Mass schooling or De-schooling?

What does industrial-scale schooling mean?

“The establishment of more schools in Malaysia or Brazil teaches people the accountant’s view of the value of time, the bureaucrat’s view of the value of promotion, the salesman’s view of the value of increased consumption, and the union leader’s view of the purpose of work. People are taught all this not by the teacher but by the curriculum hidden in the structure of school. It does not matter what the teacher teaches so long as the pupil has to attend hundreds of hours of age-specific assemblies to engage in a routine decreed by the curriculum and is graded according to his ability to submit to it…

“People learn that they acquire more value in the market if they spend more hours in class. They learn to value progressive consumption of curricula. They learn that whatever a major institution produces has value, even invisible things such as education or health. They learn to value grade advancement, passive submission, and even the standard misbehavior that teachers like to interpret as a sign of creativity.” Ivan Illich 1971.

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When this was written in the late 1960’s, “the curriculum hidden in the school” (despite the work of Summerhill on democratic education) was a contested concept reflecting the high point of the redistribution of income towards workers following WW2. Wolfgang Streeck looking at the end of capitalism (2016) highlights the decline of working class self-organisation from the time Illich was writing, and the hidden curriculum critique has lain dormant since.

Meanwhile there has been the growing influence, intellectually, of both critical and community-focused educational pedagogies e.g. Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire, John Holt, A.S. Neill, even Louise Michel, and many others whose ideas are continually discussed and developed on the Infed website. However resources for community education with a priority on personal and community self-formation have been disappearing as local councils have lost funding and the powers to initiate such learning initiatives. Government funding mechanisms have increasingly been used to control both the curriculum, a National Curriculum about as exciting as the National Cheese of war-time rationing, as well as to regulate the number of providers receiving funding. The takeover of ALI by OFSTED is a key indicator of this managerially regulated process.

Nowhere has this been more starkly illustrated than by the manipulation of further education funding to drive the “skills” agenda, which has restricted the scope of further education providers to widen the scope of provision and provide “the second chances” for those failed by formal education in schools and innovative ways into higher education via access initiatives.

So government policy in the last 50 years has increasingly organised an industrial-scale production of time and motion controlled education (the education as factory metaphor) and has trained and recruited educational managers to keep the factories ticking over at full output…

The developing loss of the wider curriculum and more inclusive pedagogies, as we might see in community education, will be explored in later postings.

Nigel Ecclesfield

Industrial-scale or Community-focussed?

One of the issues facing education post-Brexit is the vision of education, and the health service, for that matter, as industrial scale services organised mass provision when learning needs, and health needs, are so deeply personal. It is not surprising that the last ten years has seen reductions in those services defined as and located in “community“.

Where I live, in Devon, we have seen the running down and closure of community hospitals (six) in recent months and the relocation of services to larger regional facilities. In further education there has been a long-term running down of community provision and facilities for adult informal education and the forced merger of colleges, to create regional rather than local entities at greater scale, due to Government skills policies and their implementation by FE Commissioners conducting “area” reviews.

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The concomitant effects of these changes have been to narrow down the focus of welfare payments to individuals while public subsidies are eliminated and to create narrowing of the curriculum offer to meet “the skills needs of employers” despite the evidence to suggest that employers are poor at identifying the future skills needs of their workforces, or responding to technology change or even the affordances of new technologies. Despite 20 years of Government mantras promoting “employer-led” further education, the engagement of employers in further education at local levels has not increased and neither has employer investment in training for the majority of their workers, even with incentives.

In the UK, schooling (we make a critical distinction between schooling and learning) is becoming both more prescriptive and selective, leading to the creation of failure in personal, community and class terms,  while the range of content is reduced to meet politico-industrial goals based on elitist and behavioural goals formally articulated through national agencies and endlessly reinforced through political messages.

This industrial-scale national education system characterises the Age of Anger, being focused on the adversarial and discriminatory elements of national cultures seen through the lens of economic competition. Such approaches substitute indoctrination for learning. We have learned that the most powerful learning comes from collaboration and trust (see Trust The Learner) rather than schooling and teacher focused education, which characterises the Conservative vision of post -Brexit education. As we develop this analysis we will outline more fully what a learner-centered and community focused alternative might look like.

(Nigel Ecclesfield)

A more-detailed discussion on how to achieve this can be found in our paper on Community-based hubs as part of our work Towards an Adult Education Architecture of Participation.

Post-Brexit Education Policy

In the UK the clearest evidence of populism today is the leave EU referendum result, called Brexit by media commentators who helped promote it. If our education system has helped created the new rift in society between leavers & remainers, signified by the brutality and complexity that is characteristic of populism, could there be new education policies that might help redress the dramatic social schisms we are now living through?

As two people who have worked across the piece in the English education system, and with a keen sense of the history of education & learning, we think that there are many dimensions of the education system that have been run down, overlooked or ignored, which, looked at afresh, might enable a fresh set of education policies to emerge. This could be based on a combination of best historical practice, such as democratic, self-organised learning (Mechanics Institutes and Summerhill for example) and new social collaborations identified in the Digital Practitioner (that we have highlighted elsewhere) emerging from the curiosity of young professionals in FE colleges applying the use of new personal technologies to the practice of learning.


In A Dominies Log AS Neill patiently documents the results of his kindness as a teacher on his pupils, which he later implemented in the profoundly democratic institutional practice of Summerhill. He kept this log in 1915 as the horrific First World War had started and stopped the instigation of a professionals teachers group coming together. This represented one of many missed opportunities of the teaching profession to take charge of its professional self-organisation and set its own professional standards (as opposed to being a trades union simply organised around pay and conditions).

The new teaching practices we uncovered in our dialogical research project Digital Practitioner, which characterised the use of “personal technologies” in UK college learning contexts as being the creation “artfully-crafted, student-centred, learning experiences” point another way forward for the 21st century, driven by professional digital practitioners, that we want to further examine on this blog.

We think that a fresh post-Brexit educational policy, by allowing the expression of our natural learning curiosity, could draw on a range of proven historic practice that has been developed in the U.K., which could produce original and stimulating learning to refresh our thinking, rather than the xenophobic hatred that has been produced by the current high-stakes assessment model that has been driving the the education system in recent years. Some of these more open and trusting learning practices we have identified in Trust The Learner

We hope to share our reflections and the learning we hope this process in the manifesto part of this blog. 

Guest bloggers welcome too… (Fred Garnett)

Brutality & Complexity in an Age of Anger (Nigel)

In the Age of Anger, education is practised as a selective and exclusionary activity to support political, religious or pedagogic beliefs focused on gender, economic status, nationality and the individual achievement of financial, exploitative success. Saskia Sassen, in Expulsions; Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (full pdf 2014) highlighted income inequality, displacement and incarceration of populations as key drivers behind the social changes that led to the outbreak of what Pankaj Mihra now characterises as being the Age of Anger.

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In the UK education systems, both state and privately funded, at all levels from nursery/pre-school to higher education, promote and privilege fixed political positions along with subject knowledge and restricted curricula at national level; for example the English National Curriculum and Citizenship tests. At an international level, through Aid NGO’s affiliated to religious and political groups, as well as education initiatives funded by corporate interests promoting, for instance, the OECD assessments of educational success embodied in the PISA tests, corporate and supra-national interests generate new orthodoxies, in relation to curricula, that privilege content and pedagogy over learner needs. 

This increasing educational exclusion parallels and reinforces the expulsions of income inequality, displacement and incarceration of populations, biological expulsions (Sassen) such as; destruction of tropical forests, the taking over of land and community water rights by corporate interests along with the financial displacement of the poorest in society. In the UK we have witnessed the holding down of wages for the majority of workers since 2008 and severe reduction in funding for education, health and welfare since 2010.

Today the needs of learners (and service users) are seen as entirely secondary to financial and political priorities of Government and Financial bodies, such as central banks so, as a result, education is funded and supported to the extent it meets the priorities of the governing parties and their populist, anti-expert agendas. These go hand in hand with the increasing imposition of educational audit cultures, epitomised by OFSTED in England and OECD internationally with, in many countries, the hollowing out of the curriculum to promote the limited range of skills and knowledge currently required by employers to meet their requirements for labour.

Having reached a point in early 2017, where Brexit and the election of Donald Trump indicate the rise in influence of political views that characterise the “Age of Anger”, we are concerned to identify what learning is needed to overcome the climatic, ecological, political and economic damage, already demonstrated by Sassen,  Wolfgang Streeck and many others. We will be making use of our own work and analysis to help identify what educational practices and interventions might best foster learning as opposed to the limiting purposes of much current education funded by corporate interests and neo-conservative governments, often working hand in hand, in the UK and US,  with compliant interests such as conservative think tanks and senior managers within our heavily audited education systems. 

Learning in the Age of Anger (overview)

Learning in the Age of Anger intends to examine how we might better learn about ourselves and the world post-2016.

Arguably populism is the expression of our rage at being ignored by the new, selfish and greedy economic hierarchies that currently “rule” and define the socio-economic opportunities we are presented with. Instead of being angry with each other (“my life is rubbish; and it’s your fault!!”) we want to consider how we might better understand this emerging new, and evolving, world, and how might we deal with it.

We were inspired by Pankaj Mishra’s the Age of Anger (discussed here) which delineates, with great understanding, some of the forces shaping the world today. We want to review how we might better learn about this world and find new and more inclusive and socially just responses to this.

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Buy Age of Anger here

This blog is administered by Fred Garnett and Nigel Ecclesfield but we welcome guest bloggers.

Mishra 2017 p ix

“The pages that follow try to make sense of bewildering and often painful, experiences by re-examining a divided modern world, this time from the perspective of those who came late to it, and felt, as many people do now, left, or pushed behind.”

Mishra 2017 p ix

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