The Devil’s Educational Glossary was inspired unashamedly by ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’, written by the American journalist Ambrose Bierce and published in 1911. If there is a single entry in that work that epitomises it, and him, it would be this one:
Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.
And in that vein:
An aptitude, gift or learned competency that may or may not have relevance or usefulness within the state education system.
A school that has been turned into a cash cow for private enterprise.
- that because we treat all children born within an arbitrary 12-month span as being of the same age for the purposes of school organisation, they are the same age and should therefore be expected to develop and achieve in the same ways and at the same pace as the age-related expectations suggest (which would be an unrealistic expectation even for a group of children born on exactly the same date);
- that an age-related expectation is a meaningful or useful educational measure and;
- that it is useful to give early and regular reminders to a sizeable group of children that they are disappointing, particularly when the measure against which they are being assessed is meaningless.
That part of the educational process in which the raw product, having been weighed and measured at the outset to determine its potential future yield and then cultivated, is squeezed and the juice that it exudes is measured and recorded. At the height of the summative assessment season, the husks of those fruit that contain little or no juice are discarded.
An arcane set of calculations, based on a carefully narrowed curriculum (curriculum narrowing is anathema to Ofsted) for determining which schools are to be labelled as having succeeded and which are deemed not to have succeeded. Two subjects, English and Maths, are counted as being twice as important as any of the others. No reasoned explanation has been provided as to why this should be the case other than the fact that literacy and numeracy made up the core curriculum in 1870 and we shouldn’t be rushed into making any hasty changes – even though GCSE English and Maths are to literacy and numeracy what the advanced driving test is to Level 1 of the Bikeability cycling test.
So while very few would argue that a knowledge of Romantic poetry since 1789 and a full understanding of Pythagorean triples constitute doubly essential learning in equipping pupils to manage their lives as adults, that is the view that has prevailed.
At its simplest, the implausible but improbably durable idea that children who have missed some time in school should make good on all of the learning missed, but in their own time and without unnecessary fripperies such as the input or guidance of the teachers whose lessons they were not able to attend. How this is also to be achieved without some mastery over the laws of time is left to the discretion of children and family groupings.
Ofsted has a different conceptualisation of ‘catching up’ which makes teachers responsible for addressing ‘gaps in knowledge and skills’. The central premise is that if teachers just pop back and plug these gaps, this will redress learning lost because of the pandemic. How this is to be achieved without some mastery over the laws of time is left to the discretion of teachers and schools.
Ofsted also sees gap-plugging as a way to ‘powerfully address social disadvantage’. Why teachers didn’t think of the idea themselves is beyond comprehension. But if the aim is for more children from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve better academic outcomes, this premise founders completely on an exam system which is constructed to ensure that the proportion of candidates who achieve each grade is both limited and determined in advance (see ‘cohort-referencing’).
Adjective used (in statute) for several years to describe schools deemed to be good but whose continued good performance was viewed as a failure to improve, thereby ensuring that even successful schools could be chastised by Ofsted.
A subset of norm-referencing, cohort-referencing is the system used to fix, in advance, the proportion of children who will be awarded particular grades within formal exams and assessments – SATs, GCSEs and A-Levels. Year on year, very small increases in proportions of higher grades are allowed, in order to give the appearance that ‘standards’ are improving under that particular Government’s tenure. This leads to the periodic requirement to change the assessment system (for example by exchanging an established letter-based grading system for an inverted number-based system with an increased number of categories, or introducing new syllabuses) so that the illusion of continuous progress can be maintained.
Within education, a form of cheating, so designated because it circumvents the requirement that learning should be individual and competitive, so that there are winners and losers, and the right people rise to the top.
“Where I grew up, learning was a collective activity. But when I got to school and tried to share learning with other students that was called cheating. The curriculum sent the clear message to me that learning was a highly individualistic, almost secretive, endeavor. My working class experience . . . was disparaged.”
Henry A Giroux
In England, the set of subjects which make up the content of a liberal education as set out by the Taunton Commission in 1869 for Grade Two schools, and entrenched within formal state education ever since.
“Since there is no single set of abilities running throughout human nature, there is no single curriculum which all should undergo. Rather, the schools should teach everything that anyone is interested in learning. “
An externally imposed fixed time parameter of great significance to some, e.g. teachers collecting students’ coursework for external moderation, but a loose term indicating the opening of negotiations for students themselves.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” (Douglas Adams)
Drive up (usually applied to ‘standards’)
To insist that schools and the national pupil population should perform better, within a system where one school’s or one pupil’s success is always gained at the expense of another school or pupil. (See ‘cohort-referencing’.)
There are some who claim that ‘driving up’ is therefore more akin to forcing a large flock of sheep to ascend a steep hill with a small summit atop, and then feigning deep disappointment that the shepherds have failed to fit most of the flock onto the summit.
A condition, myth or set of presenting behaviours much argued about.
A right or claim to something. In standard English usage, the individual may choose whether to take up the right or claim, but in education it is something that the individual can be compelled to take up, as in ‘national curriculum entitlement’.
The lifelong process of the development of the mind, not confined to or defined by the restrictive content of formal schooling.
“It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past, rather than the hope of creating the future, dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a dead awareness of static facts, but at an activity directed toward the world that our efforts are to create.” – Bertrand Russell
The system of punishment used by schools that prevents children from participating in organised learning in the misguided expectation that this will motivate and enable them to participate in organised learning. It is commonplace for schools to have both exclusion and inclusion policies and, apparently, to implement and run both simultaneously. (See ‘Policy’ for an explanation of how this is possible.)
A form of compulsory overtime for pupils which must be discharged outside of their workplace, theoretically without supervision. The persistence of homework as a feature of education owes much more to tradition than to the existence of any strong research evidence about its educational benefits and whether they outweigh its costs (including to parents). An incidental benefit accrues for the very small proportion of pupils who go on to become teachers, because they will have been well prepared for working life.
Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
Plato, The Republic. Book VII. 536
A set of educational principles open to a wide range of interpretations, starting from the premise that everything should be done to ensure that the child follows the compulsory curriculum, and nothing should be done to alter the compulsory curriculum to fit with the child’s learning needs. (See ‘Entitlement’)
A block of two or three years within compulsory education. Why such stages should all be designated as ‘Key’ is not clear, given that none of them is ostensibly any more important than any other and that none can be missed out.
Device for ensuring that there will always be schools open to criticism and which are therefore ripe for enforced academisation (or re-academisation). (See also ‘Standards’, ‘Attainment 8’ and ‘Progress 8’) These operate on a parallel principle to the annual national furore when it is discovered that, scandalously, an unchanging proportion of children is ‘below average’.
According to Ofsted today, ‘Learning can be defined as an alteration in long-term memory. If nothing has altered in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.’
Paradoxically, for at least ten years, Ofsted inspectors laid claim to be able to ‘see’ the alterations in long-term memory that children experienced, as they were happening, during the observation of lessons. According to multiple Ofsted School Inspection Handbooks, this extraordinary power of insight (or foresight) provided ‘first hand evidence’ that informed their judgments on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.
“Learning is not so much an additive process, with new learning simply piling up on top of existing knowledge, as it is an active, dynamic process in which the connections are constantly changing and the structure reformatted.” – K. Patricia Cross
A bureaucratic organisation designed to act as an intermediary protective buffer between government and its citizens so that it shoulders the blame for government underfunding of public services.
Local Authority Education Department
For parents and children / young people with special or additional needs, a bureaucratic organisation which acts as the protective buffer between children / young people and the resources necessary to meet their special educational needs.
While it is government underfunding that has rendered it incapable of discharging all of its statutory duties, decisions about which statutory duties it will not meet, and how they will be avoided, are left to the creativity of each Local Authority. This leaves the impression of organisations staffed overwhelmingly by morally upright citizens who have somehow been persuaded to suspend what they know to be right, for the (Local Authority’s) greater good but at the expense of children with special educational needs or disabilities and their families.