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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


IOE at 120: how philosophy of education addressed ideas and values at the heart of the debate – 1962-1972

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 28 July 2022

A 'child-centred' primary classroom from the 1960s

Progressive educational ideas and practice were highly influential : ‘child-centred’ primary classroom in the 1960s

This blog is the seventh in a series of 12 exploring each decade in IOE’s history in the context of the education and society of the times. Find out more about our 120th anniversary celebrations on our website, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to keep up with everything that’s happening. 

Judith Suissa.

John Dewey argued that philosophy could be understood as “the general theory of education”, and philosophy has always played a central role in teaching and research at IOE. Indeed, IOE is regarded as one of the leading centres for Philosophy of Education in the world.

The decade from 1962-1971 is often regarded as the heyday of British philosophy of education, when what came to be known as ‘the London school’ was crystalised at IOE. This was a period when teacher training courses included lectures and seminars in the ‘foundation disciplines’ of (more…)

The phrase ‘online learning’ is alluring and misleading: the site of learning is the mind

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 14 May 2020

Farid Panjwani


A plethora of packages, platforms and information sources have flooded the Internet to help locked-down children learn from home and advise parents on how to help them. There is no going back on this trend.


With screens increasingly competing with face to face learning (and currently taking over from it), we can be sure that in the coming years students will be exposed to even larger swaths of information. Is this a good thing? Not necessarily. Without knowing how to swim, jumping into a bigger pool of water may bring more harm than good.  Unless we recognise that learning requires much more than the provision of hardware and software, resources and technical know-how, we are in the danger of confusing ‘process and substance’, as was noted by Ivan Illich. In this sense, the phrase ‘online learning’ is alluring but misleading. The site of learning is the mind. 

The freer pathway between students and information will mean that the triad of teacher-student-content will become heavily loaded on the axis of student and content. This will significantly transform relationships between teachers and students. The idea of teacher as (more…)

Back to teacher development’s big questions: what is education for?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 4 August 2017

John White. 
The idea of a National Education Service (NES) is gaining speed. It’s described as “a scheme to join up the disparate elements of education, providing free lifelong learning from nurseries through schools to universities and adult education”. This blog is about a small but important part of what it might be.
As well as mastering the details of their craft, teachers have always needed some understanding of what it is and what its aims are. Trainee bricklayers need plenty of experience of specifics, too, but the purposes of laying bricks are reasonably obvious to all. Teaching is different.
From 1839 to about 1989 teacher training in England provided this wider picture. The religious vision that dominated the first half of this period gave way to a scientific one (more…)

How philosophy and theatre can help us value profoundly disabled people

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 17 April 2014

John Vorhaus
A series of philosophical questions arise from reflection on profound disability and dependency, with implications not only for profoundly disabled people, but for all of us at some stage in our lives. A few thoughts about our moral status will illustrate the point, with  help from the world of theatre.
What does our moral status depend upon?  A common response is the capacity for autonomy and rationality. But not all human beings have much of either. What about the importance of human relations and relationships? But where would that leave the lonely or unloved? Belonging to the same species? For some this is just a matter of biological taxonomy, yet for others it is of the upmost moral significance, a reminder that we are all ‘fellow creatures’.
Philosophers think about these features of humanity in strikingly different ways. Some explore the meaning of a human life and the language we employ to understand it. Others emphasise empirical enquiry, looking especially in the direction of the neuro- and cognitive sciences. People with profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities (PMLD) present a challenge. What exactly is their moral status? They lack what many see as the hallmark of moral agency – a capacity for rational autonomy.
When thinking about these questions it can help to get one’s head out of a book and spend time with parents, carers, teachers, interpreters, therapists – and theatre directors. Tim Webb first set up Oily Cart over thirty years ago, producing “all sorts of theatre for all sorts of kids”. His company offers interactive, multisensory theatre to profoundly disabled children, and what it provides is not only ‘theatre’ as you or I might understand this, but an experience of smelling, hearing, touching, and feeling a rush of fanned air against your face. It’s a world in which, as Lyn Gardner of The Guardian described one performance, “soundscape, sensory diversions, colour and water come together in a liquid world of enchantment”.
The work of Oily Cart – what they bestow on the children, and what they succeed in bringing out of them – whether a smile, stilled attentiveness, or chuckling pleasure – is a wonderful thing to behold: magical, sensitive, clever, pretty, thoughtful, imaginative and –above all – a world which reaches inside the children, exciting their senses and imagination, and making an intimate connection with a group of human beings who number amongst the most dependent and hard to reach on earth.
Possibilities abound: how theatre might reveal what someone is capable of that might otherwise be thought impossible (adults watching on sometimes cannot believe their eyes); how the subtlest enticing of the senses might draw out and enliven a previously inert and ‘unreachable’ child.  And while these children may never participate in politics or anything like it, they might succeed in contributing to a theatrical event, becoming – if only momentarily – members of a group sharing in a common human endeavour.
These possibilities are open to ridicule as the product of sentimental wishful thinking. But the thoughts inspired by theatrical work of this kind are not to be dismissed out of hand. We are shown how a human being may surprise herself, and us, when brought alive by something captivating, becoming part of something beautiful that she will not see for herself, but which she is yet contributing to and representing. Thoughts of this nature, prompted by remarkable theatre, and a remarkable and exceptionally vulnerable group of human beings, are worth reflecting on when thinking about the contours of their moral status, and ours.
John Vorhaus’s forthcoming book, Giving voice to profound disability: dignity, dependence and human capabilities, will be published by Routledge next year.

Teachers in turmoil – how can new teachers square the circle of inclusion v targets?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 30 August 2012

Ruth Heilbronn
What professions are likely to be tempted into unethical behaviour? Bankers? Politicians? Journalists? What about teachers?
They are not the first group of professionals who spring to mind, yet teachers are frequently drawn into tensions over what is the right thing to do because of the conflict between their deeply-held sense of vocation and what they have to do in school.
My research, to be presented at the forthcoming BERA conference, reports on the difficulties student teachers experience because of the contradictory demands they face. In England for example, the statutory national curriculum takes a principled stand on the value of inclusion and states that “teachers should aim to give every pupil the opportunity to experience success in learning and to achieve as high a standard as possible”. However, the drive to achieve high league table ranking frequently militates against the principle of inclusion.
The ethical implications here are that pupils may be conceived primarily as a means to an end of higher test results and not “an end in themselves”. Conscientious teachers working in schools that require lessons “delivered” with highly specified “outcomes”, who are trying to cater for all their students, experience conflict when working with the technical demands of a test-dominated curriculum.
With schemes of work developed to tight time-frames, teachers often feel driven on to the next lesson, and this weighs against going where the moment leads and attending to those spontaneous and teachable moments that can arise, or returning to something unfinished, when more time could be fruitful. Prescriptive schemes of work with detailed, specified outcomes for lessons give limited opportunity to follow up pupils’ engaged curiosity and teacher judgement is often overridden by having to “move on” in order to manage the demand for pre-determined lesson outcomes.
Lack of time to engage with pupils’ concerns and questions as they arise in the normal flow can be a source of tension for teachers when they know that some pupils may be left behind in the rush to move ahead. The tensions teachers experience in situations dominated by an auditing paradigm cannot be easily removed, since they have their source in beliefs and values.
Significantly, research has shown that pupils hold similar views. They talk about good teachers as those who listen and help them, and not in technical terms relating to targets and results.
To prepare teachers to enter into school culture with their values of good teaching alive requires teacher educators to act ethically. This creates a double injunction: to prepare student teachers to enable their pupils to learn and achieve of course, but also to develop student teachers’ capacity to withstand the contradictions of school life and keep their vocational ideals alive.
The research is a theoretical discussion in philosophy of education informed with empirical research taken from student teachers’ reflective writing. See Teacher Education and the Development of Practical Judgement (Continuum) and Critical Practice in Teacher Education (IOE Press) for more information.