Education Quackery

Ben Goldacre has once again highlighted the nonsense which is Brain Gym having previously written about it in his Bad Science Blog. Further comment from me is superfluous but it brought to mind the frightening amount of nonsense I had been exposed to in a teaching career spanning thirty nine years. A quick dredge through my (not always reliable) memory produced the following list.

1. Programmed Learning.
2. Teaching Machines.
3. TVEI.
4. Assessment for Learning.
5. ICT.
6. Accelerated Learning.
7. VAK (learning styles).
8. NLP (neurolinguistic programming).
9. Thinking Skills.
10.Multiple Intelligence
11. Emotional Intelligence.
12. Student Mentoring.

David Colquhoun has compiled a similar list
I have chosen those initiatives which were intended to have their greatest impact on classroom practice rather than those which affected the structure and organisation of the education system.
What they have in common is the lack of an evidence-base and a requirement for substantial financial outlay, both of which are characteristic of quackery. Why do teachers, generally intelligent, well-educated individuals fall for such nonsense? My thoughts are these.

Teaching is a tough job. Pressures from parents, senior management, Local Authorities, OFSTED and Government can produce a distorted mindset obsessed with achieving unrealistic targets by whatever means available. Some teachers search for the educational equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone, guaranteed to turn base materials into educational gold. All they need is the right text-book, resource, technique, or software and the transmutation would be guaranteed. Usually this doesn’t happen. There might be a short-lived placebo effect but the sought-after result remains as elusive as ever. Only slightly daunted, the would be educational alchemist moves on to the next dose of expensive woo.

There are better, cheaper and more reliable alternatives. The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring has a history of working with teachers and schools to make practice evidence based. They have worked with The Sutton Trust to encourage teachers to evaluate initiatives and make informed choices about the allocation of resources.


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