Spotting the wolf in sheep’s clothing

An article about the future of education, which was published this morning in the Guardian, found its way to my timeline. It seemed innocent enough and there were a few words and phrases in there that appealed to my trad-teacher brain. Surely this lovely message should appeal, rather than make me worried? However, something didn’t seem right, even though influential people were nodding and re-tweeting on twitter. So, I thought I’d try to turn to my note taking skills in order to try and smoke out the real message. Perhaps you can see what I can see when you read my notes which follow the trail of the original article:

  1. War affects many millions of civilians; war is horrible
  2. Especially when recounted by a 12 yo girl called Ava to 200 adults
  3. Everybody agrees we need to let in more Syrian refugees
  4. Ava is able to make people emotional and see the light because of a speaking project at the author’s trendy new school
  5. We need to teach children about real life, so they can make a difference
  6. We need to teach children to be tolerant. How?
  7. We need to teach children how to deal with technological and medical advancement. How?
  8. Unfortunately, all educators either fall into the bootcamp instructor camp or the ‘technology will make teachers obsolete’ camp.
  9. Evidence of schools using evil algorithms to personalise online learning and ‘flipped learning’
  10. Even parents know that it’s easy just to look something up on YouTube in order to learn about it. This is a real thing and not a fad; we should not dismiss
  11. There are limits to algorithms and looking stuff up because RELATIONSHIPS
  12. Teachers are actually quite good at inspiring children and helping them to learn
  13. Experience of hire candidates moaning about having to teach too much knowledge because ‘exam factory’, ‘not being able to inspire’ and ‘evil data’
  14. The existence of GCSEs creates perverse incentives like their results (which can be quantified) being the ticket to success, headteachers are judged by them, and they’re used to measure progress
  15. Employers don’t even care about GCSEs
  16. Teachers actually try to choose easier syllabi
  17. Narrowed curriculum even from year 9
  18. EBacc is squeezing out creative subjects therefore destroying creativity and problem solving which is actually the very thing we should be teaching
  19. Exam prep taking too much precedence
  20. Children having interventions INFLICTED on them at every opportunity
  21. EVIL EXAM FACTORY crushing individuality
  24. And now for our new, cosy and fluffy solution which we have named ‘Engaged education’
  25. Obligatory Mandela quote
  26. Reiteration of how terrible all educators are
  27. Education needs to change. Big time.
  28. Woolly nod to ‘best that has been thought and said’ and then dismissed with ‘needs of present and future’
  29. GRIT etc plus being nice and serving the community
  30. Craftsmanship is totally the way forward because creativity and problem solving
  31. Academic, vocational and technical: we need to mix them all together in one big crazy pot
  32. Some schools are doing the right thing which is to focus on teaching skills and desirable character traits like resilience through project based learning
  33. Schools need to change everything they do in order to make project based learning happen
  34. Noise is good because it is evidence of wonderful discovery and collaboration
  35. Schools that are more traditional are clearly crushing the spirit of children and destroying their staff morale. We do the opposite because we’re nice.
  36. The best schools, like us, work with real businesses to make our whole project based learning thing more real-life
  37. In order for us to take over the world, we need 3 things to happen
  38. Ofsted can be good, but it can also be bad. Therefore, Ofsted is bad.
  39. Ofsted makes schools do things which makes everyone feel stressed
  40. Just get rid of Ofsted.
  41. Or not. Maybe it can be peer led [like that College of Teaching we’re all hearing about]
  42. The 3 things Solution: no-notice visits to check safeguarding, just use data (like results) to check progress, and have lots of teachers/HTs [but mostly consultants] visit regularly to check everyone is doing the right thing.
  43. Scrap GCSEs, just let children choose when to take a no-stakes exam in the key subjects when they’re ‘ready’
  44. Assess them instead on 21st Century skills
  45. Schools need to innovate more to make sure this happens and MORE MONEY
  46. Poor little Ava and poor, crushed teachers
  47. By the way, no such thing as traditional or progressive!
  48. All educators, deep down, want what we want, which is children who have 21st C skills such as critical thinking and then they can cure the world of war and Donald Trump
  49. This is better than making children learn ‘shallow’ facts
  50. Wooo yay progressive education
  51. Look at us. We got our children to learn another language solely for the purpose of being able to protest against evil capitalism. Here they are annoying office workers/evil taxpayers as said taxpayers nip to the shops on their lunchbreak, hoping to pick up a spare pair of tights because said pair of tights got snagged at Liverpool street when they were trying to get to work, clearly not concentrating because they were so hell bent on pursuing their careers in evil financial services.
  52. Everybody agrees with us.
  53. If you don’t agree with us, then APOCALYPSE


This message is a progressive wolf in sheep’s clothing and we need to be able to recognise this situation by disengaging the initial emotional response and instead try to analyse the underlying messages. Also it helps if you add in humour.

Further, if you click through the links to the 3 schools he mentions, you’ll see that uncloaked wolf in plain daylight.

I think the article was written to get parents and the general Guardian-reading public to agree with the sentiments while remaining unaware of what they were really agreeing to. You’ve got to hand it to the author because it is, on the face of it, a truly convincing piece of theatre. But it is theatre none the less, even if that theatre used real props (there were some truths in there that trads would agree with, like the problem of narrowed curriculums from year 9 and the fact that Ofsted creates pressure to over-evidence every molecule of learning).

I think it is ethically wrong for school leaders to do this because parents may flock to sign up their children to this school (and others like it) only to find out years later that their children won’t get useful qualifications. Further, am I the only one who read that article thinking that perhaps the cloak and dagger approach to promoting project based learning also disguises the fact that a lot of vested interests of the money-making kind are relying on these kinds of school leaders to promote this kind of education? Compare this to the very honest messages that MCS send out to the media: parents are under no illusion as to what happens in that school because information about routines, procedures and ethos come across in clear, rational language. MCS also projects a real humility; what other kind of school would invite people in to scrutinise and debate there methods and beliefs in such a public way?

Would disadvantaged and disengaged children who are not so good at self-directing their studies do best at MCS or School 21? What about children with gaps in their learning who cannot access project based learning?

The fact that this kind of message repeatedly makes its way into mainstream media, hoodwinking parents and public is partly our fault. You see, parents don’t really know the difference between different kinds of education and this is possibly because educational language is foreign to the average man. Additionally, parents genuinely think that teachers are passing important and useful information onto children, that their children are practicing using said information and then are de facto able to do an exam in that subject. Progressive educators free ride on this assumption and never quite tell parents what the word ‘independent’ in the context of school activities means, for example. Our job is not just to promote traditional education (and let the results speak for themselves), but to educate, involve and empower parents to make rational decisions about the education of their children. Otherwise, they’ll all be prey to progressive wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

Recognise the wolf. Expose the wolf. Chase that wolf away.

Who’s with me?


9 thoughts on “Spotting the wolf in sheep’s clothing

  1. I think your note taking skills have let you down if your intention was to create an objective summary of the article.

    You have simply interpreted the article to line up with …

    1 Your own prejudices
    2 Your wolf in sheep’s clothing narrative

    You make assumptions about what parents want and believe based on nothing but more prejudice.

    The following is a small extract which I think indicates the level of jibberish in your interpretation.

    “Would disadvantaged and disengaged children who are not so good at self-directing their studies do best at MCS or School 21? What about children with gaps in their learning who cannot access project based learning?”

    In answer to the former, good question but the answer is not as simple as you seem to infer.

    In answer to the latter, it is absurd to say that “children with gaps in their learning who cannot access project based learning” as if it were true. I don’t believe you have much understanding of the strategy that is “project based learning”. I use PBL regularly with learners who find they are highly motivated and where there are gaps I identify them and help the learner plug them. It’s called teaching.

    The longer the whole “trad vs progressive” thing goes on the more quirky the assertions made seem to become.

    Don’t get me wrong I often agree with your posts, I sometimes comment on your posts and you always make me think.

    On this occasion however I believe you have exemplified all that is pointless about the supposed trad vs prog dichotomy. You are the wolf in sheep’s clothing I feel as by raising all of the daft points you have you have obscured what are some contentious issues which would benefit from debate and investigation.

    This post to me comes across as a bit paranoid. Quirky for me on this occasion is quite possibly understatement of the year.

    I do note however that people (I believe a small minority) are finding the messages contained here to be quite profound an enlightening, which in itself is perhaps cause for concern.


  2. Did the article explain in what context the children would be being taught about Syria? In what lesson would it be covered? If you are going to talk about Syria surely you would need to talk about the Middle East, it’s history, the causes of the conflict.. etc. This seems a bit too advanced for 12 year olds and more like brain washing. It is not the schools place to teach left wing ideas are good, right wing bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “I think the article was written to get parents and the general Guardian-reading public to agree with the sentiments while remaining unaware of what they were really agreeing to.”

    Did you know that Peter Hyman, the writer of the piece, was a political speech writer ? He’s had a lot of practice in this sort of thing!


  4. As a linguist, I think a statement such as “they have learnt the Spanish that will allow them to communicate with the shop’s owners” sounds great, but is meaningless. Communicate what? And would they have the grammatical fluency to understand the complexity of responses they might get? I wonder…..

    Liked by 2 people

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