What’s in your schema for SEN? By Jarlath O’Brien

I’m currently enjoying ‘Mindware’ by the American psychologist Richard Nisbett and it’s making me think very hard about thinking, inference and reasoning amongst other things.

Early on in the book there’s an arresting section on the schema concept. Nisbett describes the term schema as referring ‘to cognitive frameworks, templates or rule systems that we apply to the world to make sense of it’. We have them for all sorts of things: “basketball” (indoors, five-a-side, holding the ball in your hands) and “football” (outdoors, eleven-a-side, kicking the ball with your foot), for example, or “packed lunch” (sandwiches, fruit, crisps) and “school dinners” (hot meal, meat, vegetables).

Object schemas are used routinely in many special schools to help students with significant learning difficulties understand and prepare for what is coming next. A pair of goggles might signify that swimming is coming up, or a piece of Numicon will be used to indicate that the next session will be maths. You can see how object schemas are used to positively influence the behaviour of children for whom a regular timetable or verbal instruction in isolation is inaccessible. The child is more likely to understand what is happening next and is therefore more likely to be settled and comfortable as opposed to anxious and worried.

Schemas affect our judgement and how we behave and help us to select the appropriate behaviours for different locations and events such as visits to the dentist, job interviews or queuing in the supermarket.

Nisbett explains this influence is also true of our use of stereotypes – schemas about particular types of people and this set me thinking about learning difficulties and the people who have learning difficulties. Schemas are clearly working away in the subconscious, amongst a lot of other things as I am learning from Nisbett, and have developed and evolved throughout the courses of our lives.

What schemas do you have for the following words?


Down syndrome


Pupil premium


Bottom set


Are the schemas that we have for these words negative in nature? Do they subconsciously suggest lower expectations for any children we teach who happen to be described using some of these terms? I’ll give you a word that’s specific to me.


I’m forced to admit that this word immediately brings forth some negative thoughts and words. I wish it weren’t so, but they’re there. I have to consciously put them away and refocus. The word does this because I worked with a number of children from the Fitzgerald family* when I first became a teacher in a comprehensive who all had some behavioural difficulties. Getting my class lists one late July for the next year, my eyes rested on another Fitzgerald. Within a fraction of a second I had judged this child without ever meeting them. Later on I was to learn a salutary lesson as it turned out that this particular Fitzgerald did not experience any behavioural difficulties, nor were they actually a member of that family at all (although that should have been irrelevant). I learnt the lesson, but my subconscious still drags up thoughts that, unchallenged, would unacceptably see me prejudge a child before meeting them.

Nisbett describes an experiment carried out by psychologists at Princeton University[1] in which students made stereotypical judgements about a child based on their judgement of her social class. The experiment contended that “[p]eople will expect and demand less of [working-class Hannah], and they will perceive her performance as being worse than if she were upper middle class”.

Reading that chapter a number of times and thinking deeply and honestly about the subconscious schemas that are operating in my head I am concerned that the adverse judgements made by the students in the Princeton study are more than likely to be replicated or, I fear, magnified, by society when they hear or see the words


Down syndrome


Pupil premium


Bottom set


I fear this because I have seen first-hand how society in general (there I go with the broadest stereotype imaginable) has low expectations of people with Down syndrome. I see very little expectation that children with Down syndrome will go on to paid work or live independently. Why?

I am going to challenge you to confront your schemas and your stereotypes. Be brutally honest with yourself and dig deep to uncover what your subconscious mind is saying to you about those words in bold above and about the people you work with now, or have in the past, who have been described by those labels or others like them. It’s going to take some serious effort (I haven’t taught a Fitzgerald for eleven years) before each of us individually, and then society more broadly, replaces deficit schemas with ambitious schemas.

Jarlath O’Brien is Headteacher of Carwarden House Community School. His book ‘Don’t Send Him in Tomorrow’ is published by Independent Thinking Press.


* Fitzgerald is a pseudonym

[1] Darley and Gross, “A Hypothesis-Confirming Bias in Labelling Effects”

‘Why challenging high performers is important and what we can do’ By Deborah Eyre

Providing challenge for top performers in the classroom is one of the most difficult and long standing problems in British education. Whilst some schools do really well, they remain the minority.

When it comes to gifted/more able your school is likely to be in one of the following categories:

  • Don’t believe in it and hence make no special provision as a result
  • Have a cohort of students identified as gifted or more able – or a similar term – and offer them special opportunities
  • Systematically and purposefully make advanced learning opportunities available in class and in enrichment, and offer them regularly to all or most students.

Generally most schools in England are in the first or second categories, whilst most of the top performing countries in the OECD league tables are in the third. Interesting!

We know that it is important to society, to the economy and to the individual that we challenge those who find learning easy rather than allow them to underachieve, and mark time whilst others catch up. Yet – we don’t do it because (a) we don’t think it is a priority or (b) we don’t really know how to. Systematically reviewing the literature in 2009[1] it became clear that these are universal problems and found in many countries.

So if we want to do better we have to change how we approach this.

Traditionally, work on the more able/gifted has involved identifying a cohort and making special provision for it, but the research shows this is increasingly problematic.

  • Definitions of giftedness have fragmented over time and vary widely, so when you try to identify students to create a cohort it’s hard to know what you are identifying and hence no reliable identification methods have emerged.
  • Those who are identified are given access to special opportunities and generally benefit. Those who are not in the identified cohort do equally well if given the same opportunities. So why are they not getting them?
  • Gifted cohorts across the world have been found to be biased in favour of the affluent middle class. No matter how hard people try this remains the case. Just like in England.

So if opportunities are the important factor, then creating them is the priority. What do good advanced learning opportunities look like? How can we make them widely available? Key players in this field alongside my own writings are Jo Renzulli, Bruce Shore, Joyce Van Tassel Baska and Albert Zeigler. Look out for their work.

Many teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy yet this is over 50 years old. Fresh approaches have bettered and superseded it. My new organisation High Performance Learning[2] (www.highperformancelearning.co.uk) makes use of these. It focuses on advanced learning and systematically building intelligence using 30 research derived competencies that all successful people demonstrate. These relate to developing cognition and also developing the values, attitudes and attributes that top performers need.

If your school wants to do better, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are we confident about what advanced learning looks like?
  • Do we offer it in our school?
  • How regularly and to whom?
  • Could we improve the frequency with which we offer this or even make it part of our DNA?

Recently Sir Michael Wishaw painted a familiar picture of underachievement for the most able in secondary schools – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is getting bullish in his final months as HMCI – suggesting sanctions be applied to schools that consistently fail their brightest children.

Maybe now is the time to focus more directly on advanced learning in your classroom and your school and stop leaving the creation of advanced performers to chance.

Professor Deborah Eyre is Founder, High Performance Learning, and a NET Leading Thinker

[1] Eyre, D. (Ed.) (2009) Major Themes in Gifted Education (4 Volumes). Routledge: London

[2] Eyre, D. (2016) High Performance Learning: How To Become A World Class School. Routledge: London

THE COLLEGE OF TEACHING: a defining moment for the teaching profession? By Derek Bell

On the afternoon of the 25th May I watched as HRH Prince Philip took the original 1846 Royal Charter setting up the College of Preceptors (with its 1998 supplement) from The President of The College of Teachers and handed it to the first Chair of the Chartered College of Teaching.

You may consider this to be a trivial piece of ceremony of relatively little consequence. Yet in its own way it could be a defining moment in the history of the teaching profession in England and, perhaps, beyond. Four years ago the Education Select Committee recommended establishing “a new, member-driven College of Teaching, along the lines of the Royal Colleges and Chartered Institutions in other professions.”

Since then several groups of people, including many classroom teachers and heads, have worked extremely hard in order to lay the foundations for such a body – the completion of which was formally and publically acknowledged in that moment. Although there are still some technicalities to be completed, this was the point at which the new Chartered College of Teaching emerged as a body in its own right.

Whilst no one, least of all the new board of Trustees, underestimates the challenges ahead, that moment of transfer also acted as a reminder of how deep rooted the foundations of the new Chartered College of Teaching actually are. Not only does the Royal Charter recognise 170 years of history it also embodies values and aspirations of, and for, the teaching profession which are still relevant today.

Although the language of the document may seem strange, key phrases refer to; promoting sound learning”, “advancing the interests of education” and “affording facilities to the Teacher for the acquiring of a sound knowledge of his [/her] Profession”. I would suggest that these fundamental ideas remain at the heart of the teaching profession today. Bearing in mind that in 1846 there was little or no provision for training teachers, the vision of those individuals who came together to found the College was crucial and in many ways underpinned the setting up of teacher education (both initial training and continuing professional development) which exists today.

There is much to thank the original College for but unfortunately over the years it has become overwhelmed by wider developments, not least the increasingly onerous involvement of Government in the day to day activities of teachers and their schools.

Thus that moment on 25th May 2016, is also a challenge and opportunity for teachers everywhere to reshape their profession so that it is fit for the 21st Century. The new Chartered College of Teaching, under its revised Royal Charter, has the potential to lead this development towards increasing and genuine professional autonomy for teaching and teachers.

It can’t be emphasised too strongly that this will take time but progress is being made. Visit http://www.claimyourcollege.org/the-colleges-history/ for a full account of developments so far.

Confirmation of seed-funding of £5 million, staged over 5 years, in the government white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, meant that it was possible for the Trustees to push ahead with a range of key activities including the appointment of the first Chief Executive which has just been advertised. They have also been working on details of membership and the activities the college will undertake over the next few years. Underpinning all college activities is the key principle that developments should be based on evidence and reflect the views of teachers.

Initiatives such as The Big Staff Meeting, held at the beginning of 2016 will continue to be used to inform the work of the college both nationally and regionally. In the autumn, the new Chartered College of Teaching website will replace the current http://www.claimyourcollege.org/ and events will be held including The Big Summit designed to provide a forum for mobilising knowledge and sharing evidence-based practice.

Perhaps more importantly this autumn will see the publication of a manifesto setting out plans for the new College in more detail. Currently (June 2016) details are under discussion but there are three major themes, among others, I would hope to see included in some form.

  • An emphasis on the real strengths of existing teachers and their practice, highlighting not just examples of excellent practice but the quality and commitment of the everyday practice demonstrated by the majority of teachers, headteachers and teaching assistants across the country. Gaining wider recognition for existing good practice would provide a sound basis on which to raise the status of the teaching profession.
  • The importance of building a genuine professional community which, over time, establishes its autonomy and independence becoming a leading body on matters of teaching and learning. In particular, it is important that this community is fully inclusive not only with regard to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or background, but also to the many individuals who may have left the classroom in order to make valuable contributions to teaching, learning and education in different capacities. Clearly the majority of members of the college will and should be classroom teachers but the new College needs to retain the support, goodwill and contributions of this wider group of individuals – it cannot have too many advocates.
  • The need for high quality professional education, both initial training and career long CPD. The mark of a profession is that it is self-improving both as a body and as individuals within that body. The new College must have things to say and do with regard to training and development, influencing (and ultimately controlling) aspects such as standards, content, duration and expectations. Initial training must be a requirement and there should be an entitlement to ongoing CPD.


To this needs to be added the responsibility of ensuring appropriate opportunities are available and that they are taken up. If used effectively the introduction of an integrated Chartered Teacher scheme will provide the necessary recognition for all teachers who are well trained, keep up to date and, as a true professional, continue to improve and share their practice throughout their career.

Setting up the new College will not of itself bring about a transformation of the teaching profession or education more widely. However, it can provide a vehicle which can over time bring about change. Ultimately in order to meet aspirations it requires the contributions and support of teachers where ever they work.

Change will not happen overnight but a start has been made.

Perhaps, at this early stage of the new College’s development, as teachers and others involved in education, we should (with apologies to John F Kennedy) be asking not what our College can do for me but asking what can I do for our College – and through it the quality of teaching and learning for all our young people.

Professor Derek Bell, having worked in schools and universities as a teacher and researcher, was formerly Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, and was Chief Executive of the Association for Science Education for seven years. He has carried out a wide range of consultancies in the UK and overseas and been a member of advisory/expert panels. He is Director of Learnus, a research associate at UCL Institute of Education and a NET Leading Thinker.

The Case for Arts in Children’s Lives by Kevin Jones

‘Art is a break for my mind. In all of the confusion of life I can find peace through it. I can experience my thoughts and feelings in a physical form.’

So says one of my twelve-year-olds. But the case for Art is not often made on her terms.

Instead, to persuade policy makers of the value of Art, we talk about money. The creative industries contribute £77bn, 5% of our economy, we cry. Or we paint a picture of children’s productivity. Learning arts subjects improves academic attainment. Children who study an arts subject get better grades. Or we argue for social mobility – students from low income families who take part in the arts are three times more likely to get a degree. Or we talk of democracy – arts students are 20% more likely to vote – or of community – arts students are twice as likely to volunteer.

All these arguments are strong and true.

But they have little to do with children.

We debate whether STEM (Science, Technology and Maths) is the key to our country’s future and we argue that STEM should include the Arts and become STEAM, that the future of our nation’s wealth depends on integrating creativity and technology.

Meanwhile, outside my office a small child twirls around while circling a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ I call to him. ‘I am orbiting,’ he calls back, as if it comes as natural as the leaves to the tree. And why should it not?

In the world of the child, science may well be a dance.

There is a wisdom in the dancing child who does not know that art and science are different – who uses them equally to express his creativity.

We can learn much from him and from all children.

I ask my nine-year-olds why Art is important and the word that comes back often is ‘freedom’: freedom to explore ideas and feelings, freedom to make their own marks.

It is important to have the chance to be creative as it gives you freedom of thought. In Art you can go in any direction you like.

When I’m drawing or painting I feel I can escape to the place that I am drawing.

And they cry ‘freedom’ now because the landscape of childhood has changed.

We are told that one third of children have never climbed a tree, a quarter have never rolled down a hill, a third have no idea how to build a den and almost half have never made a daisy chain. The NSPCC, in 1999, reported that 80% of parents wouldn’t let their child play unsupervised in the park. I guess that figure is even greater now. The distance children are allowed to stray from home is, apparently, 1/9th what it was in 1970. In 1971, the average seven-year-old was making trips to friends or to the shops on her own. By 1990 that freedom was being withheld until the age of ten; in just 19 years children lost three years of freedom. They will have lost more since.

More than ever, we need to create a space for our children to explore themselves and their world, a safe space to take risks and face challenges, a space for their imagination.

I love making sculpture as anything is possible and as you work it opens up ideas in your head

You can express yourself creatively and there is no one who can tell you that you are right or wrong because it’s just the way you see the world

Our children relish their power to make and shape and re-imagine their world. It is, after all, what children are for. But we have shrunk the horizons of childhood and made the most shut in generation of children ever. And shut into their homes and their bedrooms, they are often left free to roam through killing fields in video games or amble into brothels on the internet.

We are told that every two days the internet fills with as much new information as was created between the dawn of time and 2003. Children are bombarded with knowledge.

A nine year old tells me of his heartfelt worries about war, deforestation and global warming. I had no such fears as a child.

More than ever children need time to digest themselves and their world, to question and to challenge – to see things as they are and dream of how they should be.

One tenth of all the photos ever taken were taken last year and the internet bulges with them. Images flow at our children like never before.

Our children need more than ever to learn to read and interrogate the visual world in which they increasingly live, to find space to see feelingly, to see with wonder, to connect and reflect.

Almost half of all 14- and 15-year-olds say they are addicted to the internet. The epidemic rise of ADHD tells us of a world too full of sensory noise. In this noisy, busy, overloaded world, children need time to find rest, to find silence.

As my twelve-year-old says of Art:

In all of the confusion of life I can find peace through it. I can experience my thoughts and feelings in a physical form.

Look at my children at work on their ‘Monet: Inspiration from Nature’ project and you will see emotion recollected in tranquility, a tranquility our children need to find.

National Education Trust

‘Feelings’ is another word that comes back again and again when my nine-year-olds talk about Art.

I can let out my feelings in Art, particularly if I am feeling angry.

If I’m angry I go and find my sketch book and I draw or paint, often with dark colours and it calms me down. My mind focuses on what I am doing and I can block out any worries and then everything feels a bit better.

Mostly, they speak of big feelings, of feelings that threaten to get out of control, when the world of childhood threatens to become too much.

And the world of childhood does indeed threaten to become too much.

We are facing a rise of up to 30% a year in the numbers of children and young people seeking treatment for mental health problems. One in ten 5- to 16-year-olds now has a clinically diagnosed mental disorder. In just the last year, the number of 10- to 14-year-olds treated by the NHS for self-harm rose by 30%. It as though a tsunami of anxiety is flooding the shores of childhood.

In an education that defines who we are by what grades we get, children now feel under more pressure to perform than ever before. They are more anxious about anticipated or perceived failures. They develop very critical inner voices. Assaulted by images of perfection, false wants and fashions, snapchatting their way through virtual relationships with friends known and not so known, or glued to their game boys, it is easy for children to lose touch with themselves, to become unsure of who they are and what they are meant to be, to be overwhelmed.

When the world of childhood threatens to overwhelm, the arts help children to discover and organise their feelings safely, to express them and have some mastery over them. When they paint their seascapes, they give shape and form to their big feelings rather than being inundated by them.

National Education Trust

In their own words, my children talk of Art as a form of containment, of connection, of healing.

Our children still arrive at school as they always did, trailing clouds of glorious creativity, curiosity and wonder and affection.

There will be time enough to talk of their contribution to the economy and productivity and progress. First let us learn from our children. Of the many voices calling for creativity to be at the heart of education, none is as powerful as the voice that comes full of thought and feeling from the beating heart of childhood, telling us what the Arts mean to our children’s lives. Let us listen to that voice and be led by the child orbiting the tree, turning his learning into a dance.

Kevin Jones is Head of St John’s College School, Cambridge and a NET Leading Thinker

Moral imperatives for our schooling system by Brian Lightman

Some 36 years ago I was advised against going into teaching by just about everyone. ‘Go into business’, ‘become an accountant’ etc. etc. Thank goodness my rebellious streak and anger that this fantastic vocation should be seen as inferior to other careers led to my decision to ignore that advice. I have never regretted it.

All these years later I have been reflecting about how our system has moved on. Are we, as the Secretary of State recently said in a speech to ASCL conference, in a ‘Golden Age’ for education? Or, as other commentators are saying, are we in the depths of a really significant crisis around recruitment, retention, funding, school places and a frenetic agenda for change? Have the many different initiatives and government led policies I have experienced made a difference? And is the dream of governments stepping back from constant intervention in support of a largely school led, self-improving system on the cusp of becoming a reality?

Today there are three deep seated issues which need to be addressed by everyone who shares the belief that a civilised society must aspire towards the highest quality education system for all young people.

  1. There needs to be public recognition that we have an education system to be proud of which has changed for the better beyond recognition. Too many commentators and policymakers who have little or no experience of the state system perpetuate images of chaotic institutions, riotous behaviour, rife bullying and many other ills. Too rarely do we see images of the orderly and well led institutions staffed by highly committed professionals. We need to break the myths that pervade our education system.
  1. Our profession needs to rebuild its confidence. It needs to be able to recruit the best people, nurture and support their continuous professional learning, and of course it needs to be properly resourced. That is not just about funding but about access to high-quality support services for the many vulnerable children whose problems go beyond anything schools can address alone.
  1. Sustainability must be built into our education system. Countless initiatives often focused on structural change and high stakes accountability have not been given time to embed. Many of these initiatives had great potential but the five-year electoral cycle meant that they sank into oblivion upon the change of a government or ministerial team. If policymakers continue to eschew the need for stability, courageous school leaders need to capture those things that work and confidently build on that success.

We all know that the key to further improvement is situated in our schools. Here therefore are 10 questions for schools to consider as they continue their improvement journey.

  1. Do all members of the school community share, walk and talk a clearly articulated educational vision of the whole school community?
  2. Do curriculum planning and staff allocations reflect that vision and encompass the totality of experiences to which young people have access, and not just what they learn in the classroom?
  3. Does the school have a culture which embeds the celebration of success into all aspects of its operation, but equally recognises that failure is an important part of learning for everyone and that an ambitious, aspirational culture needs to take risks which will not always lead to successes?
  4. Is the culture of the school reflective, analytical, self-critical and informed by first hand evidence and research as opposed to a reaction to the latest accountability measure or ministerial whim?
  5. Is professional learning embedded in the culture of the school with a clearly defined ‘curriculum’ for all staff at all levels within the organisation?
  6. Has the school set out a clear recruitment, retention and succession planning strategy which demonstrates to potential applicants and serving staff that this is a great place to work which will help them to be better teachers/school leaders?
  7. Does the school’s planning cycle recognise that quick fixes do not lead to sustainable change, and do senior staff robustly challenge those who argue that they do?
  8. What steps are being taken to ensure that teaching staff have high levels of expertise in assessment?
  9. What systems are in place to ensure that the staff are suitably empowered to make effective use of data to impact on standards by understanding the questions this information asks, its power and its limitations?
  10. What steps is the school taking to prepare young people for their future careers by encountering employers, FEIs and HEIs and understanding that university is one of many options?

Brian recently stepped down from his role as General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. He is working to help schools rise to this rapidly changing world of opportunities through his consultancy www.lightmanconsulting.co.uk  

Educational research is about more than ‘what works’ by Geoff Whitty

My new book, Research and Policy in Education: Evidence, ideology and impact (UCL IOE Press, 2016), reflects on my struggles to make sense of the relationship between research and policy in education in the fifteen years since I took up my post as Director of the Institute of Education in September 2000.

The opening chapter is a critique of the limitations of the fashionable rhetoric of ‘evidence-based policy’ and of the ‘what works’ and ‘impact’ agendas of recent governments. The next chapter explores the reality of education policy making in the context of the reform of teacher training in England under the Coalition government, where policy seems to have been driven largely by New Right ideology rather than evidence on the effectiveness of provision.

Another chapter shows how the use of evidence in international policy borrowing falls far short of the protocols expected in academic research. It suggests that ‘what works’ too often marginalises questions about what works where and for whom, and can mask a predilection for reforms that are ideologically consistent with a wider political agenda associated with what Pasi Sahlberg has termed GERM – the Global Educational Reform Movement.

But even in areas of considerable political consensus, like closing the social class achievement gap and widening participation in higher education in England, which are discussed in two further chapters, the evidence does not simply speak for itself. Nor does it seem conducive to ‘quick fix’ solutions. We need to understand why ‘magic bullet’ policies, while seductive, so often fail to fulfil their initial promise.

So, while working on the book, I found myself increasingly drawn back to my roots as a sociologist. Even though such work is not necessarily undertaken with a view to policy impact, I found sociological theories of social and cultural reproduction, for example, really helpful in understanding why some of the policies I was discussing didn’t have the impact that their advocates predicted. This reinforced my view that we need to be clearer about what schools and universities can and cannot do – or at least cannot do on their own.

This also means that education policy should not be studied in isolation, and I cite with approval the words of Sir Fred Clarke, one of my most eminent predecessors as Director of the Institute, who said seventy years ago that ‘educational theory and educational policy that take no account of [sociological insights] will be not only blind but positively harmful’. Thirty years later, in 1974, John Nisbet, the first President of the British Educational Research Association, somewhat prematurely claimed that we had moved away from a naive ‘problem-solving’ model of educational research. He advocated nurturing a variety of approaches and perspectives in educational research; his plea for a broader based conception of educational research is even more relevant today when it is sometimes implied that randomised control trials are the only form of research worth doing.

I conclude the book by suggesting that, while there is certainly a place for instrumental research, not all educational research can be about providing solutions to problems in policy and practice in any simple sense. It will often entail elucidating and examining the nature of problems for a wider public constituency and even putting evidence of ‘what doesn’t work’ – and why – into the public domain to provide a form of ‘inoculation’ against ‘policy epidemics’ like GERM.

We need to be challenging simplistic narratives, helping to change the terms of the debate, increasing informed resistance to superficial but seemingly attractive policies – and most of all generating demand for policies that will better serve the needs of all our children.

Geoff Whitty was Director of the Institute of Education, University of London, from 2000 until 2010. He is now Director Emeritus of the UCL Institute of Education, as well as holding a Research Professorship at Bath Spa University and a Global Innovation Chair at the University of Newcastle, Australia.

‘Respect’ can be addictive by Dr Nick Tate

Take a random glance at school mission and values statements and you will find the following words cropping up again and again: ‘respect’, ‘tolerance, ‘non-judgmentalism’. ‘Respect’ and ‘tolerance’ are the most common, especially since DfE’s 2014 SMSC guidance identified them as ‘British values’ to be promoted. But it is far from clear what these words mean and whether the way we are currently interpreting them is in pupils’ interests or those of society.

‘Respect’ and ‘tolerance’ are often linked together as if they were the same thing. They are not. Traditionally ‘tolerance’ meant accepting the right of others to opinions and behaviours of which one did not approve. It has been a cornerstone of liberal democracy. But until recently it has never meant ‘respecting’ or refusing to pass judgment on opinions and behaviours of which one disapproved, let alone feeling obliged to ‘celebrate’ them.

If one elides ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’, and sends out the message that one should ‘respect’ and ‘celebrate’ opinions and behaviours of which one disapproves, instead of judging them, negative consequences are liable to ensue.

First, one is telling pupils what to think in areas where they should be exercising their own judgment. Faced with views and behaviours on which they have opinions, pupils are discouraged from formulating and exploring these in case another person or group might feel they are not being ‘respected or ‘celebrated’. This is both illiberal and limits opportunities for developing judgment and ‘discrimination’ (the making of distinctions), which is a key objective of education.

Second, it sends the message that other people’s opinions are not to be taken seriously. Just accepting them uncritically, in the name of ‘respect’ and ‘non-judgmentalism’, is failing to engage with them.

Third, it is sentimentalism to use language which encourages blanket ‘respect’ and ‘celebration’ in relation to individuals and groups. Pupils’ moral, emotional and intellectual development occurs in situations of challenge, not when they are immersed in a syrup of universal respect. It is also dangerous to brush under the carpet the fact that people disagree fundamentally about the kind of society they would like to live in. On many issues we neither ‘respect’ nor wish to ‘celebrate’ other people’s opinions and it is better to deal with this, in age-appropriate ways, frankly and without pretence.

Fourth, excessive attention to unqualified ‘respect’ and the celebration of identities can become an addiction, as the sociologist Frank Furedi has pointed out. It encourages a feeble view of the self. It may help to explain the worrying developments in universities we are currently seeing, both in the UK and the USA, where students, used to being cossetted and flattered in school, are refusing to read upsetting books, banning speakers who might ‘offend’ them, and demanding the creation of ‘safe spaces’. Where unqualified ‘respect’ extends to whole groups and cultures, it can also undermine personal autonomy. Pupils are individuals, not representatives of groups from which in some cases they may even wish to escape.

This is not to suggest that we abandon ‘respect’. Pupils need to learn to ‘respect’ other people’s rights. They need to argue their own case using ‘respectful’ language. They need to listen ‘respectfully’ to what everyone else has to say, even when they disagree. How one manages these kinds of discussions will of course vary hugely from one age group to another, and from school to school.

Above all, however, we need to get back to the idea of ‘tolerance’, with its ‘respect’ for the right to differ (even on things like ‘British values’), its connotation of open debate, and its robust and positive assumptions about human nature.

Dr Nick Tate is the author of What is Education For? (2015) and a NET Leading Thinker.