School classroom layouts are “shaped by colonisation”, Britain’s biggest teaching union has claimed in new guidance.

The National Education Union (NEU) suggests that curriculums, the design of school classrooms and the structure of their daily routines have colonial roots.

The 450,000-member union says there is an “urgent” need to “decolonise” every subject and every stage of the school curriculum, especially since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The standard layout of teacher at the front, pronouncing, with pupils ranged in front of them, is medieval, not colonial times. It comes from the expense of a book. So expensive that there would only be one, for a class, which is then read from with the students taking notes or trying to memorise.

Since the invention of printing there are reasons to ponder on whether this is still the right way to be doing things. But colonialism ain’t one of them.

27 thoughts on “Err, no”

  1. Does anyone else remember being a kid and suddenly becoming obsessively interested in one particular thing almost to the exclusion of everything else? It seems that there are some people that never grew out of this, decolonisation being just their latest ridiculous fad.

  2. Quite right Tim. And that’s why we sit in a circle to watch the newer medium of cinema.

  3. Isn’t teaching itself colonialist, in their mentality?

    If little Fred Bloggs hasn’t killed a lion with his bare hands by the age of 7, then surely he should be expelled from the tribe until he has proven himself.

  4. Surely the idea of compulsory public funded education itself originated in colonial times?
    Make school voluntary and privately funded and you please the teachers?

  5. Textbooks are allegedly still too expensive, so heads get teachers to make lesson plans in their own time, and spend £££ at the photocopier instead. (The inefficiency, it hurts!)

    Instead of your kid coming home with a brightly coloured textbook that they can peruse in their own time (and possibly even read ahead if interested), they get a sheaf of disjointed printouts which quickly end up in the recycling bin.

    Education practices in the UK aren’t the worst in the world; but there’s scope for improvement, and using textbooks ought to be an easy win.

  6. Andrew,
    I dunno how it works in the uk, but here the purpose of lesson plans is to generate paperwork to show that teaching is happening. Because obviously you can’t take the teacher’s word for it.

  7. @AndrewM, err no, the reason for printouts is so kids can write/draw on them, rather than in the book. Good teachers ensure that things are glued in at the end of lessons (I’ve kept kids back to ensure this is done).

    When I was a student, kids were issued a book each at the start of the year. Most schools now have sets of books that teachers can reserve for a class, and aren’t supposed to leave the room (I’d guess to try and minimize vandalism of them, not that this stops it from happening). Also, most textbooks have an online edition that the kids can access from home.

  8. In a Polytechnic where I once worked, the Head of my Department always started a staff meeting with a tediously long rant about the cost of photocopying, and just to provide some variety, he would sometimes delegate the job to his Deputy. I was always indignant about that, as coming from Industry I was particularly frugal, as there, everything had to be logged against a Job Number for fee collection purposes.

    For a while, I shared an office with a colleague who always kept his cupboards and desk-drawers locked. We both got promoted into single offices. The guy then died. When his office was cleared, it was discovered that he had photocopied many books from the library.

    Incidentally, I was astonished to find how often colleagues raided the stationery store for private use, and used phones, postage and just about everything as they pleased. I asked how I could charge private use, and was told not to be so silly. Much, much, later I discovered that all the old hands were submitting fake expense claims and had a whole bunch of other scams on the go.

    I imagine that such behaviour is rife throughout many such institutions, and not just Polytechnics, but also Schools, Councils, Government Departments, and quite possibly, the NHS.

    As far as textbooks go, I found to my cost that lending a book to a student meant that there was a 50% chance you wouldn’t get it back. Not only that, but book loans from a library often went unread, and the student who borrowed it basically stopped anyone else from consulting it – including me!

  9. EM, I was similar to you. Always tried to spend the company’s money as if it were my own (as per Milton F)and order the most cost effective kit for new trainees (not the cheapest, but complied with the standards). The company had a policy though of only using approved suppliers. Why buy PPE from Screwfix at £2.99 when you can buy it from an approved supplier at £12.99? I did get this through with help from my line manager, but other parts of the business carried on as normal. Hey, it’s not their money…
    And the stationery thing…I only began to ‘liberate’ stuff when the team I was part of each had a £2000 bonus stolen from us…..

  10. The labels in the textbooks at the school I went to had pupils’ names from years before. Lots of years. Lessons did not change, so the books didn’t change either. At uni where you had to buy your books they had the ‘new edition’ fiddle, so you could never buy second-hand from the year before.

    All my maths textbooks were by Clement V. Durrell. Funny what sticks in your memory.

  11. @Rhonda- was that a UK uni? At mine (Sussex, 1999-2002) they would tell us if a book was sat 3rd edition the second was still ok to use.

    Regarding procurement, when I was involved in this at an NHS trust I would always try and save money where I could, my biggest success was saving 25% of the cost of getting some vinyl flooring laid by insisting maintenance get some other quotes rather than just going with their usual supplier. I was a rarity in doing this though.

  12. To return to Tim’s original contention is there any evidence that medieval readers did read to their students in the classroom layout? It’s seems unlikely thy did in practice. The “schoolroom” layout is used for a lot of things, church services for example, where the presentation is partially or wholly visual. It gives the recipients as close as possible a common point of view. Where the content is wholly audio, the optimum is virtually circular, putting the maximum number of recipients with audible range of the speaker. Our ancestors may have medieval but it doesn’t mean they were stupid. University facilities may be laid out like that now. Because what takes place in them now has a visual element. But it doesn’t imply they did that then.
    Although it’s always possible. The stupidity of the modern university system is proverbial. It must have its roots somewhere.

  13. People without written languages obviously don’t need classrooms. So, as per the wise man’s question, compared to what?

  14. “To return to Tim’s original contention is there any evidence that medieval readers did read to their students in the classroom layout? It’s seems unlikely thy did in practice.”

    There’s an awful lot of paint on canvas/wood from that time depicting exactly this… Quite a few of them considered “significant contemporary art” in musea.. I think you can safely assume this happened.

    The “square classroom” originated in the Scriptorium, which in and of itself has even older roots. The later colleges tended to use the raised arena setup for communal lessons, and the scriptorium setup for smaller groups.

    You could consider the setup colonial, but only when considering the early monasteries as missionary colonial extensions of the death throes of the byzantine empire.

  15. As with the scriptorium example, the layout is also forced by building technology – rectangular rooms forces rectangular usage. See the fad for circular and octagonal churches when the technology allowed, particularly among the Meths.

    Though in my primary school in the 1970s we all had “island” layouts. We didn’t get serried ranks until secondary school.

  16. Democracy was shaped by colonization, so it must go!

    The rule of law was shaped by colonization, so it must go!

    Social meeja was invented by the children of colonialists, so it must go!

    Money was used by colonialists, so it must go!

    ..etc.

    Fuckwits, all of them

  17. So, how was it done in, say, pre-colonial Africa? Cannot whoever likes to emulate those methods and curricula?

  18. “The standard layout of teacher at the front, pronouncing, with pupils ranged in front of them, is medieval, not colonial times”: I suspect it was from colonial times – how else would Roman teachers instruct the littlies?

    Mo, mas, mat, mamus, matis, mant. Oh lucky wee Britons.

  19. @Rhoda. I’d like to see that… What do the bookies have on the teachers stabbing themselves first trying to pick up the sharp stabby things used in that curriculum?

  20. “The “square classroom” originated in the Scriptorium, which in and of itself has even older roots.”
    Not hard to work that one out. All the scribes will be trying to get the best advantage of natural light. So they’ll all be facing in the same direction.

  21. “There’s an awful lot of paint on canvas/wood from that time depicting exactly this… Quite a few of them considered “significant contemporary art” in musea.. I think you can safely assume this happened.”

    I wouldn’t put a lot of reliance on depictions of anything made in those days. Medieval art doesn’t work anything like art as we know it. Very often it’s saying things we’re not even aware of. The particular colours used carry specific messages. How people are portrayed can do the same thing. Art then is not intended to be an accurate picture of anything. It’s made to tell a story.

  22. @ Rhoda
    I also had some, but not many, books by Durell. He was gifted in that he could write textbooks covering the syllabus in half, or less, of the space used by alternative authors.

  23. @BiS I ‘m well aware of the allegorical nature of medieval art, and the significantly different attitude towards …well.. everything..

    My outfits/gear for the re-enactment shows I participate in would not pass muster in the groups I have Fun with.. They be Strict…

  24. “School classroom layouts are “shaped by colonisation”…

    What shape are they in countries which had no colonies, then?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *