an occasional page of opinion and thoughts...some serious...some less so...

guff [gʌf] n

Slang ridiculous or insolent talk

[imitative of empty talk; compare dialect Norwegian gufs puff of wind]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003 

Can co-design deliver in an age of apathy and individualism?

Paul Gutherson 

27th June 2013

Today I received an email from Church Action On Poverty thanking me because I had sent an email to my MP demanding action on food poverty. I am not sharing this so that you think what a good chap that Paul fella is. 

No, the reason I share this is because the email went on to say 1342 people had emailed their MPs. 1342! Only 1342! I can’t really believe that so few people were outraged/ concerned/ slightly miffed that they could be bothered to email their parliamentary representative – their voice. 

I am really struggling with this not simply because this campaign is being led by 2 organisations (Oxfam and Church Action On Poverty) that between them must have a joint membership in the millions yet could only get 1342 people to email their MP (of which I am one but am not a member of either group!).

My real worry about this revolves around the current drive towards collaborative, co-designed services that are based on local action and empowered citizens developing a strong social economy to protect and provide services for our communities. Let me be clear here – I think this is absolutely the right way to go – but how can it work if, after they had read Walking the Breadline, only 1342 people across the whole country were so moved to fight to protect those who the welfare system is failing. What does this mean for local services – who is going to fight? Who is going to be the citizen voice, the service user voice, the advocate in the co-designed social economy? 

Can we overcome the apathy and culture of individualism?

What skills do we value?

Paul Gutherson

29th June 2012

The coalition government has reviewed the school curriculum and introduced many other reforms to the education system but without seemingly addressing the underlying issue of the purposes of our education system. 

Once again there are embattled cries from employer organisations that the education system does not provide them with the types of workers that they need. Through its free schools programme the coalition government is enabling private organisations, charities and parent groups to set up schools that will have “freedom from following the National Curriculum“. 

But if some schools are to be free from teaching the National Curriculum what will they teach and what outcomes will these schools value? Will they revert to a traditional ‘Grammar’ school curriculum or will they innovate and develop curricula such as the RSAs Opening Minds or the Studio Schools Trust?

To my mind the questions we need to ask ourselves are...

what knowledge, skills and attributes will these schools foster in young people? 

Are they what we need as a society to move forward in the 21st Century? 

And importantly are they the outcomes our children and young people need to lead fulfilling lives?

In asking these questions of myself I am reminded of a paper that I wrote ten years ago that had a dual purpose. Firstly, it attempted to highlight the need to consider what skills a University education should develop and secondly it aimed to point out that employers and educators have been engaged in this ‘battle’ over skills and the purpose of education for an extremely long time. 

Ultimately much of the debate comes down to what we, as a society, believe to be useful outcomes of education. I am not sure that currently we know, but I do sense that Sir Ken Robinson is close to the truth when he says the problem with education reform is that governments are ‘trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past’.

The paper was never published but perhaps now is the time. It is the transcript of a focus group that met at Staffordshire University, School of Art and Design, in May 1999 and is presented in its raw dialogic form in an attempt to maintain the vitality of the discussions that took place. It draws on the views of a diverse group of people, from different parts of the world. You can download it here. 

The appropriate use of tools and tests can help support the next generation of teachers.

Paul Gutherson, 22 June 2012

The Telegraph (June 8th) reported a number of changes to teacher training admissions procedures including: banning students with poor degrees from accessing training grants, introducing generous incentives for those with first-class honours and the use of an extensive questionnaire “designed to ensure new staff are equipped with the organisational skills to plan lessons properly and the “emotional resilience” to cope with pressure and badly-behaved children.” 

According to the DfE website someone applies for a place on a postgraduate teacher training course every 8.5 minutes. We need to ensure public money is spent wisely and that the right people are in our classrooms teaching the next generation of young people. It is morally right that teacher training providers do all that they can to ensure that they firstly select those people who are most likely to become effective teachers and that secondly, after they have selected them, they are able to support their development and address areas of individual weakness.

In this respect it is right that the Teaching Agency should look at other tools that can assist admissions staff make the crucial decisions as to who to award a place to...but such tests should not be used to ‘weed out’ candidates deemed as unsuitable, they should be used to enable effective personalised support to trainees. Yes, schools need high quality enthusiastic staff but they also need a variety of people and personality types.

Research carried out by Paul Gutherson and colleagues, with funding from CfBT Education Trust six years ago* recommended using the Teacher Sense of Efficacy Scale and other tools measuring such things as trainee teachers’ confidence to manage behaviour and their reasons for wanting to become a teacher. Specifically, the research examined relationships between trainees’ reasons for wanting to become a teacher, their prior experiences, and their values and characteristics with their preparedness and confidence to undertake behaviour management and pastoral practice. We wanted to know this because we wanted to understand trainees’ perceptions of what it means to be a teacher. Analysis of their reasons for wanting to teach, we reasoned, might give an indication of their competence and confidence to deliver pastoral practice and to a lesser extent behaviour management. As Phil Revell pointed out in ‘The Professionals: better teachers, better schools’ (2005) "if people come into the job expecting to simply pass on their subject they may find the wider role of the teacher difficult to cope with. How does a degree in History help a teacher relate to a child who hits classmates because his father hits him?"

Our research found that trainees who wanted to become a teacher because of their own ‘love of subject’ or because they wanted ‘to pass on subject knowledge’ were more anxious and felt less prepared to handle behaviour management and pastoral practice. Clearly this does not mean that people with a passion for their subject should not become teachers it simply means that Initial Teacher Training providers need to understand how to best support trainee teachers...questionnaires and tools that provide insight into personalities, life experiences and culturally structured beliefs can only help providers to do so...and in turn lead to schools populated by teachers who are confident in their abilities to both pass on subject knowledge and also support young people in a much wider sense.

*“Behaviour management and pastoral skills training for Initial Teacher Trainees: Initial findings on trainees’ confidence and anxiety levels” an article based on the research referred to in this blogpost can be found at