How to speak education’s language: a glossary of terms

8th December 2017 at 00:00
Words can take on a whole new meaning when applied to education – here’s a guide to help you keep up

Whenever teachers find themselves talking to those outside the profession, we have to remind ourselves that we have a jargon all of our own. In fact, even for those of us who have worked inside the profession for years, there are plenty of new words, phrases and acronyms to contend with all the time. Over the years, I’ve had to learn what a TAF meeting was, work out what the latest name of the Pupil Referral Unit has changed to and second guess whether “closing the gap” is still in favour, or if I should be referring to “diminishing the difference”, for some reason.

There are also plenty of words that people might think they understand, but that take on a whole meaning of their own when applied in education. Surely the most famous was “satisfactory”, which a handful of years ago came to mean exactly the opposite, but there are plenty more. So, I offer a small glossary:

Apology – Often used to mean “explanation”, most commonly used in the negative to avoid justifying any policy or idea: “I make no apology…”

Assessment – Sometimes used to mean an evaluative judgement made by a teacher to assess a pupil’s attainment for the purposes of furthering learning. Used interchangeably with the second sense: to summarise a pupil and his achievements, by means of a single number or letter code.

Autonomy – Rather than meaning the freedom to make decisions for oneself, in education this refers to the freedom to decide which branch of government is tasked with telling you which decisions to make.

Challenging – Almost exclusively used when referring to challenges that are unachievable. Not to be confused with “achievable”, which is not in any way connected.

Independent – This word can mean very different things in different areas, sometimes even as close as neighbouring authorities. There is no clear way of knowing whether it means entirely without help, or simply means that evidence of help has been concealed or removed.

Lead-in – The lead-in period is used for government to deliberate about exactly which last minute changes it plans to put in place.

Observation – Similar to the standard English word, referring to watching or seeing something, but also combined with the broader sense, such as by which a judge might “make an observation” about a defendant.

Robust – Usually applied to mean remaining ignorant of reality. For example: “I see what you mean about the low prior attainment, but I must be robust in my expectations.” Frequently used in combination with apology. “I make no apology for being robust”, might more normally be explained as “I won’t explain why I’m ignoring reality in demanding these things.”

Support – In the compound “support plan”, clarity of the meaning of “support” can usually be found by comparing the level of detail in the “CPD” and “success criteria” columns.

Mastery – Use it to mean whatever you want. Everyone else does.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets as @MichaelT1979

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