of the Education Forum and the Midlands Region organiser. For further details about the Education Forum in general or events in the Midlands, contact Dennis on 07791 200 341 or email: education@instituteofideas.com

Dr Mark Taylor is the London Region convenor of the Education Forum. If you would like to attend events in London contact Mark on 07841 733 746 or email: education@instituteofideas.com

When enquiring about attending the Education Forum please give your contact details and brief information about your professional role and interests in education.

Education Forum Publications

Members of the Education Forum have published three recent documents that have had some considerable influence on recent education policy – they are all available for download as PDFs here:

Education Forum Election Statement (April 2010)

A defence of subject-based education (November 2010)

Towards a subject-based curriculum (May 2012)

See also The Archive of Education Forum Opinion Pieces and Podcasts

IoI Education Forum Facebook Group
There is an Education Forum Facebook Group for all those who wish to join. It will eventually have discussion boards and, of course, a ‘wall’.

Earlier series of the Education Forum are archived here.

Next forum:

Monday 10th March, 7pm

Who won the History wars?

In 2010 Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove proposed a new school History curriculum. It was roundly condemned by most 'experts'. Gove promised to listen and in 2013 was back again with a revised version. However, this time critics were even less satisfied, one even calling it a ‘pub quiz’. On the way to the bar, Gove had courted (then ignored) renowned historians such as Evans, Schama, Ferguson - and Roberts went AWOL. Furthermore, the Better History Group were also annoyed - and august bodies such as the Historical Association, the Royal Historical Society and the British Academy also felt Gove owed them a drink. So the metaphorical propaganda war rumbled on: skills v chronology; British v world; facts v meaning. Stalemate?

Now, it’s 2014 and the updated History curriculum is being advanced by the DFE as part of the new National Curriculum beginning in September. But it’s also 100 years since World War One began and Gove is again 'under fire' for going over the top - and seeking out classicists to back up the state system. Who really won the History wars? If it was Gove, who was he really fighting: the historians, the public - or the past itself? Where now for history teaching?

For details of the new History curriculum see here.

If you wish to attend please email education@instituteofideas.com or ring Mark Taylor on 07841733746.

There will be a small charge of £5 to cover the room booking.

Past forums

Monday 10th February, 7pm

'Pob' v 'Blob' - who is winning the hearts and minds of teachers?

On assuming power, Michael Gove identified the people responsible for maintaining low educational standards as 'the Blob', a nexus of left wing educationalists and thinkers clustered primarily in university departments of education. This Blob, said Gover, had an octopus-like reach. It extended into local education authorities, government Quangos and teacher trade unions, and crushed aspirations.

The Blob's response was to attempt to frustrate Gove's ambitions, for example by deriding him, slow hand-clapping him, and likening him to the children's TV puppet Pob. Despite this notional resistance, change under Gove has proceeded rapidly, and this year sees a new National Curriculum, with a Blob-busting focus on facts, truth, knowledge and traditional academic subjects. Furthermore, more teachers are now being trained outside of universities - they no longer require formal training - while LEA’s are increasingly marginal to a more centralised educational policy.

And yet, at the same time, it is not clear that Gove has actually won the educational battle. School standards and structures may have changed, and teacher standards have been revised, but has Pob really won over the hearts and minds of England’s teachers? Indeed, what use are new school structures and incentives when that most precious of all educational resources – energised and freshly trained new teachers – are now said to be quitting at alarming, and highly costly, rates?

Monday 9th December, 7pm

Has safeguarding gone too far?

For some, safeguarding is the umbrella-term solution to the problem of child welfare, support, neglect and abuse. Indeed, in Working Together to Safeguard Children (August 2013), schools are reminded of their function to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, through measures such as 'designated persons', clear lines of accountablity and a 'culture of listening' to children. Allegations of abuse against teachers being taken seriously are also part of this potentially enlightened approach, which shows the Coalition government building on aspects of Every Child Matters pioneered under New Labour.

For others, safeguarding is more problematic. Safeguarding is perceived to have corroded the relationship between parents, pupils and schools so that there is only a very thin line between the state and families. When the merest suggestion of wrong doing invites a barrage of questions about the family life of any child, what does this tell us about the school's role today? Meanwhile, families are often seen as so weak that some parents expect schools to sort out their problems, leading to pressure for schools to further develop their expertise in safeguarding. Other schools, meanwhile, are facing potential legal challenge for the 'unaccountable' nature of some of their 'external' staff such as sports coaches and peripatetic teachers. Has safeguarding now superseded health and safety as the uninspirational default of the whole system? What happens to education in a 'safety first' system? Are we just schooling children as vulnerable individuals for the insecure age in which we live - and reproducing the problems safeguarding is designed to solve?

Monday 18th November, 7pm

Is knowledge under attack?

The idea of all children having an 'entitlement to shared, public and universal 'knowledge' has been attacked by some because of its association with elitism and its supposed view of children as 'empty' vessels. Yet, ironically, many of the critics of elitism have themselves benefited from the very same knowledge they criticise..... No wonder those critics have been themselves attacked by those such as the Education Minister, Michael Gove, for having 'low expectations' of disadvantaged children. However, others complain that Gove's view of knowledge is itself so fixed that success appears close to uncritical compliance to tradition. Instead, they claim that learning and skills should drive the kind of knowledge that we get - or construct.

Is knowledge under attack today, and, if so, how? What becomes of teaching and learning if knowledge does not really matter? And does it really matter as long as 'the people' get to choose what they want to learn about in a tolerant learning culture? Can the two sides of the 'knowledge divide' meet in the middle - or will one of them win the argument and put knowledge back in its rightful place, wherever that may be?

Professor Michael Young will be our speaker

Monday 16th September, 7pm

What makes a good teacher today?

You may not recognise the good teacher of today. A budding technocrat ,schooled in the 'new professionalism' of 'early interventions`, data analysis, AFL and mentoring - all backed by the wisdom of neuroscience, today's good teacher is a different entity from that of a few years ago. Indeed, this new kind of teacher armed with 'moral purpose' appears to securing better exam results at many of the new academies and improving schools across the country. But is this model of professionalism what really represents today's good teacher?

Is there still a space for a teacher who values - even if with a slightly heroic self-image - subject knowledge as the be all and end all of education? Does this 'older' kind of teacher still have the confidence to ignore pupil targets,Ofsted criteria and the tick box mentality in British schools today and really drive subject knowledge forward? Or, as the critics of this kind of teacher say, didn't they actually fail a generation of students? And, given ther poor communication skills, weren't they only really good for themselves, not their students? If so, why not accept the improved standards that have come with the new approaches - even if the price is a little sterility in the profession?

Kevin Rooney, Deputy Head of 6th Form and Head of Social Science at Bushey School will be our speaker

Tuesday 25th June, 7pm

Global Learning: the future of education?

In association with the Development Education Research Centre at the Institute of Education

Global Learning and development education have been the subject of numerous publications, policy statements and strategic initiatives in the UK in the past year. Two leading academics at the Institute of Education with differing viewpoints as to its value and contribution to the future of education. Questions they will address include what is global learning and whose view of education does it represent, the contribution and importance of knowledge about development and global issues, the agendas of external organisations such as NGOs and the relationship between schools, and education and social change. Who gains from the current emphasis on the 'global' dimension in education?

The speakers were Dr. Douglas Bourn, Director of the Development Education Research Centre at IOE and editor of the International Journal of Development Education and Global Learning and Dr. Alex Standish, Lecturer in Geography Education at IOE and the author of 'The False Promise of Global Learning'. The debate will be chaired by Professor David Lambert.

Monday 17 June, 7pm

Education or Emile?

As a preliminary for the Academy session on Rousseau, Professor Dennis Hayes will ask whether we must choose between 'Education or Emile?'

Emile is little read but the ideas Rousseau put forward dominate contemporary thinking about education in teacher training departments - and in the heads of teachers. Indeed a good teacher is now often thought of as one who, as Melanie Phillips says, relies on 'intuition, empathy and kindness to nurture and guide the child's natural curiosity through personal discovery and problem solving'. That is Rousseau and, for many, that is also 'education' today. But the dominance of such child-centred thinking can also be challenged by reading Emile because the book reveals deeper currents behind the superficial and sentimental outline above. Hayes will explore the implications of Rousseau's thinking to start a discussion on how we see education today.

Monday 20 May, 7pm

Knowledge versus emotion in education: a false dichotomy?

Educational interventions in children's and young people's emotional lives are on the rise. From 'worry boxes' in primary schools to 'puppy rooms' in universities, extra curricular 'additions' to education are increasingly embedded at all ages and stages. For some critics such activities are symptoms of a therapeutic turn away from education as an intellectual endeavour. Such approaches are said to deny students access to the 'best that has been thought and said'. In consequence, the pursuit of knowledge is undermined.

On the other hand, as far back as the 19th century there is another response to education as a purely intellectual project. John Stuart Mill described (in his Autobiography) a period of dejection and melancholy when he came to understand the limitations of his purely intellectual education because 'the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings'. Indeed, Mill went further and observed that 'The cultivation of the feelings became one of the cardinal points in my ethical and philosophical creed.'

Is the contemporary emphasis on the 'cultivation of the feelings' an attempt to maintain emotional balance and enable children and young people to have a fully rounded education? Or is it something new - a misplaced and manipulative intervention against the pursuit of knowledge at a time of uncertainty about what education means? Are the new approaches leaving education open to the 'snake oil' sellers of therapeutic intervention? Or can critical practice in education be renewed through a psychoanalytical approach which uncovers personal barriers to learning? Can the knowledge-emotion dichotomy be resolved or is there a state of permanent tension between the two approaches?

Introduced by Professor Dennis Hayes and Professor Linden West.

Monday 22 April, 7pm

Why so many interventions in education?

Until quite recently, educational success and failure was measured through exam results, and teachers were largely left to get on with things until the annual exams, which served as the standard of accountability. In skeletal form, this model still applies. However, a major shift in educational practice and language has occurred in the last few years in terms of how such success is targeted. Now, 'data' is expected to drive an increasing range of early evidence-based 'interventions' in the way teachers work with students, and teachers are increasingly expected to account for the 'impact' of such interventions on student outcomes. Indeed, many school leaders now assume that rigorous intervention is the significant difference between satisfactory and outstanding schools in dealing with 'underachievement'.

However, the 'creative' critique of the EBacc has tended to defend the arts as a preparation for employment and responsible citizenship, or as an important contributor to a thriving economy and democracy - not for the arts as valuable in and of themselves.

Outside this increasingly formalised framework inside schools, many parents are also evaluated for early educational intervention, while local authorities have intervention teams to assess schools who do not intervene early enough in the classroom. Does this shift to intervention reflect an increasing level of precision in education policy, which can only benefit students and increase the professionalism of their teachers and other carers? Is intervention really necessary to continually improve standards and ameliorate barriers to achievement? And has the ever increasing range of interventions really increased the quality of education in schools and society today?

Introduced by Mark Taylor, an Assistant Head Teacher at Addey and Stanhope secondary school, London.

Monday 18 March, 7pm

The End of EBacc - a victory for the arts?

'On February 7, Education Minister Michael Gove announced his decision to withdraw his proposals for a new examination system, commonly known as the E-Bacc. Based on five examined subject ‘pillars’ (Maths, Science, English, Languages and Humanities), Gove also generated controversy in the arts sector because it excluded their 'pillar’ – the arts.

However, the 'creative' critique of the EBacc has tended to defend the arts as a preparation for employment and responsible citizenship, or as an important contributor to a thriving economy and democracy - not for the arts as valuable in and of themselves.

Indeed, campaigners for the ‘sixth pillar’ notably argued that the exclusion of the arts from the EBacc would undermine the creative economy of the future, rather than creativity itself. So, do Gove's ever changing proposals means a victory for the arts? Or have all subjects suffered under the current regime and left the arts - among others - as a marooned caricature of themselves?

This all raises questions about what exactly is art education and what contribution it makes to children’s education. Should it be statuary and/or part of the core curriculum? Can it be measured by the standards and targets applied in other areas of the curriculum? Should the arts be a sixth pillar? And what do we do if the pillars have crumbled?

Introduced by Wendy Earle, Impacts and Knowledge Exchange Manager, School of Arts and School of Social Sciences, Birkbeck College, University of London

Monday 11 February, 7pm

Is it mentor be? Exploring education's role model fixation.

'No printed word nor spoken plea can teach young minds what they should be. Not all the books on the shelves, but what the teachers are themselves.' (Rudyard Kipling)

Everyone it seems supports the current vogue for role models. From premiership footballers on reading programmes to Mo Farah for black kids in general, you can't get away from the idea that someone can do more for students just by being themselves than someone else can by being a teacher. Thinkers as diverse as Kipling and Plato are invoked to support the notion that role models are a common-sense way forward when it comes to inspiring young students. Even transgender role models have been invoked as figures of inspiration to those students uncertain of how much they can reveal of themselves to others.

At the same time, a growing number of teachers are being disciplined for their behaviour outside of school, and for setting a bad example to impressionable young minds. Some have even lost their jobs because of failing to meet the changing standard of professionalism currently sweeping education. What does this 'new appropriateness' and the elevation of role modelling inside and outside the classroom tell us about education today? Is the current vogue for role models something we should welcome or be much more critical of? Does the concept of teacher as role model blur the distinction between a public and private life? And does the focus on role models elevate experiential learning at the expense of abstract knowledge?

Introduced by Kevin Rooney, Head of Social Science and Deputy Head of Sixth Form at Queen's School in Hertfordshire.

Monday 17 December, 7pm

What is independent learning?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, criticised teachers for breaking lessons into 'bite-sized chunks' in the annual report published last week. Instead, intelligent tracking, data and targets seem to be the key to enabling students to learn 'independently'. Not all teachers agree, however, and some see independent learning as just what you know at the end of the lesson that you did not know before - if you decided to turn up. As such, independent learning, which teachers and inspectors seem to agree on in principle as an educational aim, appears caught between lessons planned for knowledge and lessons planned to get students to assess themselves. In which direction does real educational progress, creativity and independence lie?

Meanwhile at the classroom 'coal face', many teachers are now used to preparing for inspection of data and curriculum levels matched to individual student understanding of their own progress targets - and how to achieve them. And lesson observations are increasingly based on the need to show progress data for all students (including 'vulnerable' ones on free school meals or with special educational needs) so that their independent learning can be enabled as well. Is this what Ofsted rightly wants to see in schools so students 'know themselves' and learn more independently? Or is this all missing the point and forcing a new set of bureaucratic prescriptions on their ever more data dependent teachers - some of whom are so independent that they would rather they and their students were never observed at all...

Introduced by Kevin Rooney, Head of Social Science and Deputy Head of Sixth Form at Queen's School in Hertfordshire.

Monday 12 November, 2012, 7pm

The False Promise of Global Learning: Why Education Needs Boundaries

Our speaker is Alex Standish, lecturer in Geography Education, who will be discussing his new book: The False Promise of Global Learning: Why Education Needs Boundaries.

Over the past 15 years both American and English education has been bombarded with initiatives from policy makers, NGOs and academics to ‘globalize’ the curriculum. In 1997 Oxfam launched A Curriculum for Global Citizenship - but numerous other initiatives since have also promoted global education. Meanwhile, teachers - not just in Geography - can also train to teach global citizenship and more and more 6th formers are completing 'global perspectives' essays on their way to their - increasingly global - gap year before university.

There is near universal agreement with the need to make education more global rather than national. Supporters of the global outlook assert that children need to learn skills for a global market, knowledge about the rest of the world, and values fit for living in multicultural communities - as well as awareness of global issues like climate change and human rights. So, has the global approach created a new generation of tolerant and enlightened internationalists? Or has the drive to create global learners led to a decline in actual knowledge of the world? Which global skills are pupils being taught and will this fill the ‘skills gap’ at a time of national downturn? And what does the global viewpoint do to the national curriculum? Has global education broadened or narrowed the purpose of education?

Monday 17 September, 2012, 7pm

What makes a good school?

At a time of confusion over exam rigour and grade boundaries, as well as school types - here an Academy, there a free school - plus proposals for no notice inspections it can be hard to focus on what it is that makes a school good. David Paton, the head of Radnor House School, which an Ofsted Inspection (April 2012) graded as 'Outstanding' in every category, placing them in the top 0.5% of schools inspected in the UK, will share his views on this question. For example, the teaching and learning at Radnor House was found to be outstanding, with much of the teaching observed rated as 'inspirational'. Is this really possible for all schools? If it is, why do so many remain at 'satisfactory' - or convert to academies? And are there other ingredients apart from teaching and learning that make a school 'good' - or better?

Monday 18 June, 2012, 7pm

Understanding Understanding - a critique of Kant on education

As a taster for the IoI’s summer school, The Academy, Professor Dennis Hayes will introduce Kant’s critical philosophy and examine its philosophical limitations as well as showing how it dominates and damages thinking about education. For those wishing to do some pre-reading for this event, we recommend the Prefaces and the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason (1871).

Monday 14 May, 2012, 7pm

The truths about neuroscience

Neuroscience is often said to have the answer to educational questions often by people who know little about the subject. To get to the facts we have invited Dr Stuart Derbyshire, Reader in Psychology at the University of Birmingham, to explore the often wild claims made on behalf of neuroscience in order to separate a great intellectual achievement from what we can call neuro-hype or what Professor Ray Tallis has labelled Neurotrash.

Monday 23 April, 2012, 7pm

Who really runs the classroom?

At a time of widespread confusion about 'what Ofsted wants' and 'what research shows' among teachers, parents, students and politicians, our April topic is 'Who really runs the classroom today?'

A few years ago, 'pupil voice' and personalisation were all the rage as education shifted to a focus on 'learning'. Now, the coalition government has shifted back to 'teaching' and seems to favour prescriptive methods like phonics - while they also deal with teacher underperformance. Yet a central claim of teachers has always been freedom to teach as they wish. Is this autonomy still worth defending? And should it still be the case if the results are not holding up? Who should really decide what happens in the classroom today - especially when the 'international evidence' shows education is better elsewhere? And now Ofsted are promising to turn up without notice, what happens to the lesson plan?

Secondary school teacher Kevin Rooney will kick off the evening with a short and punchy summary of his ideas on this topic, and this will then be followed by other education forum regulars throwing in their ideas before we open up the session to anyone else in the room! We hope you can join us in addressing the vital question of who should, could - or would be able to - run the classroom today.

Monday 12th March, 2012, 7pm

Tony Sewell "On Education"

Our speaker will be Dr. Tony Sewell who will share his personal thoughts and philosophical ideas ‘On Education’. Tony is the Chair of the Mayor of London’s Education Inquiry which will explore the critical challenges facing London’s primary and secondary schools and examine the key contemporary challenges for education in London. The Inquiry will also make recommendations for practical action to develop London-wide education with key partners including the boroughs, schools and policy-makers. Details of the inquiry and terms of reference are available here: http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/young-people/education-training/mayors-education-inquiry.

Tony is also an education commentator and former teacher who is the CEO of Generating Genius, a charity that has successfully placed children from disadvantaged backgrounds into top universities. Tony has published widely on issues related to race, social justice and emotionally and behaviourally difficult children. He also has experience in the media, writing for Voice and The New Statesman and regularly speaking on radio and television on subjects linked to education and the arts. He has a strong interest in diversity and has conducted research and published several articles on race and education.

Monday 6th February, 2012, 7pm

A framework for the national curriculum - explaining the return to subjects and powerful knowledge

Following our January discussion of the expert panel review of the national curriculum, our February event asks one of the authors referenced in the review for his insights into the proposed 'return' to subjects in the National Curriculum. Professor Michael Young, author of the widely read and highly regarded Bringing Knowledge Back In, will offer a sociological perspective on the UK Coalition’s return to subject-based education and its advocacy of 'powerful knowledge'.

Since its 2010 publication of the Importance of Teaching, the Coalition has made clear its commitment to knowledge and subject-based education. Similarly, the Framework for the National Curriculum, albeit derived from an 'expert panel', argues that the school curriculum should “focus on clear and well evidenced ‘maps’ of the key elements of subjects – giving all pupils access to ‘powerful knowledge’”.So should the return to subjects as examples of this powerful knowledge be applauded? And how, in the light of the previous government's approach, is the return to subjects to be explained? Does the Coalition’s advocacy of subject-based education have a sound theoretical and social footing? Or will it be yet another passing edufad? And just what is powerful knowledge anyway?

Monday 16th January, 2012, 7pm

A framework for the national curriculum - the Education Forum response

OThe forum will address the pre-Christmas publication of the expert panel review of the national curriculum and the unexpected decision to delay further reform implementation until 2013 - or later.

A panel of education forum regulars will consider the implications of the document - and the delay - for the state of education in the UK. We hope to address some of the following questions and invite you to bring along others on the evening: what are the implications of the delay for education reform? Does this mean that the Coalition cannot deliver on its stated intentions of improving standards? What does the report actually say is possible? Do we have a national curriculum anymore? Do we need a national curriculum anymore? Has anything changed since New Labour? Where now for state education?


The expert panel review: The Framework for the National Curriculum (December 2011)

Monday 14th November, 2011, 7pm

Why a Science Free School?

Our speaker is David Perks, physics teacher and author of What is science education for? will explain and defend his proposal for a science based free school in conversation with Dennis Hayes, Professor of Education at the University of Derby.

To some, free schools offer the chance to wrest the control of the curriculum from government and offer real education for all children. David Perks believes that his proposal for an East London Science School will do just that (see eastlondonscienceschool.co.uk).

The school will be entirely unselective and will offer a liberal educational curriculum, something that is now impossible within the state system. There will be no facile ‘two cultures’ art and science divide but science will be at the heart of education. Perks argues that there are no children for whom science is too difficult or ‘boring’ and that without a focus of science we are denying children access to knowledge of the world and themselves.

Monday 19th September 2011, 7pm

What is education for in the 21st century?

Our speaker is secondary school teacher and further education lecturer Alka Seghal-Cuthbert. Alka, who is unfashionably grateful to every teacher that told her to 'just go and read a book', will address one of the perennial human questions, what is education for?

In 1997 - after the election - everyone agreed with Blair’s mantra of “Education, education, education.” Now in 2011 - after the riots - everyone still seems to agree with it. But what is it for? Is it just to get the rioting buggers to behave? Or do pupils need it to get a job and improve the economy? Obtaining a career or personal satisfaction? Or is it just for an intellectual minority rather than something “useful” for everyone? Or is it for wider social cohesion and the community? Or should it be, as parents often state, just to help their kids “be happy”? Just what is education for in today's changing world and is there something in it for all of us?

As the next set of teachers begin their training, and the next set of children turn up at the gates of their schools we ask what it is they are are all doing it for. After all, when a school is no longer just 'bog standard' it might be an academy, a free school or now even a 'converter' academy, does an education need to be for anything at all? And when a university place costs an arm and a leg, can the head do any thinking when it gets there? Isn't education something we all just do - or have done - to us these days?

Monday 18th July 2011, 7pm

Does every child need a classical education?

Our speaker is Professor Dennis Hayes, who will defend a classical education for all, as a taster for his forthcoming session on classics at the Institute of Ideas Academy

Films, TV programmes and popular books about Greek and Roman history are undergoing a revival. A book about Socrates is a best seller. Almost 16,000 pupils studies GCSE Classical Civilisation last year. Latin is in the EBacc and Toby Young will ensure that all children in his West London Free School take Latin. Government is backing the revival and schools minister Nick Gibb answers the critics with a glib: “Are you saying working class children can’t do Latin?”

Does all this mean that we are on the verge of a second renaissance? Or has the true spirit of a classical education gone? And is there more to a classical education than learning Latin? Or can we rest easy now that some schools are not only offering Latin but offering a GCSE in Classical Civilisation? Or does resting easy mean, as in Homer's Odyssey, that we have just put wax in our ears to avoid the Sirens of relevance? After all, many educationalists continue to express doubts about the relevance of classics. And isn’t it more important to learn science and modern subjects - especially ICT - in the 21st century? And what does the research evidence say?

Monday 13th June 2011, 7pm

Do we need a 'nappy curriculum' for our youngest learners?

Our speaker is Josephine Hussey, researcher in early childhood studies.

Dame Tickell (of Action for Children) reported in April following her review of the early years foundation stage for the government. In the terms of reference for the review, it was stated that children and their families should be at the heart of any early years framework and that professionals should consider how they can best support early learning, particularly in preparation for formal schooling. Most comments about the review have welcomed the proposed reduction in bureaucracy for early years providers but there has been very little questioning of whether we really need an Early Years foundation stage - or 'Nappy' - curriculum in the first place.

Is it really true, as some have argued, that the earliest years in a child's life are absolutely critical, alongside a loving and stable home? And what does it mean, in the post-New Labour era, to talk about 'early learning goals' for 0-5 year olds? Is there anything good - or bad - about the idea of an early years foundation stage curriculum? And why is there such a concern with the need to prepare children for formal schooling? Do we need a nappy stage now the nanny state is over? Is the world of the child really just a stage? - and if it isn't, what is the the alternative?

Monday 16th May 2011, 7pm

Is teacher-training at a turning point?

Our speaker is Toby Marshall, teacher of Film and Communication Studies.

Far-reaching changes to initial teacher education and training have been proposed in the Coalition’s Education white paper The Importance of Teaching. Trainees will now have to have a 2.2 in their first degree if they wish to receive state funding and psychometric tests have even been proposed to see if trainees have ‘resilience’. Significant changes have also been proposed to the content of teacher training. The white paper seeks to develop this approach and suggests a focus on ‘key teaching skills’ - such as maintaining classroom discipline. Education Secretary Michael Gove has argued that teaching should be understood as a ‘craft’, which is ‘best learnt as an apprentice observing a master craftsman or woman.’ However, sitting uneasily with these developments, the EBacc proposals imply a greater focus on subject knowledge, which would have different implications for training.

At the same time, institutional changes are also proposed. The number of training places allocated to Teach First - which seeks to recruit academic high achievers - is to be expanded, whilst a new network of practically oriented 'Training Schools' will be developed as an alternative to university-based training pathways.

So should teacher training and education become more practically focused? Will teaching be improved by a closer focus on subject knowledge? Do teachers require knowledge about education itself? Or is educational knowledge and theory an unnecessary diversion from developing their craft practice? And is all this so different from what the previous government attempted? In short, is teacher training at a turning-point?

Monday 21 March 2011, 7pm

The English Baccalaureate: one step forward, two steps back?

Our speakers are Head of Physics at Graveney School Dave Perks and Head of Social Science at Queens’ School Kevin Rooney

Coalition plans to introduce the English Baccalaureate (EB) have been seen by some as a return to academic sense – a pruning of an overcrowded curriculum in order to focus attention on real subjects. Others point out that – just like New Labour before them – it is yet another example of government interference and prescription to make schools measurable, accountable – and elitist. Dave and Kevin will assess whether there is anything in the Baccalaureate idea that makes it an educational step forward - two or three steps forward perhaps? Or is it, as Mary Bousted of the ATL complains, an attack on the needs and creativity of the whole child? Just what is it about the EBacc idea that has provoked such a luke-warm response from fellow educators? After all, once the aspiration to provide a broad academic based education for all was seen as part and parcel of a progressive society – today it is seen by many as an obstacle to social progress. Often asserted, this change is rarely explained.

Love it or loathe it, the English Baccalaureate raises important questions about what should be in the school curriculum and for what reasons; as well as who should decide what our children learn at school. At the end of the day, does it matter what they learn as long as they are happy and learn something….?

Monday 14 February 2011, 7pm

Citizenship is dead. Long live history?

Our speaker is Professor Gary McCulloch and his new publication The Struggle for the History of Education is also published next month. Secondary school History teacher Mark Taylor will respond.

During the ‘Age of New Labour’ many felt that history was sidelined. Whilst it was a Conservative Education Minister Kenneth Clarke who made it a voluntary subject for 14 year olds, New Labour’s policies seemed to actively promote its decline. It advocated a ‘personalised’ curriculum in which students were encouraged to opt out of traditional academic disciplines, such as History, whilst many felt that its new curriculum theme - Citizenship - offered a poor substitute.

Hopes have now been raised by the formation of a Coalition government led by the Conservatives. In 2005 the then Shadow Conservative Education Secretary Tim Collins argued that history should be a mandatory subject for all school students up to the age of 16. And his successor and current Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove appears to have similar sympathies. In his view all students are entitled to learn ‘our Island’s story’ as ‘one of the under-appreciated tragedies of our time has been the sundering of our society from its past.’

At the same time, Gove has announced a review of the curriculum, whilst himself stressing the importance of both facts and historical figures. ‘One of the problems that we have at the moment’, Gove has argued, ‘is that in the history curriculum we only have two names.’ However, some feel that Gove has already started to qualify his commitment to the discipline. In particular, they refer to his proposed English Baccalaureate, for which students are only required to sit exams in Geography or History at 16.

So is History teaching in schools in crisis? If it is, how should we characterise this crisis? More positively, why do we teach History? Should it be mandatory for all students up to 16? Can it and should it transmit values? And, most fundamentally of all, what history should be taught?

Monday 14th April 2011, 7pm

Can the Wolf Report save vocational education?

Our speakers are professor of Education Michael Young and secondary school teacher Mark Taylor.

The recent Wolf Report was widely welcomed for its honesty and plain speaking about the state of vocational education in England. Noting that up to 400,000 students are on courses that will not get them a job, Alison Wolf proposed a number of solutions to the current 'vocational crisis'. These ranged from the complex - stopping the ‘tracking’ of 14 to 16 year olds into ‘dead-end’ courses - to the simple: stop lying to young people about useless qualifications. Instead, Wolf asks educators and policy makers to look abroad for best practice to places such as Denmark, France and Germany and to make sure that every English child has a 'C' grade in English and Maths before doing anything else. Wolf also criticised the poor state of apprenticeships in the UK and the range of 'perverse incentives' to get meaningless qualifications.

What is the true state of the vocational system at present, and can the situation be remedied? Or is there still educational life in the variety and diversity of curriculum offers entailed in the vocational route? And what is wrong with getting a qualification in something, as long as it is better than nothing? But is it?

Monday 17 January 2011, 7pm

All Quiet on the Phonics Front?

In the first of a series of discussions focused on the Coalition's new White Paper, the speaker will be Tom Burkard, expert in reading instruction and author of many publications, including Inside the Secret Garden: The Progressive Decay of Liberal Education and School Quangos: A Blueprint for Abolition and Reform.

Does the White Paper tell us that the battle over reading instruction is over? Is the evidence for the effectiveness of systematic synthetic phonics as compelling as is claimed? If it is, why have results not improved, in spite of the widespread adoption of phonics in schools? If the evidence is strong, is the practical issue how programmes based on this method can be developed? But should they be devised by teachers, or by government? And is there a danger that teachers will teach to the new mandatory phonics test? If they do, will this result in the exclusion of other approaches that teachers see as valuable?

Monday 13 December 2010, 7pm

Is education educating yet?

Frank Furedi discussed his book Wasted: why education isn't educating.

In Wasted Frank Furedi argues that the politicisation of education has diverted the energies of schools and teachers away from their key role of the transmission of collective knowledge. But when the search for truth has been brought into question in so many fields of enquiry, is it really possible - or worthwhile - to define which body of knowledge should be transmitted? And in today's information age isn't it more important to 'learn how to learn' than slog it out with traditional subjects? And what is wrong with schools playing some role in delivering the values of the 'Big Society' we now live in - as well as, or even instead of, teaching subjects?

Monday 15 November 2010, 7pm

Can we still make the case for subjects?

The speakers will be members of the Institute of Ideas Education Forum who will use their recent specially written Battles in Print to make and debate the case for subject-centred education.

If you are interested in discussing the future of education the idea of a subject-centred curriculum and what it means today cannot be avoided. Whilst the current Lib-Con coalition nominally supports a return to subject-centred teaching, there is in fact little coherence or sense of direction to their educational strategy. The essays stand against the pessimism of much contemporary educational policy by arguing that subject-centred education should be defended as a method of transmitting knowledge and understanding to new generations. Furthermore, the essays argue that transmitting knowledge should be driven by an aspiration to create a society of truly educated citizens, in order to foster greater intellectual autonomy and freedom for everybody.

Monday 4 October 2010, 7pm

Free schools: do parents or teachers know best?

Parents are doing it for themselves. Well, sort of. Certainly parent power is in vogue in English schools. Education Minister Michael Gove’s big idea is to back the likes of writer and celebrity parent Toby Young in allowing parents to set up their own ‘free’ schools. It is claimed these will be truly local schools, with boards of governors consisting of parents of children at the school. The New Schools Network already has 450 parent groups on its books from across the social spectrum. This suggests substantial dissatisfaction with the state of British education. Who can blame so many parents for reacting against the previous government’s target culture, factory schooling, its devaluation of subject-based academic learning, the micromanagement of everything from homework to school dinners, dumbed-down examinations and watered-down curriculum? Despite the ‘education, education, education’ rhetoric of New Labour, many parents simply don’t trust the state to educate their offspring. While it’s understandable that parents want to ensure their children get the best schooling possible, opponents of the free schools policy, from teachers’ unions to former education ministers, complain it will divert resources from state provision and that only ‘the sharp-elbowed and better off’ will set up free schools.

Less remarked upon is the possible effect of parent power on teachers’ autonomy. Might pushy parents intervening in the minutiae of school life undermine the authority of teachers? Do mummy and daddy always know best when it comes to judging how children should learn, what should be taught? If parents claim they know what is best educationally for their particular child, where does that leave the ideal of universal access to decent education for all and teachers control in the classroom? Indeed might it foster a climate of mistrust between teachers and parents? Already in state (‘unfree’?) secondary schools from September 2010, parents will have the right to monitor every aspect of their child’s schooling online; every interaction between a pupil and teacher must be recorded and made public. Will such surveillance improve teaching standards or hinder teachers’ freedom in disciplining and teaching the young?

More broadly, what will society’s attitude be to those parents who don’t want to be more involved in their child’s education? Might they be stigmatised as indifferent and irresponsible? What will our attitude be to those children whose parents are not interested in becoming self-trained pedagogues or amateur educational bureaucrats? Might their parents be scapegoated for poor educational attainment? Who will govern the parent governors?

Speakers: Fiona Millar (columnist, educationguardian.co.uk; author, The Secret World of the Working Mother), Anastasia de Waal (director, Family and Education, Civitas; author, Unqualified Success), Sally Millard, founder member, Institute of Ideas Parents Forum; opinionated mother of two), Kevin Rooney(Head of Social Science, Queen's School, Bushey and Institute of Ideas Education Forum), Siôn Humphreys (assistant secretary (secondary), National Association of Headteachers) and Ralph Surman (deputy head teacher; chair, Standing Committee for the Education and Training of Teachers).

Monday 20 September 2010, 7pm

Who needs teacher training?

Teacher trainer and subject leader in modern foreign languages Dr Shirley Lawes in conversation with lecturer and researcher Toby Marshall

Changes to the routes into the teaching profession and attempts to re-think teachers as practitioners or ‘lead learners’ have raised doubts about the status of teacher training. Stemming from long-standing disputes over the nature of teaching itself and the extent to which it should be viewed as an art, craft or science, teacher training also seems to have been in crisis for as long as the modern profession has existed. As the next cohort of trainees begin their PGCEs, it is time to ask whether the current courses – or ‘routes’ - are fit for purpose.

Opinion also divides as to how teachers might best learn their job. Should their professional education begin with a structured introduction to the most inspirational education thinkers, or are their interests best served by giving priority to practical skills and experiences? Equally, should the teacher training curriculum focus on preparing teachers for the delivery of subject-knowledge? Or are future teachers best served by courses that initiate them into a broad range of professional issues relating to child well being? Have we refined our training processes to create the best generation of teachers ever, or lost sight of something more significant, such as the nature of education?

Monday 21 June 2010, 7pm

‘Please sir, can we have some more schools’ - can independently run schools transform education?

Introduced by Rachel Woolf, Director of the New Schools Network.

Before she founded the New Schools Network, Rachel was an education adviser to the Conservative Party. She has also worked for Boris Johnson and the Institute of Education. She studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and Economics at Birkbeck.

New Education Secretary Michael Gove is about to unleash a wave of new Academies and ‘free schools’ on the nation and claims to be seeking innovation based on ‘new providers’ – but if the state can’t manage our schools why would we expect private companies and parents (and some say churches and hedge funds) to do a better job? Does Gove’s vision offer a better educational chance to today’s children than the state has done so far? Or is Gove just running up the white flag on the state’s duty to educate the people?

On the other hand the state’s involvement in education over the last 13 years has emptied education of much of its traditional content. Examinations are no longer widely trusted and many parents feel pressured to get involved in schooling to guarantee progress for their child. Yet the previous government said that results were getting better and dismissed criticism as downplaying children’s achievements – and ex-Children’s Secretary Ed Balls claims the Tory Academies will miss the point. But what is the educational point today? Do schools even know what they should be doing anymore? Should we be asking for our old schools back? Or was the old gruel too cruel?

Monday 19 April 2010

The launch of the Education Forum’s Election Education Statement

We Must Do Better!

The main speakers were secondary school Head of Physics David Perks and other forum members, who introduced the election statement. Dr Ruth Cigman, Editor of Questa: The Thoughtful Education Magazine led the response.

This month’s forum discussed the Education Forum’s election statement. We raised and debated the educational questions that we think should be asked by the public, educators and politicians both before and after the 2010 election.

There have been many education ‘debates’ since the Education Forum kick-started the discussion in January. Major politicians and the media have so far offered the public stock phrases and set-piece technicalities (‘pupil premiums’, ‘traditional subjects’, ‘independent accounting’). But have they forgotten something more significant in their desire to flirt with ‘Swedish’ models? Have they lost any sense of what education really means? In launching this statement the Education Forum will set a marker for beginning a real debate about education.

Monday 22 February 2010

Chavs into haves - should private schools be banned?

This forum will discuss and explore the question of whether we really need private education in British schools.

With an election looming, now is surely the time to get to the heart of the inequalities and peculiarities of the British education system – and the politicians it has produced! Should private schools be abolished so that we all get the same low quality education? Or is there something distinctively high quality about private schools – like Mr. Chips - that is worth defending and extending to all? Kevin Rooney, our main speaker at this month’s forum, recently argued for the abolition of private schools in The Times ‘Schoolgate’ column, and generated the biggest ever response to an article on that site.

However, is private education really as good as it seems? And is it really possible - or desirable - to get a private education for all? And is the local bog standard state comprehensive - no chips allowed - really that bad? Professor Dennis Hayes of the University of Derby will respond to Kevin’s arguments.

Monday 25 January 2010

Education Election Debate

This forum will discuss and explore the educational perspectives of the two major British political parties as the forthcoming general election approaches. Labour appears to be concentrating on ‘innovation’ in staff development and accreditation, with a new Masters Level qualification and a ‘Licence to Teach’, as well as newer forms of schools such as ‘Academies’ and examinations (the notorious Diplomas). Meanwhile, in universities, they propose shorter degrees with more focus on graduate employment. The Conservatives, by contrast, have promised teachers will be free (from Labour’s bureaucracy) to introduce students to the ‘best our civilization has produced’ and are making noises about academic standards and ‘choice’. Our speakers will be secondary school physics teacher and author David Perks and education publisher Philip Walters.

Monday 14 December 2009

Stephen Ball in conversation with Dennis Hayes

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Should we defend home schooling?

This was a joint event with the Parents Forum at which mother and author Jennie Bristow argued for home schooling while father and educationalist Toby Marshall put the case against.

Is home schooling defensible? Why can’t parents be free to educate their children in any way they wish? Should the state regulate those who chose to home school? Are their occasions when, for the social good and children’s own good, the parents’ desire to do their own thing should be overruled?

Monday 21 September

The Myth of Racist Kids, speaker Adrian Hart

Monday 22 June

Why a ‘Physics Factory’?, introduced by David Perks

Monday 18 May

The Confidence to Teach, introduced by Shirley Lawes

Monday 20 April

Book Launch of Reclaiming Childhood: Helene Guldberg in conversation with Dennis Hayes

Monday 23 March

Teaching the subject of Music, introduced by Marion Long

Music education has a strong shadow economy. Motivated parents invest in the development of their children’s musical skills by supporting music practice, buying a costly musical instrument and encouraging their child to persevere with learning to read staff notation. In schools, children’s musical expertise can quickly outstrip that of their class teacher. However, for the majority of children, learning music remains largely out of reach. The Music Manifesto commits to providing a rich and diverse range of musical experiences, within and outside school, but, in supporting showcase initiatives such as Sing Up, does it really offer long-term improvements in Primary school music and what does it mean for music at Secondary school education?

Monday 23 February

Teachers as Role Models, introduced by Kevin Rooney

Monday 26 January 2009

Playing with education: After the Rose Report does education have any meaning?

Speaker: Mark Taylor, with a response by Jenny Payne. Chair: Dave Perks

The Interim Report on primary education by Sir Jim Rose has stimulated discussion about the changing nature of the curriculum and the possible replacement of subjects such as history and geography by ‘areas of understanding’ – otherwise known as themes or topics. However, Rose himself has said he is not in favour of abandoning subjects, and is aware that much ‘project work’ in the 1960s and 1970s was too vague to be called proper education. Rose has also implied that the curriculum should focus on an expanded definition of literacies across all subjects and has called for more ‘play’ in primary schools. However, he does not appear to mean literacy in the traditional sense of reading and writing and his definition of play is unclear. With apparent widespread confusion about what the findings actually are and what Rose actually means, the discussion of his report becomes more urgent. More broadly, the ‘interim’ nature of the report in a context of Rose’s own call for ongoing curriculum ‘review’, raises further questions about the coherence of current education policy at a time when traditional academic subjects seem irrelevant to many people. What do his proposals mean and why have they had such a confusing impact on teachers, parents and the media?

The Interim Report can be accessed on Teachernet.

Monday 24 November

Teaching the Unteachable?

Tom Ogg, academic coordinator of the London Boxing Academy Community Project (LBA), has worked over the past year teaching pupils who local schools deem to be 'unteachable'. When state schools are all too keen to exclude pupils on behavioural grounds and seem to be giving up on the challenge of socialising difficult pupils, can we learn something from projects like the LBA?

Monday 20 October

Environmental Educators’ underhand tactics

Austin Williams, author of The Enemies of Progress: the dangers of sustainability, exposed the way in which children are being indoctrinated by environmentalists.

Monday 22 September

The Therapeutic Turn in Education: replies to our critics - Kathryn Ecclestone & Dennis Hayes, authors of The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.