Ed Schools versus Consultants

Which group has been most damaging to the teaching profession; schools of education or education consultants? Here’s what I think.


The most bizarre ideas in education are definitely propagated by consultants. These are the folks who gave us Brain Gym, for instance. And the worst training that I ever received was on Building Learning Power. Imagine sitting around a table with a group of science teachers being forced to discuss ways in which we could better exercise our students’ ‘learning muscles’. The upshot of that was a compulsory routine that we had to go through at the end of each lesson, complete with its own box on the school lesson plan proforma. 

Horror stories about consultant-led professional development sessions abound, from the dreaded role-play to someone trying to plug software that is both pointless and unreliable. Feel free to share your own examples in the comments.

Yet consultants have been responsible for some of the best professional development that I have had. There are one-or-two behaviour experts out there that are worth listening to. And I quite fondly remember the start of the “Key Stage Three Strategy” in England: A consultant from the local authority came to visit and we had training on formative assessment strategies, some of which I still use. It was the first time that I was asked to read “Inside the Black Box” and that opened my eyes to some genuinely useful education research.

Education Schools

If consultants are responsible for the extremes of professional development then the sins of education schools are mainly sins of omission. I thoroughly enjoyed my Postgraduate Certificate of Education, taught by urbane and interesting researchers. But there were great swathes of relevant content knowledge and pedagogy that were not addressed. There was little on how to manage behaviour, for instance. The only pedagogical approach going was essentially constructivist teaching, although it wasn’t described that way at the time. Instead, it was generally referred to as ‘teaching’. When I recently leafed through my teacher education text, I noticed that there was nothing on direct instruction, DISTAR or explicit instruction, despite there being a wealth of research evidence on these approaches. Instead, where explicit teaching was referred to at all, the pejorative label of ‘didactic‘ was used. Even when we were guided towards using group work – a preferred approach – we weren’t told about the evidence on how to ensure that it was effective.

Apart from some basic psychology, the content knowledge of most use to emergent science teachers would be that of students’ misconceptions about science and ways to address these. I wasn’t taught this stuff although we were encouraged to investigate misconceptions through our project work. Perhaps it is too much to ask for in a single year course. Perhaps there’s not enough time. But this wouldn’t explain why primary school teachers who have generally studied for four years have not been taught about graphemes and phonemes.

The result

On balance, I think consultants do the most damage. Despite there being good ones around, the propensity to focus on gimmicks and the very silliest ideas whilst also setting the agenda in many poorly-led schools means that they do the most harm. At least schools of education are generally more sober places where reflection is encouraged and where we can be assured that the most foolish notions are unlikely to ever be put into practice.

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4 thoughts on “Ed Schools versus Consultants

  1. I find it strange as I use the term consultant when I am just training people in the Computing curriculum and E-Safety. I do wonder how it would feel to go in with a product though… I fear I might go a bit David Brent. Though of course, I should really just be teaching…..

  2. As I talk to teachers about their experiences with math education in my advocacy work I am often struck with the fact that the “math consultants” who are paid to advise them often have lesser qualifications in content knowledge in math than the teachers they supposedly advise.

    Rob Craigen
    PhD, Mathematics

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