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Online progs vs trads debate ‘too polarised’, warns Ofsted research chief

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Debate over pedagogy has become “too polarised” and fighting between traditionalists and progressives on social media “quite unhelpful”, Ofsted’s research chief has said.

Professor Daniel Muijs told Schools Week the “trads-vs-progs” debate had become a “simplification of the evidence around teaching, around pedagogy, to say that it is one or the other”.

“In general teachers need a repertoire of strategies . . . depending on where they are in the progression of teaching a particular topic in the curriculum.

“They may need a more expository method, more direct instruction to start with and, once kids have gained more expertise in an area, they might need to move on to a more inquiry-based approach. I think the polarisation can slightly misrepresent what you actually find.”

Muijs also warned debate in this area had become a situation “where people don’t actually listen to each other”.

“Those kinds of debates often go on for many days, but nobody’s mind is ever changed. You can sometimes question, what is the point of that?

“People are also more entrenched in their positions. The style of debate on social media with 280 characters, it’s hard to put a lot of subtlety in your arguments. Sometimes it exacerbates the style of debate.”



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  1. Michael Pye

    This is the compromise fallacy. Split the difference and call it truth. Of course entranced positions and argument isn’t helpful but telling everyone to just stop isn’t any better (and won’t work). Conflict exists for a reason and those causes need addressing.

    As someone who would be identified as a traditionalist I find the dismissal of the debate frustrating (and that is not my preferred term, explicit, evidenced based teaching would be, see how that term changes our perception). After training I spent years on progressive teaching methods struggling to make them work before finally reading the research myself and discovering I had been severely mislead.

    Once you realise that subject knowledge, well planned explicit teaching steps alternated with practice, lots of exemplars and modelling, and finally how the role is primarily a performance role (all teachers need to have excellent delivery but only a few need to be expert curriculum, diagnostic, assessment designers) then you are free to really focus in, and master, the job. This simple model of teaching is well supported by the research and unlike more ideological approaches is easy to learn and scale without a ridiculous workload.. I would be a much better teacher if I had been taught this from the start.

    Now I can see why people might disagree with me but the debate is important and as I said above if OFSTEAD want to cool this debate down they need to be more assertive in managing it (just like we would manage the behavior in class). P.s while most won’t change their mind the general shift by OFSTEAD, and the fact that there is now so many people advocating more explicit teaching, shows that this debate has had consequences.