Guest post: abdication altercation in Tokyo

palaceWe have a guest post this week. My eldest son, Conrad Leaton Gray, is currently in Tokyo. Today he found himself unexpectedly taking a ringside seat at an historic event. He writes about the apparent age divide regarding today’s official announcement, that the Japanese Emperor is struggling to continue in his role.

I woke up this morning in the capsule hotel crawl space, as if awoken from stasis on the Starship Enterprise. The lights slowly came on in my pod as I stirred and quickly shuffled out of my personal zone (effectively a broom closet in which somebody had decided to throw a rather nice mattress). I walked into the swimming-pool-changing-room-esque hotel foyer and everything seemed entirely predictable and ordered as I got my clothes out of the obligatory storage locker.

In Japan there is always a total sense of order, as if somebody decided to turn school into a country. Things being orderly and controlled is considered the natural way of things. This understanding of order ties in closely with the importance of tradition, things are done in a particular way and differing from the norm is frowned upon in the same way one would frown upon a student in a group who leaves the rest of the group to do all the work. Everyone acts how they should so society functions normally. Whether society functioning normally is ideal is another issue entirely, and one not often considered worth mentioning.

This idea of the collective runs through Japan to its core. Even the drunken antics of young people are compartmentalised and put in particular districts at particular times. Blood runs thicker than saké, so to speak. You perform as you should and do as you must. Fulfilling one’s duty is absolute.

Today my own duty was to be a tourist. I had to do touristy things, be generally interested, and take as many photographs as was possible without my camera breaking down to the sheer heat and humidity. My intention was to go and see several notable sights around Tokyo ranging from the Shibuya crossing, to the Akihabara Electric Town, and finally to visit the Imperial Palace. Having trudged around Tokyo all day and having gotten lost several times (with little help from my phone’s online maps, which marked Shibuya crossing as being an over an hour’s walk away from where it actually was) I arrived at the Palace in all its majesty. And I just so happened to be in the right place, at the right time.

Being outside the Imperial Palace, a building that resembles the lovechild of Disneyland and a child’s playing card tower if the child then became a samurai, would have breathtaking at the best of times. Being outside it during the Emperor’s announcement today, that he was struggling with his official obligations, gave me a unique insight into peoples’ reactions to the address.

Usually the Palace’s attraction represents a point of interest for tourists, with them bumbling around bewildered at the fanfare. It also serves as a point of pride for the locals. Today, however, it served the additional purpose, this time of a symbol. It symbolised the beginning of a period of political disarray, on par if not greater than if the Queen of England herself had proposed the same thing. But, as with all things Japanese, it did so with significantly less gravitas and a far more humble approach.

Nevertheless the atmosphere of shock was palpable. Opinion as to the announcement seemed divided between the generations, like a living room filled with a family competing to play their favourite board game; Granddad’s game is old and traditional, mum’s is a bit more up-to-date but nobody besides her likes Monopoly, and the kids are intent on trying something new. Even those in the smoking areas outside the Palace had turned their heads towards it in a moment of societal reflection. Change to the social order is never considered a good thing in Japan, and to have the Emperor, the figurehead of tradition, ignite the fuse of change is unheard of. Older individuals seemed shocked. One older woman sitting outside, with a wizened look on her face and glasses thicker than the Palace walls, observed, “Things should be done as they always have been, it is tradition… tradition should not change for politics.”

This feeling was echoed by many older people I spoke with both at the Palace and around Tokyo today. Upsetting the social norms seemed to be something they were deeply afraid of, akin to worried parents scared about letting their children seeing the wrong scene in a film in case they ‘might get the wrong idea’. Beyond grumbling many felt hurt at the fact one could be too old to lead, as if they were all immortal and any discussion of degradation was taboo. However it was not an opinion that was held by younger individuals, leading more modern lives that rely less on tradition and follow traditional affairs less intently (and often don’t have the time to care for Royal matters). One man, a young businessman with a provocative hat that matched his tie,  and a constant grin attached to his wiry face, whom I spoke to at Tokyo station exemplified this by saying,”Japan is now a modern country, the emperor is very old and it makes sense for him to hand over control.”

The general consensus among the younger population of Tokyo appears to be that of respect to the Emperor and agreement that this was a wise decision, all hopeful for changes to be made to the constitution. It is easy however to see why many people are sceptical; encouraging entirely new things, such as changes to the Japanese constitution, is something which usually demands great caution. Changes to social order in Japan happen at about the same speed as it takes to set up a rail pass at the airport; you’d probably get there quicker if you set off straight away going by mule. But whether young peoples’ progressive opinions are enough considering Japan’s largely ageing demographics is another matter entirely.

It’s also notable that these are only the opinions of those who live in central Tokyo, the opinions of other cities and of rural Japan are likely to be more conservative. Therefore the Emperor’s address runs the risk of being extremely  controversial. And the Japanese are not fans of controversy. You’d probably have an easier time of going around asking if anyone would like a firecracker suppository than asking them to speak against the grain.

Whatever the outcome, this announcement is bound to lead to significant changes in Japanese politics. Every person here in Tokyo has thoughts on the matter, and no outcome will please everyone. The eyes of the world, particularly of Japan, watch intently.

Thoughts after the death of Jo Cox

I am 48 years old and one of my parents is German. For those of you who don’t really appreciate what that meant for someone growing up in the north of England in the 1970s and 1980s, it meant being at the brunt end of a lot of casual white-on-white candleracism. I spent my days in infant and junior school surrounded by boys drawing endless pictures of Action Man in various World War 2 scenarios surrounded by tanks and machine guns, making stuttering machine gun noises with their mouths as they did so. Occasionally the same boys would label me a ‘Nazi’, with their knowledge of Germans being largely drawn from the black and white war films that seemed in endless supply on BBC 2 (a genre described as ‘Naughty Germans’ films in our house). They felt this status gave them licence to steal my PE kit and throw it over the church wall, something which I kept quiet, but which was eventually discovered by the school authorities (with a satisfying result, as the bullies were thoroughly disciplined, and I was no longer in trouble for ‘losing’ my things). Later on we moved to a nearby market town. A couple of neighbours routinely sent their children over to trample on my mother’s bedding plants in the front garden, until they were spoken to. There was a fairly nasty anti-German incident at my parent’s workplace. At secondary school, there was the usual female-on-female adolescent bitchiness, but it was usually underpinned by laughing at my slightly Germanic pronunciation of one or two words picked up at home (pizza, kilometre), my lovely but slightly foreign clothes, often bought while we were visiting my German grandparents, and my ability to speak and think in more than one language. Once some of the worst culprits (army brats with fathers stationed in Monchen-Gladbach and the like) strapped me into a large laundry hamper and rolled me painfully over and over, just for the hell of it, largely just because I was a new kid and a bit different. If you were perceived as foreign, or even worse German, you were fair game, it seemed.

These were my small battles and probably made me more resilient than I might otherwise have been. Other people have different battles, worse battles, the type Jo Cox was fighting for on a much larger scale, so my experiences feel fairly trivial in comparison. But during the 2010 and 2015 election campaigns, and more recently the referendum campaign, I have become aware of the ugly head of intolerance, racism and jingoism rearing its head again. Many of the things Jo Cox stood for, and that I believe in deeply, such as equality, respect, human rights, and a sense of collective purpose, seem to have evaporated from the national debate. They have been replaced with quite unconscionable policies that allow individuals and groups casually to humiliate and disadvantage whomever is the fashionable scapegoat du jour at home and abroad. This is done whilst submitting without protest to the social, political and financial demands of a relatively limited number of supra-national organisations whose oligarchy speaks of ‘leveraging philanthropy’ whilst actively avoiding taxation and failing to recognise the far-reaching social consequences of their various behaviours and decisions.

Please join me in my outrage along with a desire to influence this for the better. Let us make our national polity reflect the best of human nature, rather than the worst. Let it start now. Otherwise Jo’s death really will have been in vain.



Why are academies so expensive?

moneyI think academies are proving to be more expensive than we can realistically afford. A while back I posted something facetious about academy funding, breaking it down very simplistically and pointing out we could have taught every child in Britain to ski had we decided to spend the money otherwise. I would like to develop this now in a more serious way, and in doing so I have to fully acknowledge an anonymous assistant who has painstakingly helped to extract these figures from the DfE’s various publications (anonymous because this is the Internet). We start with this statement, relating to the £8.3 billion that had been spent on the project between 2010 and 2012.

“Of this £8.3 billion total, £6.4 billion was offset by money recovered from local authorities, or was distributed to schools on the same basis, irrespective of whether they were maintained schools or academies – for example sixth-form funding or the Pupil Premium for children from low income families. The Department provided a further £0.9 billion directly to 103 academies for whose pupils it does not allocate any funding to local authorities, this making recovery unnecessary”.

Department for Education and Education Funding Agency (2012) Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme


Interpreting this, we see that academies are being funded centrally, children are attending academies, and the per capita cost is being clawed back from the local authorities. Nothing controversial here. However let’s move on.  ‘A further £350m was money the Department was not able to recover from local authorities to offset against academy funding’. So here we have a statement pertaining to the actual costs of setting up the programme. Let’s look at those in more detail.

£49m on central programme administration. There are two organisations involved in the setup – the Department for Education and the Young People’s Learning Agency, and this has come about because the DfE did not have the resources to do it alone. What it has meant is that there are very high communication costs. The overall cost could have been a lot lower if a national quango had been set up to do the job.

£338m on transition costs, of which £279m seems to be spent on ‘pre-opening and start-up finding to sponsored academies’. So these are large grants paid to schools before and after opening such as school improvements (which presumably should have been funded by other routes) and the problems of high overheads as pupil numbers were building up. Remember, it was not long ago that a condition of being a sponsored academy was that philanthropic donations covered costs such as these.

£92m on academy insurance. This seems reasonable on one level but not when you consider that Local Authorities are able to amortise risks and do this considerably more cheaply.

£22m on support for academies in deficit. Once again, reasonable on one level but not necessarily the cheapest way of achieving the same objective.

£68m reimbursing academies’ VAT costs, so essentially this is just money on paper and not relevant to the overall calculations.

£29m on other grants. Lack of transparency here.

£21m double-funding academies and local authorities to ensure financial sustainability of various local authority services. Unavoidable in the circumstances but this is duplication.

£59m protecting academies from income volatility problems, again an example of something that would be unnecessary if there were no conversions.

So how much of this is actually reaching pupils? This was just for the period 2010-2012. Now we have a situation where the academicisation policy has been scaled up massively, and with it the effect of the leaky financial pipe has presumably been exacerbated. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why school budgets are becoming increasingly stretched (in addition to the impact of National Insurance increases and so on). To me, these figures show so much duplication of effort and increased legal/accountancy/insurance costs that it hardly seems worth the candle when you could have simply reformed Local Authorities instead.




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The seven deadly sins of academic writing


Like a lot of university lecturers, I mark many essays. And I see a lot of rookie mistakes being made by students who are normally very intelligent, but when faced with an impending assignment, suddenly forget how to formulate things properly on paper. I therefore present the seven deadly sins of academic writing so that students can learn what drives their tutors to distraction, allowing them to avoid the main pitfalls. See it as insider knowledge, a kind of Urban Dictionary of the Senior Common Room.

Citation bombing

Like its visual cousin photo bombing, this describes the phenomenon of students finding a juicy quotation and then ramming it into the text with no preamble or explanation, leaving the quotation just to speak for itself. Usually appears with about twenty other quotations doing the same thing, as a string of apparently unconnected mini-plagiarisms without any critical analysis linking them, that makes a lecturer’s weary heart sink.


We need to think about children’s verbal experiences of school. “In the case of an elaborated code, such a code points to the possibilities which inhere in a complex conceptual hierarchy for the organization and expression of inner experience” (Bernstein, 1971). Early Years classrooms are often focused on play-related activities.

So here we have three sentences, two of which might just make sense in terms of an essay and then the random Basil Bernstein bit in the middle. Just because it sounds clever, it does not mean you have to squeeze it in there. It won’t help you impress us. You need to make it work harder. This is really what we are looking for in a student essay:

Children from different backgrounds respond to school in different ways, and some will find the medium of instruction difficult compared to their experiences of home. The sociologist Basil Bernstein argued that this can be related to social class. He showed through his research that middle-class children were likely to have distinct advantages when it came to understanding the complexity of their teacher’s speech, and the various concepts that were being expressed, as they were more likely to have experienced this at home. Bernstein termed this ‘elaborated code’, as opposed to ‘restricted code’, which uses fewer words and a more simplistic syntax and conceptual frameworks. As Bernstein explained, “In the case of an elaborated code, such a code points to the possibilities which inhere in a complex conceptual hierarchy for the organization and expression of inner experience” (Bernstein, 1971). If we are to extend this idea it would mean that in early years settings, play-based settings may well offer potential scope for helping children unfamiliar with the type of speech represented by elaborated code to access these complex conceptual hierarchies in a more structured way. In order to achieve this, educational programmes need to be carefully planned and implemented with a transition to elaborated code in mind.

Inverted comma spillage

Similar to an oil spill on a motorway, this is when a student is temporarily transported back in time to the 1940s-1950s linguistically. Every ‘term’ that is potentially to be ‘interpreted’ in more than one way or vaguely resembles some kind of ‘simile’ or ‘metaphor’ if you dig deep is ‘surrounded’ by inverted commas in order to ‘hedge’ the writer’s ‘bets’. (See what I did there?). Avoid.

Op. cit. and ibid.

Sometimes students over-cite their limited range of references, with the same three or four authors popping up again and again, every other line. Reading academic journal articles might be partly to blame here, as in the social sciences there is a convention which means you cite the author’s name afresh each time it comes up, and the effect is exaggerated when a student is only working with a very limited number of sources. However in essays, and particular in dissertations, it is important to familiarise yourself with the use of op. cit. (from the Latin opere citato, meaning ‘from the work cited’) and ibid. (from the Latin ibidem, meaning ‘the same’). You use op. cit. when there has been a gap between the original reference and where you are now, with other authors in between. You use ibid. when it is the same as the reference you last had.

Narration disease

This is when students simply write out long lists of information from the literature with no critical analysis, interpretation or insight. Guys, we already know this stuff, we work with it all day. We can even look it up if we want to. What we are looking for is an intelligent analysis of what it all means. Compare and contrast things, bring authors together, synthesise or apply different aspects of knowledge, craft your writing so it brings deeper meaning to the topic. Feed the beast, please.

Religiosity or ideology outbreak

However meaningful and enduring your favourite religious text is, it does not count as an academic reference unless the essay is specifically meant to analyse it, for example as part of a theology or divinity course. Therefore simply citing from the Bible or Koran in support of your arguments is not sufficient. Moreover, even if your assignment is being marked by someone of the same faith as you, it will be marked as having a defective bibliography if you only draw on a very limited number of texts, unless it is clear close reading has been part of the brief (and this is a particular skill more commonly used in literature courses). Similarly, using respectful phrases such as ‘Our Lord’, “Peace Be Upon Him’ and so on each time you invoke a religious figure is not a suitable form of expression for academic essays, however well-intentioned and devout. Your job as an academic writer is to distance yourself from religion and ideology and assess texts as objectively and dispassionately as you can, regardless of any personal feelings in the matter. This is actually a good discipline as you are then forced to think your position through a lot more carefully, and harness stronger arguments. You can still draw on your beliefs, but they need to be more conventionally expressed and draw on the broader academic literature rather than purely religious texts. Incidentally, this also would apply if you were an avid follower of Marx, Juche or whatever.

Id, ego and superego

Many students are not sure how to position themselves within an essay and whether they can use the pronoun ‘I’. Where it works well is when it is clear you are offering a personal insight that clarifies a theoretical point. This rises above the commonplace and counts as the application of knowledge, something we might call a measured, controlled, superego approach. What works less well is when students ramble on about their own lives for half the essay in a narrative way, and this is mainly off-task. It comes across as indulgent, and we might call this a rather self-interested ego approach. What really comes across badly is the use of bold pronouncements in academic writing. In some of the weaker essays I mark, these come across as assertions that because the author has twenty years’ classroom experience as a practitioner, for example this means they know more about education than the authorities who have carried out seminal research studies. For the purposes of theoretical psychoanalytical completeness, I would call this an id approach, being apparently unaffected by logic or reality. So the secret when referring to yourself is considering how you would link it to a reference that adds to the debate. If you can do this easily and effectively, it is most probably an appropriate use of the pronoun.

Apostrophe catastrophe

What can I say? It beggars belief that intelligent postgraduate students with at least 14 years of schooling behind them are not always able to use the apostrophe properly. If you can’t, read Lynne Truss’s amazing book Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Her blog is here:


Fact-checking education policy for the Daily Telegraph

Like many people in day-to-day contact with schools, I was astonished to read the contents of the somewhat surreal Education Excellence Everywhere White Paper when it came out recently. However on reflection, I was not entirely surprised the Secretary of State had produced it. It was clearly an attempt to salvage something from the frenzied regime of her predecessor. And like many career politicians in a similar position, she has fudged a lot of the detail. She is not the first to do this, and she will not be the last.

Therefore in this post, I don’t want to talk at length about whether politicians should or shouldn’t be selective with the truth. We can pretty much take it for granted that many will. I want to talk instead about today’s Daily Telegraph opinion piece  Stop this academic heckling, in which many of the pretexts of the White Paper were rehearsed once again without any effort to check the facts, or get to the heart of why even moderate and right-wing thinkers are nervous of many of the premises contained within it. I will do this by fact-checking the introduction of the White Paper myself (much more than that and it would be too long for a reasonable blog post).

My first impression of the Education Excellence Everywhere stance was that it started on a weak footing with this paragraph:

“In 2010, we inherited an education system where 1 in 3 young people left primary school unable to read, write and add up properly; where the number of young people studying core academic subjects had halved in 13 years. Far too many schools were failing, and far too many children were left out or left behind. Recent international assessments, comparing the performance of our young people in 2011/2012 with their international peers, have shown that our education standards have remained static, at best, whilst other countries have moved ahead”.

Nicky Morgan was publicly reprimanded by Sir Andrew Dilnot from the National Statistic Agency on 18 December 2014 for making the assertion that one in three young people left primary school unable to read, write, and add up properly, something she re-asserts on the first page of the document, and which is a claim so outlandish that it would put the British education system somewhere around the level of countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Haiti, Malawi and Nepal (according to UNESCO data). Here is the public letter of reprimand:—correspondence/correspondence/letter-from-sir-andrew-dilnot-to-rt–hon–nicky-morgan-mp-181214.pdf

In the other measures, since the Tories came to power, internationally we have fallen slightly from 8th in the world (2006) to 13th in the world (2011) in PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Survey), 5th in the world to 9th in the world for Science in TIMSS (Trends in International Maths and Science Survey) and 7th to the world to 10th in Maths (TIMSS). TIMSS leans towards testing applied knowledge. The tests are scheduled to occur again this year. These shifts are not particularly significant and many other Western European countries show a similar pattern, but if the fall continues once the PIRLS and TIMSS data for 2016 are in, this might show that the Coalition education policies were not particularly effective and may have been detrimental if, for example, we fall to a position in the mid to low 20s or beyond for each subject. Testing is taking place at the moment and results will be available next year.

In PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) we have moved from the 2009 position of being 26th in the world (Maths) 20th in the world (Science) and 23rd in the world (Reading) to the 2012 position of being 28th in the world (Maths – a slight fall), 16th in the world (Science – a slight rise) and 25th in the world (Reading – a slight fall). PISA leans towards testing pure knowledge and has been heavily criticised for its statistical basis. The next round of PISA results should be available in December 2016.

On the basis of the international data cited above, it would be reasonable to say that our education system shows broadly similar levels of attainment and movement to our Western European neighbours such as France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium and so on. Sweden, which introduced similar education policies to the ones Morgan is proposing in the 1990s, represents an outlier as it has fallen dramatically in PISA international league tables to the low 30s since these policies were introduced.

Other claims are made in the introduction to the report, and I will address each of them in turn:

“Over the course of the last Parliament we put in place bold reforms to drive up standards in schools. We tackled grade inflation and restored the integrity of our qualifications,
introduced a new, more ambitious national curriculum, raised the bar for entry to the teaching profession, and gave more freedom and autonomy to headteachers and leaders through the academies and free schools programme”.

Grade inflation
It is important to be aware that in the Education Reform Act 1988 the Conservative Party put arrangements in place for the schooling system to move from norm-referenced qualifications, known as O Levels or Ordinary Level Examinations, to GCSE examinations (General Certificate of Secondary Education), which were to be criterion-based. This meant that the qualifications system changed from one in which only a set percentage of candidates could receive a particular grade each year, to one in which, mathematically speaking, all candidates could technically receive the top grade if they met each of the criteria. This forms the fundamental basis for grade inflation – changing the mathematical basis upon which results were calculated and compared, and it was something introduced by Nicky Morgan’s own party.

Integrity of qualifications
According to the British Council, each year 2,000,000 non-UK candidates from 90 countries sit UK examinations, as they are regarded as world-leading in their impartiality and rigour.

National curriculum
All schools now have to become academies, so they will also be at liberty to disapply the national curriculum for their pupils, and it may not be used in its current or future form by many schools.

Raising the bar for entry to the teaching profession
Academies do not have to employ qualified teachers, and indeed the Government plans to abolish Qualified Teacher Status, thereby lowering the bar.

Some readers of this blog post may have been present at a recent Policy Exchange event when I asked Nicky Morgan about Liverpool College, an HMC (Head Masters’ Conference) school founded in 1840, which recently converted from being an independent school to an academy. As an Old Girl, I happen to think this is a step forward, as every child should have the chance to attend a school of this type if their parents think it is suitable, not just those who can afford the fees. However at the Policy Exchange event the Secretary of State tried to assure me that Liverpool College would enjoy enhanced autonomy after conversion. Clearly this makes no sense at all – as it was originally an independent school, i.e. wholly autonomous, moving to the state sector is quite obviously going to mean a loss of autonomy as it complies with a raft of state regulations surrounding everything from admissions to procurement. So let’s see how the question of autonomy might play out for other schools.

According to summer 2015 DfE figures, more than 846 schools belonged to multi-academy trusts (MATs), with the largest multi-academy trusts then being:

E-ACT – 23
Greenwood Academies Trust – 27
Ormiston Academies Trust – 27
ARK Schools – 31
The David Ross Education Trust – 34
The Harris Federation – 35
Plymouth CAST – 35
REACH2 – 39
Kemnal Academies Trust – 41
United Learning Trust – 42
Oasis Community Learning – 44
School Partnership Trust Academies – 46
Academies Enterprise Trust – 61
Therefore many head teachers will be subject to control by the MAT and not independently autonomous. As Local Management of Schools (LMS) is being abolished, it may be that schools have less autonomy in practical terms with regard to procurement, outsourcing of certain key functions, uniform, curriculum, staff appointments, and so on.

“We will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards”

Many of us are parent governors, a role we take very seriously and carry out with a great degree of altruism in our spare time. However soon the role of parent governor will cease to exist in many MATs, and there will be fewer governors overall as schools will be grouped together with governance being provided by boards overseeing up to 60 schools at once. It is hard to see how parents (and indeed the Government itself) will be able to navigate such structures usefully when seeking accountability, and this means higher risks of schools running into problems as a result of distant boards not being sufficiently aware of what is happening on the front line.

So as we can see, even the most cursory fact check shows the introduction to the White Paper in a distinctly negative light, from wherever you are sitting in the political spectrum. This is the reason why even moderate and right wing professionals have started to voice unrest. Unless there is a more intelligent debate about the way forward that does not rely on insulting groups of professionals and misdirecting the electorate, as happened in the White Paper and more recently today’s Daily Telegraph article, I fail to see how we can make any useful progress in terms of raising standards. The Daily Telegraph has had repeated opportunities to engage with this White Paper properly, but in its anxiety to get an opinion piece out quickly in response to the Nick Gibb versus ATL fracas, it relied on repeating stirring the same pot rather than doing a decent editorial job. Given that it is supposed to be a respected broadsheet newspaper, today it will have left its readership somewhat hungry.


On four types of love in education, and how we can find balance

loveOne of my favourite school mottoes is from Kristin School, Auckland, New Zealand.  It is “Progress with Vision, Integrity and Love”. Their choice of words is very interesting. Love is pretty unfashionable at the moment beyond Valentine’s Day, wedding fayres and soppy films. However love in all its forms is very important to the human condition. It would probably not be going too far to argue that, without love, we are completely lost. With this in mind, I am going to apply four types of love from Ancient Greek to the field of education to see what we find. I am trying to establish whether we can move education towards a more worthwhile 21st century model by thinking about the different types of love a bit more often in our daily practice.

Here they are.

  • Agápe
  • Éros
  • Philia
  • Storge

So how do we see each of these manifested in today’s educational system?


This is the ‘I love you’ type of love, love for spouses and children, and something we see in the reading a lot of people choose for Christian weddings from Corinthians I in the New Testament. It can even mean an unconditional love for God. Here is an extract from the Bible, and similar words appear in the texts of many other religions:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This kind of love is unconditional, enduring, and pretty tolerant. Where do we see this? In the eyes of the teacher as he or she explains something painstakingly to a pupil in the belief that it’s worth the effort. When the teacher writes careful comments on a pupil’s work, in the hope that this will help him or her. When a teacher gives up a lunch hour to go through work a pupil has missed. At its extreme, I think of the schools where teachers buy breakfast for children who come to school hungry, buy coats for children who come to school cold, and cuddle children who have fallen over. I also see it in the eyes of pupils as they look up teachers they admire. I see it in my students’ eyes, when they think of their favourite teachers. It’s in the eyes of parents as they affectionately wrap a scarf around a child’s neck, watch over their homework, or walk them to school. It is in the eyes of trainees as they start to model their professional behaviour on the very best practice they see around them. All this is Agape.


This can mean different things, but here I will take it to mean erotic love, the dark side of pupil/teacher relationships.  The stuff of tabloid headlines, of CRB and DBS checks, of Vetting and Barring, of List 99. In our society there is no place for physical love between pupils and teachers, and the penalties are harsh. Philosophically speaking, why is this? Perhaps it is because it is so easy for the vulnerable to confuse this type of love with one of the other types. And without clarity there is scope for manipulation.

There is also erotic love between pupils, of course. Anyone who has worked in a secondary school will feel this in the air, hanging around mixed with the aroma of hormones, cheap aftershave and hair products. An almost tangible smell. This erotic love takes two forms: the positive and the negative. The positive can provide a practice ground for adult relationships, and a space where adolescents can learn the rules of engagement. A liminal state, as they pass from companiable childhoods to higher stakes in adulthood. The negative can be the humiliation of the person they most admire, through the abuse of social networking, pornography, sexting, websex and harassment. This is something our society is not managing well, because we set a bad example. Teachers learn to recoil from physical contact from even their youngest pupils, for fear of accusations of abuse, which leaves everyone in schools confused about where acceptable boundaries might be in a more holistic sense. This is a work in progress for society, I think, and this is how Eros rears its head in our schools.


What is Philia? This is brotherly love, the sense of solidarity amongst teachers, amongst subject specialists, or amongst pupils. It can mean the affectionate or loyal feeling of an alumnus or alumna for their old schools. It can refer to the shared sense of enjoyment as people engage in a shared activity. Its meaning is captured in terms like Outreach, Communication, and Community. These are all buzz words, and all evident in policy documents, curricula, and prospectuses. They are easy to measure superficially, easy to value superficially, but very hard to know whether they are truly present, in more than a fleeting capacity.


Finally we come to Storge. This is the toughest of all the loves. This is about putting up with awkward people, especially if they are in your family. This is the teacher patiently enduring the disruptive pupil, because it is his or her job to do so while the pupil learns to conform.  It can mean the pupil putting up with classmates who are less than co-operative, or the head putting up with the teacher who is having a tough time at home and has become temporarily unproductive. It also means the teacher putting up with a colleague whose personality is radically different from his or her own, or the head putting up with the parent who is worried and aggressive. In turn, it can mean the parent putting up with the child who refuses to do homework. At an extreme, dear reader, it means this author putting up with an earlier Education Minister who confused helpful critique with harmful dissent. This is about seeing the long game, the bigger picture, and not always having everything on your own terms. This is Storge.


Having labelled the different types of love encountered in education, it’s important to seek to balance them. We have to face up to the fact that the emotional side of education is as important as the technical side. We need to spend more time thinking about the ethics of care vs the ethics of emotional neglect. This particularly struck me when my son was smaller, in a school nursery class at the age of three. I realised that when he fell over he had been taught to kiss his own knee in order to feel better. This left me in something of a dilemma. Is such teaching promoting independence, or does it in fact deny the human aspects of the relationship between him and his carers? Perhaps it is both. However conversations debating the matter are all too rare. We shy away from them.

This is where we need the term Pedagogical love, coined by Finnish academics Kaarina Määttä and Satu Uusiautti in this insightful article entitled ‘Pedagogical love and good teacherhood’.

We need to move towards a state of grace, a real balance between professional and personal involvement. Such a state of grace requires patience, care, insight and tolerance. Only then can our pupils achieve their true potential in all forms.



What’s worth learning? Curriculum confrontation!

Kari’s curriculum debate is likely to be one of the hottest educational events of the summer. Education ‘hipster’ beards optional, apparently. See you in Helsinki.




A Curriculum Confrontation 

A free, inspirational and up-lifting educational pop-up happening in the heart of Helsinki in the middle of the summer.

Three different learning models coming together to deliberately disrupt each other’s thinking. The potential outcome?  An optimal curriculum to educate children for a changing world.

Finnish curriculum reform 2016

The Common Ground Curriculum for international schools

European School – From Early Education to Baccalaureate

The City of Helsinki – Phenomenal Helsinki – the joy of learning and doing together



PLACE:European School, Helsinki, Bulevardi 18, 00120 Helsinki

DATE: Saturday, 15th of August, from 10.00 to 16.00.

TARGET POPULATION (150 – 180 places):

  • Educational hipsters,
  • The staff of the National Board of Education,
  • Teachers/Directors/Parents/Students of the Finnish, European, and International schools
  • Curriculum specialists

KEYNOTES (20 to 60 minutes each/English):

Kevin Bartlett (Director, International School of Brussels) is the Co-Designer and Co-Leader of two successful global…

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