Editorial: A plan for the future, in plain English

31st October 2014 at 00:00

Next week, TES will be present and correct at the World Innovation Summit for Education (Wise), an increasingly influential international conference in Qatar all about improving education.

Just in case you're in danger of feeling envious, Sex and the City 2 this is not - sadly I won't be heading off to the luxury shopping district or losing my annual salary on a camel race. Wise involves artificial light, vats of tea and coffee, an overdose of high-falutin' language and far too much jargon.

Curriculum development, systemic change and assessment reform are the order of the day. So the publication this week of the 2015 edition of the Collins English Dictionary was well timed. Among the many new words gracing its pages are a host of examples of "educationese" (itself included - a paradoxical black hole surely in danger of collapsing in on itself).

Other words that make their debut are "Ebacc", "Ofqual" and "mainstreaming" (see page 10). Although the Collins dictionary may be designed for popular consumption, much edu-jargon is not.

At the other end of education's linguistic spectrum is the marketing-style gobbledegook that means basically nothing. Take this sentence in the Wise programme: "There is a need to bring more creativity to education. Our education systems are ill-equipped to prepare tomorrow's creative leaders. What changes should education adopt to become future-ready?"

The fact is that both the technical language of the educational nerd and the baloney of the educational philosopher are several steps removed from the actual classroom.

Don't get me wrong, I happen to believe that Wise is a good thing. Any conference that brings together teachers and educationalists to share best practice and develop solutions to the world's pressing educational problems should be supported (and, in the spirit of full disclosure, TES is a media partner).

But locating these discussions in classroom practice must be at the forefront of our minds.

Another conference will also be taking place next week, this one in Washington DC. Backed by the UK's Sutton Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it is called Feedback and Improving Teacher Practice. The clue is in the name: the conversation here will no doubt be of the wonkery variety.

However, there is a ray of light at this gathering, too. Timed to coincide with the event is the publication of some seriously interesting research. Pulled together by Durham University's Professor Robert Coe, this literature review analyses which teaching methods show clear evidence for boosting students' attainment and which don't. Simples.

The paper suggests, for example, that there is little evidence for "setting" having any impact on results. This research could be wrong, of course. Indeed, the success of each intervention will vary from classroom to classroom.

But at least this project looks at the day-to-day work of teachers. At a time when many around the world worry about a disconnect between the ordinary Joe on the street and the powers that be, let education not fall into this trap. Be it in Qatar, be it in Washington, be it in our own Department for Education - let's concentrate on what works.



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