Category Archives: Research

…Best Use of Teaching Assistants with Cooperative Learning #4; III “Use TAs to help pupils develop independent learning skills…”

This series of articles explains how Cooperative Learning will make the seven recommendations in the EEF Making best use of TAs Guidance Report a lived reality in your school, simply and cost-efficiently. 

The seven recommendations are found in Section 5 of the report; This article discusses Recommendation III:

EEF Recommendation III header


The Guidance Report refers to EDTA research which has (unsurprisingly!) shown that improving the nature and quality of TAs’ talk to pupils can support the development of independent learning skills. TAs should, for example, “be trained to avoid prioritising task completion and instead concentrate on helping pupils develop ownership of tasks.” (p, 4).

The don’ts of TA interaction with pupils

The following figure is found on page 19 of the Report. In the following, we will demonstrate how Cooperative Learning will evade these pitfalls.

Rec III Figure 1 (Avoid...)


In a Cooperative Learning classroom, the pupils are the primary teaching resource and thus, as a baseline, TAs should only interfere with peer learning when strictly necessary, such as challenging off-task behaviour.

As a rule, the pupils are given freedom to work things out for themselves and request differentiated support from peers, which secures enough thinking and
response time while the limited access to pupils immediately solves the problems of TAs inadvertently prioritising task completion, high use of closed questions, ‘Stereoteaching,’ over-prompting and spoon-feeding before they arise.

(Note that it is the teacher’s responsibility to provide relevant language to facilitate these peer discussions, including relevant social skills and specific phrases, such as “Can you give me another example, please?”)

As for the use of closed questions, the tasks which form the content in any Cooperative Learning Interaction Pattern are clearly modelled by the teacher, who picks the questions which will best achieve his objectives. (For more on closed questions, please see Cooperative Learning; Closed Questions, Closed Achievement Gaps).

Because the TA is present (and indeed should take part in) this modelling, only relevant interventions will take place because he or she will know exactly which type of questions (open or closed) to ask, the intended scope of the discussion, as well as the interaction itself. Please see the article on Recommandation II for more on this.

The dos of TA interaction with pupils

Vice versa, Cooperative Learning also facilitates the polar opposites, found on the same page in the Report.

Rec III Figure 1 (Encourage...)

As with the teacher, unless allocated a specific group or single pupil for very specific reasons., the main objective for the TA during activities is to monitor and to intervene only when necessary. This ties straight in with providing the right amount of support at right time, giving the least amount of help first to support pupils’ ownership of the task, and pupils retaining responsibility for their learning.

As for open questions versus closed questions, these are selected only to support current objectives, we have discussed this above.

Finally, as for making pupils comfortable taking risks with their learning, because Cooperative Learning takes place within pairs all within (teacher-appointed) small, tightly knit teams, it thoroughly operationalises Mary Myatt’s doctrine of “high challenge, low threat.”


High challenge

Focusing on the second part of Myatt’s famous book title, on the EEF resource page, you will find a practical framework designed to help TAs scaffold pupils’ learning and encourage independent learning. TAs should move down the

TAs should move down the layers in turn, the lower layers corresponding to the lowest challenge. However, again, this procedure should really take place between peers across the class.

TA scaffolding framework

Just strike out “TA” on the text by the left-hand arrow, and replace it with “Peer.”


The initial expectation is that pupils self-scaffold whilst the TA observes their performance, which is exactly what happens anyway in a Cooperative Learning classroom. TAs should then intervene appropriately when pupils demonstrate they are unable to proceed. It is obviously “important the tasks set by teachers, and supported by TAs, provide pupils with the right level of challenge.”

Please view the original document here. Furthermore, on page 19, you will find a framework that TAs (and peers) can use for more effective questioning. Blow it up to a full-size poster, or put it on your interactive whiteboard.

Finally, for anyone in doubt about the validity of the relation of Cooperative Learning to the EEF Guidance, this is a quote from page 18. (For those who have done training with me, you will know how the formative assessment is a given).


Rec III Quote


In the next post on Recommendation IV, we will discuss how you avoid spending your valuable lesson preparation time ensuring TAs have the essential ‘need to knows’, such as the concepts, facts, information being taught.


EEF Recommendation IV header.PNG


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Filed under Cooperative Learning, Leadership advice, Research, Teaching Assistants

Feedback strategies & Cooperative Learning

This brief article explores how Cooperative Learning seamlessly integrates Feedback, making it possible to reach a total of 8 months progress per pupil per year with an investment of as little as £5 in one-off costs.

(This article is a natural follow-up to EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit; a Cooperative Learning gloss, and of special interest to attendees of Charlie Hebdo in Luton and last week’s MTA event at Berrymede Junior School in London).

From the Sutton Trust/EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit definition:

Feedback is information given to the learner or teacher about the learner’s performance relative to specific learning goals or outcomes, to redirect or refocus either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.

Information given to the learner

Feedback can “be about the output of the activity, the process of the activity, or the student’s management of their learning.” These three correspond roughly to 1. evaluation of a product, 2.  formative assessment and even 3. self-regulation (which is a separate strategy from the Toolkit) respectively, all of which are ideally suited to Cooperative Learning activities.

First of all, because of the reflection and negotiation required by these three is built into any social activity, feedback is implicit. The teacher has only to adjust the volume or focus by dropping in questions.

Assume in the Charlie Hebdo lesson plan (see below), we have reached the stage where our students present their core arguments to partners, before a Live Opponent.  Repeat that step a couple of times, but give the ancillary task: “Before switching to a new partner, tell each other how to improve your next presentation.” Then drive sub-objectives by giving detail: “Remember how we discussed pausing at commas and full stops when reading out? Same thing here. You do not want to rush through.” or “Is there a way to make the language more concise.” etc.

Remember that having the recipient writing down the feedback, and having the advisor sign it, again ensures accountability for both parties.

Secondly, because of the tightly controlled organizing of peers and teams means the teacher is able to control the who gives feedback to whom – negating the usual perils of less organised group work. This is especially important if you want to leverage Higher with Lower Ability Pupils. I hope to write more on that in a later post. In the interim, you will find some details on equal participation here.

Information given to the teacher 

As for feedback to the teacher, there is obviously the information automatically culled on the learning process, implicit in all proper Cooperative Learning. Here, first port of call is again unobtrusive monitoring. Added to this is the activities staged with feedback as the specific product.

As an example, I refer to the newsletter eCL#3: Charlie’s Angels or Sympathy for the Devils… RE Lesson Plan on the Paris attacks. Attendees of last weeks MTA event at Berrymede in London will recognise the many levels information can be culled in written form – notetaking before presenting, note-taking during interviewing, during listening to other pupil’s presentation, as well as any other way one normally secures written evidence; with Cooperative Learning, it is never an either/or. The end of the plan also gives examples of homework.


Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning across all age groups. Generally, research in schools has focused particularly on its impact on English, mathematics and, to a lesser extent, science and recent meta-analysis of the impact of formative assessment on writing indicates gains of 8 months’ progress are achievable. Given  feedback is integrated implicitly and may be explicitly organised with superior effect this makes structural  Cooperative Learning exceptionally  effective.

According to Sutton Trust research, some studies reporting lower impact indicate that it is challenging to improve the quality of feedback in the classroom. But with Cooperative Learning, because the individual accountability makes feedback implicit in the    Cooperative Learning activities themselves with no further preparation from the teacher.

In a recent study, some teachers initially believed that the programme was unnecessary as they already used feedback effectively. For such teachers,  Cooperative Learning would simply be a tool to further increase focus and effect of their feedback.

Working explicitly with feedback however does require some delineation – as I often warn teachers is that Cooperative Learning  will give what you put into it. For example, the literature on feedback draws an essential distinction between feedback targeted at the self (‘Great sentence; you are a superstar!’) and feedback which promotes self-regulation and independent learning (‘You have learned some adverbs today. Check if you could add some adverbs to improve your sentences.’).

It was not clear in observed lessons that this distinction was consistently understood by teachers, and this is important because Cooperative Learning  will engage students in both cases, but the outcome is very different. Precisely because Cooperative Learning multiplies the effect of the input, it is recommended that staff be provided with a large number of examples illustrating the variety of types of feedback.

Price tag

This research is based on whole school intervention, involving 10 schools and around 4,000 pupils at a cost of around £88,000. The cost per pupil is approximately £22 according to the Sutton Trust research. Referring back to the previous articles, where we mentioned the price of the basic Skills & Mastery as less than £5 for a collaborative learning programme normally priced at £40, consider saving an additional sum by restricting  feedback CPD to best practice questioning techniques, rather than a full scale package.

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Evidence culled from the action research project Anglican Schools Partnership and Effective Feedback and Teaching and Learning Toolkit.


Filed under Cooperative Learning, Didactic methodologies, get started with CL, integration, Lesson plans, other teaching methods, Research

Learning Wisely – Living Virtuously: From the mountain to the valley

High-level cohesion, pulling values from the vacuum, or simply “Why Tertiary should pick up on child-centred learning”.

Yesterday Mona Siddiqui, professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at Edinburgh University, presented her talk Learning Wisely, Living Virtuously: the challenge of Modern Education at the Thomas Paine Study Center, University of East Anglia. A big thank you to the Keswick trust for making this event available at no cost.

Those familiar with Professor Siddiqui’s BBC4 programmes will recognise many of the themes. It thrilled me that she opened with the issue of teaching values in a society without authoritative meta-narratives. This lead to a critique of the atomisation of education, its focus on the quantifiable over qualitative, as well as the narcissistic self-feeding-frenzy of contemporary consumer culture, which never stops to ask the question “Why?”

Treading carefully, Professor Siddiqui even managed to subtly juxtapose this lack of critical questioning with modernity’s all-pervading question-everything anti-authoritarian ethos, which today makes any discussion of solutions from a religious perspective difficult, if not impossible.

But distrust of authority, however, goes far beyond religion; She described a session where the question “What are your values?” had drawn blank stares from a lecture hall of university students. After coping with this novel concept, it finally transpired that they got their values not from their parents or teachers, but from their peers.

All in all, the Professor echoed my own reflections on this blog, tying together cultivation of values, engagement in deep and meaningful relationships, and the support this would offer community building and cohesion.

Given the title of the talk and the Professor’s engagement, intelligence and scholarship, I was genuinely interested in her ideas about how to translate this into a classroom experience – getting the sage down into the valley, so to speak. Therefore, in the following Q&A, I asked how such demanding human skills (including “humility, respect for hard work, thankfulness”) were to be taught in this context of narcissism, void of narrative and common reference points beyond the latest viral fad.

Alas, the answer here stayed on high ground, circling around the importance of adult role models, balancing the individual vs. community and semantics of values and morals when positioned to children. All highly intelligent and insightful, but nebulous nonetheless. After a few tries, I let it go.

This is in no way a critique of Professor Siddiqui, rather a realisation that she is as much a victim of the atomisation of the education system as the students. It is just not embedded day-to-day practice for researchers and philosophers to sit down with teachers and heads to operationalise ideal education, in spite of  teachers actually having a lot of quite amazing solutions, but no theoretical framework with which to describe them and develop them.

Caught in the revolving doors?

In reality, the most enlightening part of the evening took place later: Before I had even  risen from my seat, I was whirled up in conversation with a 22-year-old MA student at the UEA and a local Primary teacher in her 50s. Between myself and these two women, one in the spring and one at in autumn of life, choice, consequence, internalisation of learning, caring control versus freedom to fail, experience, art, expressiveness, identity; it all ignited.

On the way out, outlining my own work in relation to these  topics, I had only to say the word Cooperative Learning, and the MA student burst out with “Oh, I’d love to have some of that. That’s exactly what we need at university!”

It just so happened that a gatekeeping member of UEA staff stood only eight feet away, and I jokingly suggested she present her ideas to someone who actually had the power to do something, which I suppose is frightfully Scandinavian of me. Unfortunately, said academic needed to escort Professor Siddiqui from the centre, so this opportunity to cross-fertilize between a live student, a decision-maker, two practitioners and a government level philosopher was lost in a revolving door.

With staff and guests gone, the three of us continued the chat in the empty hall of the Thomas Paine Centre, doing what in Danish is referred to as “redde verden”; i.e. “saving the world” – vernacular for solving universal problems over a cuppa.

The hip bone’s connected to …

I realised in all this the underlying importance of  the educators’ workshop Healing Fractures II: Aside from hopefully inspiring and enlightening all participants on the subject, I wish to find a model in which stakeholders in any area may meet in something that is at once a chit-chat cafe and a ground-breaking, result-oriented down-to-business meeting – both of the highest caliber.

I was very generously offered a proper panel speech by one of the participants, Dr Lee Jarvis, who could easily have filled the Thomas Paine Center by himself. It was very tempting for a host of reasons, but in the end, I feel the format of panel-question/answer is not the answer here, even by a Senior Lecturer in International Security or a Professor in Islamic and Interreligious Studies:

Healing Fractures II is first and foremost about looking at information and information processing in another way and harnessing the power of didactic strategies to let a wide variation of stakeholders construct and funnel knowledge through highly complex networks – and secondly to capture that processing as clear, effective, next-action steps. The atomised take on knowledge is not an option in the 21st century.

And it is about equality, it is about exploring with genuine interest (facilitated by the format of Cooperative Learning) other people’s reflections, negotiating meanings and reality-checking ideas. And, in that, perhaps discovering that while we may think ourselves mountains of knowledge, we may be someone else’s valley floor. Whether this is wisdom is hard to say, but I remember when I was taught the Islamic sciences at the hand of a traditional Moroccan teacher: “Knowledge always flows downwards.” 

Professor Siddiqui’s most important statement came as an afterthought, reflecting on our questions at the very end of the Q&A:

“…I don’t know how we can get out of this,

except to re-analyse the purpose of education.”

First thing to do on a Monday morning, 16 March 2015, in the beautiful rooms of the Norwich Wellbeing Centre.

Lucy's man

“OK – Wow, I really am lost.”

This small clay figure is the handy-work of said primary school teacher,

scanned from her business card.




Related posts:

P4C? No, P4U! – Mr Lawson on enframing.
What comes out of the Birmingham “Trojan Horse”? – Critical thinking to go.
Empowering communities through Student-Centred Learning – The Palestinians seem to get it…
Transcript of “The Student- Centred Classroom & The Self-Centred Student…” – Paper presented at the BRAIS  inaugural conference, Edinburgh University, 11 April 2014.
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Disclaimer: This material represents my own focus and understanding and may not accurately reflect the intentions of the speaker.


Filed under Cooperative Learning, Didactic methodologies, Discovery, events, Multiculturalism, P4C, Philosophy for Children, Research, social skills

No way back to Kansas: The wider context of Thursday’s course

Mr Werdelin has developed a propitious educational project whose significance is as far reaching as its necessity in today’s big education debates…

– Mujadad Zaman, MPhil Educational Research Methods , PhD student candidate at the Faculty of Education, Cambridge University.


For the benefit of attendees of Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy Through Enquiry this coming Thursday, I would like to put the session into a wider context, hinted at by presenter Mr Mujadad Zaman at June’s pilot the University of East Anglia.

Mr Zaman is currently a PhD student candidate at the Cambridge University Faculty of Education exploring the growing socio-philosophical importance of the University within the Knowledge Society.*

Mr Zaman started by pointing out that our most basic intuitions about reality are being called into questions by the merging of discourses in fields such as consciousness and quantum mechanics.

Therefore a number of high level academics have started to to re-think some traditional assumptions about the relationship between religion and and education.


Zaman & Diboll

Tertiary negotiations; Dr Mike Diboll & Mujadad Zaman

Islam in RE, University of East Anglia, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, June 26, 2014 


The creation of a new paradigm related to epistemology and ontology is one of extreme urgency in view of the deteriorating global situation – economic, political and environmental – which can only be identified as the last stage of post-religious western metaphysics, enframing, as discussed by Lawson at Edinburgh University.

Eager to move into a bright new secular future, scholars of the Enlightenment threw the baby out with the bath water, in the process loosing us the tools for non-nihilist higher level thinking, which were key aspects of traditional religious learning in this country.

RE-tinkering pupils’ minds – yet another “personal development” detour?

As a side note to this, I do see how this could be taken as advocating another detour from the hard presentation of subject matter of religion; and I am aware that there is a strong drive in some circles against “deepening pupils’ understanding of religious ideas” (whether or not these may contribute to personal development) as “a tangible or consistently achievable purpose for a subject.” (quoted from How RE lost its soul by David Ashton).

But as followers of this blog will be aware, I am all for hard, factual learning: Opinions without any foundation are simply whims, and I agree absolutely with this camp about the importance of religious literacy – which incidentally forms the first module of Thursday’s course. (For more on Cooperative Learning and attainment, see previous post on Stalham Academy)

However, religious literacy in a world where we can argue that not even physical objects actually exist, let alone essential religion, building one’s opinions on foundations that are made of (quantum mechanic) sand is not sound.

This goes back to Mr Martin Robinson’s “Research the question before you tell us what the answer is…” we have mentioned in a previous post, where I also in passing discuss the relationship of this issue to Mr Brine’s talk on “Realising the Potential” at the UEA.

It is precisely Mr Zaman’s point that there is a very real and valid reason why Mr Robinson and secular, humanist scholars at Oxbridge are now having a good look at the Trivium, the backbone of European religious education once more.** (Once again I want to promote his book 21c Trivium).

No way back to Kansas

Indeed, any and all attempts to retain a sense of normalcy or ‘business as usual’ or to propose solutions which rest within the failing paradigm of teaching ‘knowledge’ without understanding what knowledge is and how it is acquired must be exposed as irrelevant at best, if not irresponsibly complicit in locking coming generations into repeating our mistakes.

It is my argument that, firmly grounded in social constructivism, the structural approach to Cooperative Learning offers a unique tool to help learners cope and de-construct these paradigms while providing a simultaneous and real integration of hard learning.

On a philosophical level, CL exercises help learners reflect, at their individual levels, on issues of epistemology (“How do you know something?”) and ontology (“What is reality”) in the very practical zone of personal beliefs in the classroom as well as the impact of religion on the lives of people. Here is an exemplary question: “Organisations such as ISIS claim Islam advocates the “Islamic State”. Organisations such as Imaan says Islam advocates “Islamic homosexuality”. But if anyone can reconstruct Islam as they want, does Islam even exist?” How do you know? What does it mean to exist?

Bear in mind this is just glimpsing the tip of the iceberg. Once we start to look at real logic and rhetoric in classic theology and it’s grasp on ontology and epistemology, it’s a different kettle of fish – but necessary, as today’s schoolchildren could very well find themselves – indeed are already, perhaps? – living in a consensual hallucination of the internet, downloaded real-time directly into their nervous system. Is this a game … or reality? Not a moot point for the drone operator.

At the moment, I cannot see which subject apart from RE would be able to launch into this (I am open to suggestions, by all means). But standing on a firm intellectual foundation – for starters being able to distinguish between the necessary, impossible and possible nature of given statements – is necessary as given all 20th century paradigms are collapsing under their own weight.

As I mentioned, the above reflections only serve to form a context to the course Islam in RE, and not a reason to unduly worry your Head: participants will still benefit from the LO’s outlined in the course description. And while not as conspicuously challenging as the above, teaching religious literacy and controversy via Cooperative Learning might give an indication of what is possible, and where I hope to eventually take it in the context of UK education.

Mr Werdelin has developed a propitious educational project whose significance is as far reaching as its necessity in today’s big education debates.

Melding fluency of subject matter with an interactive pedagogy, his sensitivity to faith traditions and the challenges faced by teachers ensures its continued relevancy.

– Mujadad Zaman, MPhil Educational Research Methods , PhD student candidate at the Faculty of Education, Cambridge University.
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* ) Mujadad Zaman has had extensive teaching experience, involved in teaching and supervising for the Undergraduate Educational Tripos. Since starting the PhD, he has presented at numerous international conferences including at the universities of Cambridge, Stanford, LSE and Lancaster. Apart from his interests in education he has presented on a wide range of subjects including comparative education, philosophy of the social sciences, aesthetics, religious studies and Victorian social thought.

Recently he has been Curriculum Coordinator for a new theological college (Cambridge Muslim College) as well as being an educational consultant and researcher for a number of national projects dealing with curriculum development. He has created, taught and evaluated an intensive international summer school, Heritage Summers (Girton College, University of Cambridge) entitled ‘Sliver Spices and Scholarship: An Introduction to Western Intellectual History’ and is currently in the process of setting up an educational support programme for students in Cambridge community.


**) More on the the relation of the Trivium to higher level thinking, identity formation and related community building, see my  Edinburgh University presentation Student-Centred Classroom & the Self-Centred Student.”  Audio recording of the talk now available.


Filed under 21c, Cooperative Learning, CPD, Education policy, P4C, Philosophy for Children, RE, Research

Stalham Academy Head on: Cooperative Learning & the Sutton Trust on Pupil Premium

The acting headteacher, Mr Andrew Howard, discusses his rationale for introducing the structural approach to Cooperative Learning at Stalham Academy after becoming aware of the research of the Sutton Trust on the effective use of pupil premium published in this year’s EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit

The EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit compares collaborative learning with a host of other approaches, including everything from after school programs over behavioral interventions to digital technology. According to the report, collaborative learning is the most cost/efficient approach, based on “extensive evidence.” (See comparison table on page 2).

This is especially true when noting that the only two approaches classified as “high impact for low cost” are Feedback, Peer tutoring and Meta-cognition and self-regulation which are seamlessly integrated into Cooperative Learning as we have discussed in numerous posts.

As the Sutton Trust’s 2014 publication EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit states:

“The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive, but it does vary so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to work together; structured approaches, with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. (…) Approaches which promote talk and interaction between learners tend to promote the best gains” (p. 11).

Getting “the details right” with “structured approaches” and  “well-designed tasks” to “promote talk and interaction between learners” is the very description of Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) which Mr Howard refers to in this interview.

More posts will follow with reflections from Mr Howard on pupil premium and the response of teachers and pupils at Stalham Academy to Cooperative Learning.

For more information, go to full post on on Werdelin Education’s engagement with Stalham Academy:

Skills and Mastery at Norfolk Academy: Attainment with CL

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Filed under Cooperative Learning, CPD, Didactic methodologies, Research

Deradicalisation; it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are

Mohammed Elshimi (University of Exeter) : Identity, Citizenship, and Security: What is Deradicalisation? (PART 1, read PART 2)*

(Notes from BRAIS conference, University of Edinburgh 10-11 April 2014, Panel 3: Identity and Integration In Muslim-Minority Societies)

This is the most controversial presentation in the entire conference, bar none, and the most pertinent to our theme of identity formation as well as the extremely subtle issue 0f the teacher as a benevolent guide or evil manipulator that I have touched upon when discussing the “discovery” element in the Healing Fractures workshop.

The extremist student-centered learning Ghost Teacher** doctrine made possible through Cooperative Learning is all well and good when teaching grammar or maths or drilling scientific concepts or historical dates. It is an entirely different matter when discovering the meaning  of things and events – especially when discovering the meaning of life, death and the interstice of personal identity and politics in between.

The  Healing Fractures workshop attempted to outline the possibilities for teachers staging guided discovery to  pupils in Primary and Secondary schools.

But in the case of Mr Elshimi’s talk, the guide is the British government and the pupils are adult citizens.

Deradicalisation; it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are

Mohammed Elshimi, a phd student at the University of Exeter, opened his presentation by positing “deradicalisation” as a conceptual framework which is confusing, problematic and in fact not about radicalisation, but about identity and citizenship.

It is a political response to homegrown terrorism after the London bombings which famously prompted Blair to say, “The rules have changed.” Indeed: Deradicalisation relates to changes in the security environment, narratives and theories in the academic world and responses in the political world; i.e the war on terror and the associated invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which were then followed by more terrorist attacks.

And while Europe and the UK has historically dealt with terrorism in the form of separatist movements in Spain and Chechnya, and locally the IRA,  radicalisation is a completely novel concept and did not exist prior to the 2005 bombings, precisely because they were not carried out by Saudi foreigners, but British citizens.

What makes the concept of radicalisation so radically (…well) different to all previous takes on terrorism is that it deals with the weltanschaung; meaning it does not relate to criminal actions, as much as it relates to ideas – and dare we lift the curtain a bit and say criminal ideas?

During the 90s and 00s countries such as Algeria had worked with “terrorist rehabilitation” programmes in prisons, but in the UK the targets of rehabilitation were not inmates, but rather ordinary citizens on the street who had not (yet) committed any crime. Reflecting concepts borrowed from medical science, the PREVENT strategy basically posited that prevention is better than treatment – or might we say “an apple a day keeps the SWAT team at bay.”

Governmental Prophethood; the birth of moderate Islam 

Basically, various think tanks and Home Office entertained the notion that you cannot change their actions if you cannot change their ideas, giving rise to the concept of counter subversion: to subtly construct from scratch a new narrative about Islam, and therefore a new reality of Islam, called moderate.

In the dichotomy thus created, all adherents to any other understanding of Islam – or anyone questioning the dichotomy itself – were potentially radical supporters of terrorism. But since the term is not defined, the boundaries get blurred; Is it you view on women? Or your views on democracy? Or your views on foreign policy? Or is it your views on violence? Being ‘radical’ was not just about terrorism, it was about all these other things that somehow left all Muslims vulnerable to the violence bit of the equation.

This left communities, organizations and individuals scrambling to be seen as fitting into the moderate category. And not only that, but scrambling to point the finger at other groups and individuals, mouthing the words “I am moderate, he is not!” in the highly competitive bid for of (limited) government funding.

The most incredible aspect presented by Elshimi was that many of the participants in the various programmes did not actually know what the term “moderate Islam” even meant. In the words of one community activist, “I don’t know what it means. I’d be surprised if anyone knows what it means.” It is a completely artificial construct, a brilliant example of generating new realities via perception management.

Even academics were at a loss: “For me I think, deradicalisation is about empowerment…. what you are trying to do I guess … well, it’s a good question. I am just going to say empowerment, because you can get into difficult territory otherwise.”

Some of the “conceptual confusion” uncovered by Elshimi during his research included concepts such as “security context”, “counter-subversion”, “integration”, “identity”, “Western foreign policy” and “youth empowerment”.

In the following post on Elshimi’s talk, we’ll discuss the negative consequences of government induced reality and identity and the absolute importance of providing individuals and communities with tools to produce authentic realities and identities which I point towards in my own presentation.

My point is that having grievances with other communities, local and global businesses or  government policies do not generate violence. Violent movements, from UKIP to the Salafis, are generated by the experience of being somehow at first disenfranchised, then framed and manipulated.

The video clip on Derek the Nazi used in the workshop is an example of such grievances – and the BRAIS conference was packed with examples from Muslims in Britain with their own burning issues.

Finding valid identity is relevant for everyone. Schools must provide the vocabulary, the philosophical insight, the thinking and rhetorical skills to ensure an inclusive debate; an open mind able to make informed decisions on where to draw it’s boundaries and standing on a stable platform, as described in the Religious Education page.

This all the more important as the tendency towards uncontrollable, unmanageable multi-node networks will mean that, in spite of all well-intentioned top-down management, more and more people – and groups of people – will be left to their own devices. So those devices better work.

Here are some hints on the second half of Elshimi’s presentation: thought crime, 2+2=5 and 4 legs good, 2 legs bad. Read  Deradicalisation#2; “Salvation in this life” now.

See related page on

* Disclaimer: These posts reflect my own (narrow) understanding and focus and makes no claim to objectivity or accuracy.

** see The Teacher is a Ghost Lesson plan on teaching functional language virtually without speaking


Filed under BRAIS, Discovery, Education policy, Information, integration, Multiculturalism, Philosophy for Children, Religious Education, Research

P4C? No, P4U!

Notes from BRAIS conference, University of Edinburgh 10-11 April 2014 Panel 5: Education: Theory and Method:

Ibrahim Lawson (Institute of Eduction, London): Questioning builds a way: Heidegger, Islam and education

In my own presentation on the Student-Centred Classroom and the Self-Centred Student  (read/listen), I point out the connection between the two preceding talks and my theme of schools teaching tools for authentic identity formation through the organised social constructivism of Cooperative Learning.

I want to begin this series of BRAIS posts here, as this talk is best likened to a nuclear submarine roving the dark ocean depths, with all other presentations –  for all their merit –  being mere air balloons above those deceivingly calm waters, blown hither and dither by the winds of postmodern self-referencing.


This is not mere poetic license. Ibrahim Lawson brings a unique set of experiences and skills to the table:  He has read  philosophy and linguistics at University of East Anglia, did his PGCE at Cambridge, has MA’s in Action Research and Theology and has spent 10 years in state school system as RE teacher and head of department. His experiences include serving as Ethnic Minority Provision adviser, Ofsted inspector, SACRE member, he has set up and headed several schools in the UK and abroad and is member of AMS Shura Council.

All this to say his presentation is not idle philosophy, but the reflections of a man who has years of experience combining theoretical and practical levels of education and philosophy trying to see beyond the hall of mirrors which has paralyzed education to the point of the current debacle.

So while the following discussion may superficially seem aimed at confusing teachers in Religious Education and Philosophy for Children (P4C) even more than Ofsted, or even a call to a return to grammar school, it actually deals with the science of existence itself.

The Spirit of in Education

First of all this quote from Heidegger on the consequence of neglecting the spirit, which most of us could easily apply to the current educational ethos of utilitarian intelligence:

“…taking third place to physical health and character, and as a tool of cultural performance, spirit becomes part of a set of ‘holiday ornaments’ to hide the assault on intelligence and culture.

Following this, Lawson writes off any attempt at trying to fascinate children with  philosophy as a subject:

“Spirit is neither empty cleverness nor the irresponsible play of wit, not the boundless work of dismemberment carried on by the practical intelligence; much less is it world-reason; no, spirit is a fundamental, knowing resolve towards the essence of being.”

What is required is the form of discovery Lawson and I attempted to stage in the recent Norwich workshop. He continues on the difference between offering solutions and posing questions:

“…in what way the question of being, or reality if you prefer, is settled is of secondary importance though, since all great truths must first be constantly renewed by bringing them into the place where they emerge into being for the first time, that is, in response to a deeply felt sense of questioning, the piety of thought. Second-hand truths may be useful, but they are not what make us who we are. This is something many school pupils feel very deeply.”

It is the re-activation of this deep resolve, the will to live, to discover, to be, that should be the point of education, education here in the other form of the verb which means to “lead out” – of the banal identification markers on telly, if nothing else.


However, what seems like a hippie fantasy in fact ties in with hard knowledge of grammatical and rhetorical rules, what we might call “teaching language properly”:

“In the barren and spiritless doctrine of the schools, [the mechanical dissection of language has left the] formal concepts and terms of grammar totally uncomprehended and incomprehensible shells. Consequently, whatever is taught in school will sink into the same barrenness unless we succeed in rebuilding the school’s spiritual world from within and from out of the ground, i.e. in giving the school a spiritual, not a scientific atmosphere.”

This is highly pertinent, as, throughout the conference, all discussion on identity and disenfranchisement pointed towards the reduction of language to meaningless sounds as the root cause; an example I pointed out in a previous post, freedom means legally preventing women from choosing to cover her face.

Teachers with experience in challenged communities will recognize the connection between lack of language and lack of thinking skills. Look no further than 1984 to see the end of this slide: With schools no longer providing basic knowledge of rhetoric, words are up for grabs, and with them, reality. Witness the amazing opposing statements on the recent strikes, where the antagonists might as well be talking about completely different topics – in different languages. There is simply no bridge.

Lawson closes with the need for the academic community to step out of the box:

“And here the first step must be a revolution in the prevailing relation to language. But to this end we must revolutionise the teachers, and for this in turn the university must transform itself and learn to understand its task instead of puffing itself up with irrelevancies. These reflections form the basis for a new approach to the understanding of philosophy in relation to Islam and Islamic education as tarbiyah, the bringing up of the child into the flourishing of the essence of being human.”

The Quest inherent in “Question”

The relation to my own themes are clear – going back to the title of Lawson’s talk, “Questioning builds a way” I posit Cooperative Learning as a tool to provide guided inquiry exercises into the nature of existence. Not as a mental exercise, squashed between maths and English, but as a profound, assisted process of self-discovery which is no longer, and can no longer, be afforded by priests and shamans, and yet must be afforded, in both senses of the word.

Schools (or anyone else, for that matter) can no longer present a set of “truths” that learners will buy into. We, as educators, ourselves need to inquire and rediscover ontological and epistomological … questions? Again quoting Lawson:

“The real debate has been lost, the real question buried in centuries of intellectual and cultural sedimentation, to the point where we don’t even know how to ask it, even if we manage to become vaguely aware of the need to do so. The sense of living inside some kind of vast misconception is I suspect, not unfamiliar to many of us.”

Philosophy for Children? No. Philosophy for you.


Filed under BRAIS, Cooperative Learning, Discovery, Education policy, Information, integration, Multiculturalism, Philosophy for Children, Religious Education, Research