Steadfast learning has become the shining example

5th October 2007 at 01:00
A mighty force is taking over schools. Remember the Stanley Kubrick horror film The Shining, about a man who goes berserk in a hotel? Well, now we have the sequel, about something that has been going berserk in schools.

"The Learning" emphasised by its disciples with furrowed brow and missionary zeal is a movement that is ruthlessly phasing out everything else.

First, around 2000, "The Learning" formed a devious alliance with "teaching" and teachers all became obliged to start solemnly employing the phrase "teaching and learning". Then, sometime in the past year or so, "The Learning" quietly did away with "teaching", even at the highest levels.

Check through today's Ofsted criteria for classroom observation and you will find that "Learning" has almost completely wiped out any mention of that hopelessly outmoded, whimsical activity known as teaching. Pupils have been obliterated by Ofsted too: they are all now "learners".

Similarly, heads of year now strut around as "learning managers". Formative assessment has been rebranded as assessment for learning; behaviour management is now "behaviour for learning"; healthy school meals are "food for learning" and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle has become "fitness for learning" in some quarters.

Any new initiative naturally goes big on the "L" word, for instance personalised learning, Learning to Learn (the first Learning double whammy someone's not taking any chances there) and the mysterious "learning walks".

No one is belittling the importance of "The Learning" but generations of wonderful teachers must surely feel a bit miffed to see it now presented as some kind of new dawn.

"The Learning"? Come on, are we not really talking simply about good teaching? What's more, must we downgrade our assessment of any lesson if as the Ofsted criteria suggest no substantial learning evidence is demonstrated?

If a "good" or "outstanding" lesson rating always requires such evidence, then I do fear that history will need to reappraise the teaching quality of the likes of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, not to mention the great speeches of Churchill, Kennedy, King and so on.

Never mind the stunning tale, the moving and inspiring delivery, or the occasional performing of a miracle, none of these people usually bothered to monitor whether the learning objectives had been achieved. At best their lessons would have to be deemed "satisfactory" these days: "The teacher spoke for some time on the mount but there was no real evidence of The Learning having taken place."

Stephen Petty

is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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