I don’t write all that much about ‘traditional’ versus ‘progressive’ education. I tend to focus more on specifics but I do recognise a real divide. Traditionalists believe in communal learning where a whole class works together under the direction of a teacher to meet clearly defined academic goals. Progressives see children as proto-consumers who must be offered choice and novelty with the goals of feeling good and being engaged as important – or perhaps more even important – than any clearly defined academic goal.
Paul Garvey is not keen on drawing such a distinction. Garvey is a vocal school inspector from England and he has recently claimed on Twitter that there is no best way to teach; that talk of a divide has been confected by those who identify as traditionalists; that real teachers deploy a range of methods to get the job done.
This argument reduces a teaching philosophy to a set of methods. But even if we take it on face value, it’s not clear that even Garvey believes there is no best way to teach. Let’s look at some of the reports he has written as a lead inspector:
“What does the school need to do to improve further?.. Improve attainment… by making the curriculum more creative, so that all pupils are fully engaged in their lessons…” [source]
“What does the school need to do to improve further?.. raise achievement… by developing the curriculum in Key Stages 1 and 2, so that it is flexible enough to provide personalised learning for all pupils.” [source]
“Teaching is good,with effective planning to meet the needs of different groups of pupils. However, in some of the teaching at Key Stage 2, a minority of lessons have too great an element of teacher direction.” [source]
I could go on. It is clear that Garvey has strong opinions on better and worse ways of teaching and he is entitled to those opinions, even if we may disagree with them being imposed on schools via an inspectorate.
I happen to have different views to Garvey and I wish to express those views. Is that alright?
Perhaps not, according to another UK educationalist, Sue Cowley. In a recent blog post, she has come out against ‘debate’, implying that it is the decadent fancy of those who were educated at private schools. Cowley is, “not convinced it is a viable way to talk about something as complex as education.”
So what are we to do? I don’t think I ever set-out with the aim of having a debate. I write blog posts where I outline what I think. Sometimes I agree with ideas and sometimes I don’t. People occasionally contact me to tell me that they’ve found my posts helpful. Often people disagree with me. Sometimes I argue back. Sometimes I don’t. I frequently learn something. Which all seems fine to me. What’s the problem?
I think the world of education would be much poorer if we denied our differences and sought to stifle debate. We would not be able to challenge the kinds of orthodoxies expressed in Garvey’s reports. Who would that benefit? Sounds a bit dystopian to me.
Update April 2017: I understand that Paul Garvey is no longer an Ofsted inspector