Education studies in crisis over credibility

July 12, 2002

The government's obsession with monitoring performance in schools, colleges and universities is marginalising educational studies and destroying the discipline's credibility, according to Jon Nixon, professor of education studies at Sheffield University.

Professor Nixon, speaking in his recent inaugural lecture, said that educational studies was cutting ties with its founding disciplines of history, philosophy, psychology and sociology in favour of measuring the performance of students and institutions.

He said: "In recent years, educational policy and practice has been dominated by a language of cost-efficiency, value for money, productivity, effectiveness, outcome delivery, target setting and auditing.

"We are increasingly encouraged as scholars, teachers and researchers to think in business terms. It is difficult to think outside this terminology given its all-pervasive dominance."

Professor Nixon said educational studies ought to bring about an understanding of the moral identity of education instead of focusing on performance and the skills required to improve teaching practices.

He said: "The language of inputs and outputs, of clients and products, of delivery and measurement, is not just a different way of talking about the same thing. It radically alters what we are talking about. It constitutes a new way of thinking about teaching and learning and ultimately it affects how we teach and learn."

He said it was time to open up the debate about the purposes of education and focus on a critical examination of educational change.

"The purpose of a school of education is to bring the educational community back to the central question - wherein lies the educational value of your big idea, your impressive dataset and your proposals for change?" he said.

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