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Radicalism where you’d least expect it: Reflections on BBELT 2019

I’m very lucky to have spent the past week in Mexico City, attending the British Council’s BBELT (Best of British ELT) Conference. I gave a presentation to ELT coordinators from the different states of Mexico entitled “Emancipation in ELT: A Policy Perspective”, followed two days later by a plenary talk that I called “Emancipation not Indoctrination: Critical Pedagogy in ELT”. In both of these presentations I focused on the potential for ELT to be emancipatory in a critical, socially transformative sense, but also pointed out how the current ELT paradigm severely limits our ability to employ techniques that encourage learners to engage with social justice issues and consider ways of effecting change. Mark Arthur, who watched my plenary, provided a summary of it, which you can see here, and I understand that more information about it (and the other conference sessions) will be going up on the British Council Mexico website very soon.

What I want to focus on in this post though is the whole idea of people like me going to conferences like this, and the ethical questions it raises. For starters, the conference itself took place in the (very swanky) Hilton Hotel, and it certainly came across as a no-expense-spared, super-slick affair that must have cost a huge amount of time and effort to put on. This montage that they put together and played at the closing ceremony should give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Add to that the fact that the plenary speakers were all flown in from various distant locations and put up in the hotel itself, and you could easily argue that all this expense could have been put to more practical use, addressing more directly the many problems that the Mexican ELT profession, and education system more generally, is currently facing. That’s certainly what one person on Twitter felt:


It’s the sort of criticism that often gets levelled at conferences on climate change. Massive carbon footprints and unnecessary financial expense to allow a bunch of people to get together, say a few nice words, then jet off again to carry on doing the damaging things that caused the problems in the first place.

I can certainly understand such a feeling, and I think all of the plenary speakers felt more than a little uncomfortable with the VIP treatment we got. More seasoned plenary speakers may have come to expect such treatment, but it was new to us and I think we all felt that we’d have been equally comfortable in more modest accommodation and with less of the celebrity billing. There’s also the fact that, because none of us work in Mexico, whatever we were talking about would be coming from a position of contextual ignorance and would therefore run the risk of being either irrelevant or just not very helpful. The fact that I, a white, middle-aged native speaking man from the UK who works in academia, had come to Mexico to talk about an approach to education that has its origins in Latin America, presented an irony that was not lost on me. I don’t mind admitting I had a couple of sleepless nights wondering if I have maybe become one of Those Guys – a hypocrite, a sell-out, a platitude-spouter.

Having said that though, this was a conference unlike any I have ever been to before. Sure, the venue, the supremely professional organisation, and the slick production could give the cynic an impression of extravagance and corporate self-promoting pomp, but the general focus and the issues that were raised and discussed were refreshingly progressive. All six plenary speakers gave their presentations from what could be described as an anti-establishment perspective. Ceri Jones may be a coursebook writer, but her talk focused on collaborative learning and the benefits of diminished teacher control, as she presented a series of activities that quite explicitly encouraged non-use of published materials. Paula Rebolledo criticised the way ELT research perpetuates a sense of elitism by excluding teachers from doing it, expertly sticking the boot into academics who suggest that teachers are not the best people to conduct research about teaching. Tyson Seburn stressed the importance of taking a critical approach to reading skills in the classroom, stressing the need to look beyond the surface and explore whether (and why!) something may be presented as fact when it isn’t. His message that being a language teacher involves way more than the technicist model so often presented in TESOL training programmes addressed an important aspect of what’s wrong in ELT. Bethany Cagnol was hilariously funny, but her point that dominant models of ELT encourage us (and our students) to play safe and avoid taking risks is a serious one. Mercedes Viola’s talk on inclusive education didn’t just rail against exclusion in ELT, or even in education more generally, but in society as a whole. And then there was my talk, which was full of the anti-establishment, radical-alternative rants that you’d probably expect of me if you’ve heard or read any of my stuff before.

steve at BBELT

I suppose what I’m saying is that despite the fancy-nancy-corporate-establishment-BC image that was highly visible on the surface, the actual content was really quite radical. And the important thing to consider here is that the radical theme was deliberately chosen and implemented by the organisers. Every year, BC Mexico staff go to IATEFL and scout the sessions, looking for presenters who they feel can bring a message that fits with the Mexican context and which, they feel, will provide appropriate food for thought/information/ideas/inspiration to BBELT conference delegates. If this was a conference that intended to maintain the status quo, why would they invite people like me? You’d have to be quite a conspiracy theorist to suggest it was a clever attempt to compromise my position or co-opt me into the establishment (it wasn’t, by the way).

Also, we can’t forget that the plenaries were only a small part of the conference. Apart from us, all the other speakers were based in Mexico, talking about issues that directly affect English teachers across this massive and very diverse country. From one session I gained some fascinating insight into the issues related to migrants, refugees and deportees in Mexico, and the role of ELT within these complex issues. Another session completely changed my (previously very cynical) perceptions of English as a Medium of Instruction; I can now see its potential as a means of promoting global understanding and social justice. A recurring theme in many sessions was that of inclusion or, rather, exclusion of minorities and marginalised communities/individuals from education, and its resultant disempowering impact.

However cynical you are (and I’m pretty damn cynical myself), the fact that the British Council in Mexico is prepared to invest so much time, effort and money in a conference that tackles important issues like inclusion, marginalisation, criticality and hegemony within the ELT profession makes it hard to do anything other than give them a massive round of applause. No doubt it was very expensive for Mexican teachers to attend – prohibitively so for some people – but at least it was in Mexico. Organising a massive national conference and importing speakers is surely less prohibitive than simply expecting people to travel abroad to get this sort of CPD.

The BC gets its share of grief for its corporate approach to operations, its use of English and exams to generate profit, its promotion of rather traditional models of ELT, and the imperialistic undertones implied within its very existence. But it does do some really good stuff as well, and the BBELT conference is, in my opinion, a clear and concrete example of this. If you are uncomfortable with the status quo and looking for opportunities to explore issues of challenging hegemony and discuss radical alternatives, this is a conference for you.  If you get the chance to go, go. If you ever get the chance to speak, take it. But don’t think you can just turn up with some tried-and-tested “10 ways to make your students think the coursebook is a good thing”-type nonsense. Mexican teachers are wise to the ways in which the current ELT paradigm is failing us, and are calling out for change. ¡Viva la revolución!


What do I think I’m doing?

You may have noticed that Geoff Jordan has been blogging quite a bit recently about teacher training in ELT. Geoff has a lot of concerns about the way people are trained to become English language teachers – most of which boil down to a fundamental mismatch between how languages are learned and how languages are taught. I share Geoff’s concerns, and have used this blog (and other places) to rail against various underlying assumptions that inform ELT practice and which are, for one reason or another, flawed. Of course, it’s easy enough to have a pop at teacher training courses and teacher trainers when you’re not actually doing any teacher training yourself – and I haven’t done much in the last few years. But I’ve started a new job that involves working on an MEd TESOL programme, so I now have to start walking the talk, so to speak.

In his blog What do you think you’re doing? Geoff presents the views of a range of applied linguists and concludes that much of what teacher training courses prescribe is not congruent with these views, and therefore promotes a model of English Language Teaching that isn’t as effective as it should be. He calls for some serious, critical reflection on the part of teacher trainers, and recommends that we all start asking ourselves some fairly basic questions. As someone who is returning to structured TESOL after some time away from it (during which my views have evolved considerably), I feel it’s particularly important for me to consider these questions as a form of recalibration, a way of establishing a basis upon which to determine my praxis. This is what I intend to do here.

Before I address Geoff’s questions directly though, I want to raise the semantic issue of what we call ourselves, and what we do – are we teacher trainers or teacher educators? When it comes to TESOL, we tend to speak of teacher trainers who work on teacher training courses, but it’s important to know that this implies a rather archaic view of teaching. In practically all other subject areas, dealing with all forms of teaching and learning (primary, secondary, tertiary or lifelong), the preferred term is teacher education – so much so that if you describe a teacher educator as a teacher trainer, there’s a good chance that they will be offended. This article by G. Patrick O’Neill, from as long ago as 1986, bemoans the continued use (even back then) of Teacher Training to describe Teacher Education. O’Neill uses even older literature to make a clear distinction between the two: Teacher Training is essentially concerned with the low-level, procedural skills that are required in order for teachers to transmit knowledge and/or skills in a specific subject, without focusing on or referring to knowledge in any wider sense. Teacher Education, on the other hand, doesn’t just seek to develop knowledge of a subject and a person’s ability to transmit that knowledge, but also seeks to develop skills, abilities and awareness about learning and teaching more generally.

Given the content of many popular TESOL courses, it’s perhaps understandable how the term Teacher Training has endured. Much of the content of both pre-service and in-service TESOL programmes is concerned with what can only be described as low-level, procedural techniques – giving instructions, checking understanding, grouping students, sequencing and staging lessons, correcting errors etc. The same courses neglect to focus on some of the wider issues that are hugely important for ELT professionals. I’m talking about exploring the whole purpose of education in the first place – what it means, why it’s important and who benefits (or should benefit) from it, as well as more contextualised issues such as the role of English in the world, how this impacts on learner motivation, and what role ELT can/could/should play in making the world a better place. These issues are often absent from TESOL programmes and, while I don’t want to diminish the importance of the low-level technicist stuff – particularly on initial TESOL programmes – I feel it is remiss to deliver programmes in “teacher training” without bothering with “teacher education”. We now have large numbers of English language teachers around the world who struggle to think beyond their highly prescriptive lesson plan with its linguistic aims and meticulous staging based on externally-imposed standards. The fact that the most popular TESOL courses in the world can still quite accurately be described as teacher training programmes rather than teacher education programmes is a large part of the problem, in my view.

So, anyway, I regard myself as a teacher educator, I am working on a teacher education programme, and I approach Geoff’s questions from this perspective. Here are my answers to his questions.


  1. What is your view of the English language? How do you transmit this view to teachers?

Like almost all languages, English is a means of communication that consists of a system that determines its structure, a lexicon that determines its content, a series of phonological features that determine what it sounds like and an orthographic system that determines what it looks like. Importantly though, English is different from other languages in terms of the role it plays in the world. Its prevalence as a means of communication in disparate geographical regions and between/among non-1st language users has resulted in it becoming heavily influenced by other languages, resulting in an increasingly rich vocabulary and a certain ambivalence towards the application of its own “rules”. The range of varieties of English has made standardisation difficult, and questions have been raised in recent decades about where standards should come from, what they should be, and who (if anyone) has the right to impose them (Kachru 1985, Seidlhofer 2005, Pennycook 2017). The reasons behind the spread of English as a global language, and the ways in which it is used today, raise many issues related to power that are important for English teachers to be aware of, as they impact massively on their learners and their learners’ learning.

English is increasingly recognised as a passport to opportunity – an employability skill, or a study skill, or a life skill. It is increasingly becoming a requirement for certain jobs, or for access to further/higher education, and in today’s globalised world is often necessary to facilitate communication, or even to allow access to knowledge. This means that people rarely learn English these days because they actually like learning English; motivation for learning English tends to be instrumental – a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Learners are therefore preoccupied with acquiring the skills to use English in order to do the other things they want to do. This means that teachers need to know what these things are, to understand why they are important to their learners. Long discussions about the uses of the continuous and simple aspects are unlikely to be motivating for someone who needs to pass a specific exam in order to keep her job as a Geography teacher, or someone who does a low-paid job in an English-speaking country and can’t get a promotion, or an engineer who needs to be able to read scientific journals.

One way of transmitting my views about English to teachers is to encourage them to explore their learners’ backgrounds and needs. This allows them to see for themselves that, for most learners, English is perceived less as an academic subject and more as a vehicle for something else. For any TESOL programme that includes a practical element, where course participants work with real learners in the classroom, I present the need to understand learners’ backgrounds and contexts as being fundamental to, and a prerequisite for, developing a learning programme that will be appropriate for these learners.

I think it’s also worth making teachers (or would-be teachers) aware of the importance of English as a source of power. Our MEd TESOL programme includes a module entitled Language, Identity and Power, which explores the ways in which language – and English in particular – can be a source of empowerment, but can also be used to exploit, to dominate and to exclude.


  1. How do you think people learn an L2? How do you explain language learning to teachers?

It’s a while since I actively studied applied linguistics and I don’t regard myself as an SLA specialist, but I think that most differences between L1 and L2 acquisition relate to the fact that people learning English in a language classroom tend not to be toddlers. They already have a first language and the ability to analyse it, allowing them to apply certain cognitive and metacognitive skills to the new language they are learning. There is scope therefore to exploit this. However, just because learners have the capacity to use their L1 as a basis for scaffolding L2 learning, that doesn’t mean that the best way to learn an L2 is through translation and contrastive analysis. It can come in handy at certain stages in the learning process, but I still think that language learning takes place best when it is used for authentic, meaningful purposes, in authentic, meaningful contexts. It’s the communicative value of language that gives it any meaning, and learning is always more effective when the process is meaningful.

An important point to consider, therefore, is that meaning is subjective – the “meaningfulness” of any classroom activity will be perceived differently from student to student. This point naturally raises questions about the validity of any approach to language teaching that assumes all students will learn specific items of language at the same time, when the teacher presents it to them. Language acquisition doesn’t happen at the same speed, at the same time and in the same order for everybody, and we certainly don’t acquire language in order of linguistic complexity. This of course means that any syllabus that assumes all students will acquire language items in a predetermined sequence is fundamentally flawed.

I see language acquisition as incredibly messy, unpredictable and difficult to assume anything about. I try to encourage teachers to accept the fact that their learners will learn different things from a lesson, identifying and acquiring linguistic features that they, individually, happen to be ready to acquire. Effective lesson planning, therefore, is not about identifying language in advance that you want to teach to your learners, and then creating a context that allows you to introduce it. Instead, it’s about identifying a context first that is useful/relevant to the students, and then identifying a range of linguistic features that learners might be ready to acquire while functioning within that context. Teaching moments occur when opportunities for learning are identified (by the teacher or the learners), and then exploited by the teacher to maximise those opportunities. But this is something that has to emerge during the lesson. There’s no point in teaching something that none of the students are ready to learn – it’s about being aware of your students and what they’re ready to learn at any point in the lesson, and then exploiting those opportunities as they come up. I suppose this what I meant when I was banging on about Preflection a few years ago.


  1. What types of syllabus do you discuss with teachers? Which type do you recommend to them?

I feel that many TESOL courses lack sufficient critical analysis of the ELT syllabus. I think it’s important to look at a range of syllabus models in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses. This is particularly important with regard to the more common approaches to syllabus design that you get in ELT. There’s a real lack of congruity between widely accepted SLA theory and the types of syllabus that drive popular, published learning programmes. Any syllabus that assumes a linear model of progression and the incremental acquisition of individual language items (pretty much all popular ELT coursebooks) runs counter to theories of language acquisition, as Geoff mentions in his posts.

Problems with popular models of syllabus design aren’t just limited to organising principles and assumptions about language acquisition, though. The lack of focus on PARSNIP topics means that they often have huge holes in their content. Censoring these topics from the ELT syllabus denies our students access to important and incredibly useful language, ensuring they are unable to use English to talk about some of the most talked-about and divisive issues in the world today and effectively ensuring their voices go unheard in the English-speaking world. Allowing this to happen is, in my view, a very irresponsible thing for ELT professionals to do. I therefore encourage teachers to approach syllabus design by considering what content will be most useful, empowering or emancipatory for their learners, and working from there.

I also feel it’s important to point out how some syllabus models look good but can still be poorly implemented. For example, task-based or project-based syllabuses, or in fact any syllabus that relies on non-linguistic outcomes, can lead to teachers neglecting to focus on language at all. A negotiated syllabus, which uses the expressed needs of learners to derive its content, can turn into a kind of structureless, unbalanced, “what-do-you-want-to-do-today?” sort of course that is more concerned with entertaining the students than ensuring they actually learn anything. A syllabus can be based on sound principles, but it’s how it is implemented that really matters.


  1. What materials do you recommend?

I understand the importance of ensuring teachers and would-be teachers are familiar with the sorts of materials they might end up having to use in their everyday professional practice, so I do focus on some of the big coursebooks and other published materials. However, I certainly don’t recommend that they are simply accepted uncritically as legitimate teaching materials and followed in the same way as the teacher’s book prescribes. Instead, I recommend some critical analysis and evaluation of these materials in order to identify their assumptions about language learning, about “appropriate” content and also about underlying values that are being promoted in these materials. Being able to follow published ELT materials is a lot less of a skill than being able to adapt them so that they’re more effective from an SLA perspective, or more inclusive of/for minorities, or less indoctrinatory in their promotion of white western values, etc.

I also think it’s really important for teachers to be able to develop their own materials. This might involve selecting authentic materials and using them as a basis for devising tasks, but might equally involve getting learners to exploit their own existing knowledge, learning experiences and contexts to identify materials that can create learning opportunities in the classroom. So this is really about recommending that teachers develop a knowledge of the types of authentic texts that their learners engage with, or aspire to engage with, and developing appropriate materials from there.


  1. What methodological principles do you discuss with teachers? Which do you recommend to them?

Communicative Language Teaching has become such a catch-all that it is almost meaningless; pretty much any activity could conceivably be described as “communicative” as long as it involves the learners engaging somehow with the language being taught. When it comes to methodology, then, I feel it’s a question of exploring (or exposing) the principles that underpin certain methods. Looking at SLA theory to establish the effectiveness of a particular method can be very useful, but I also feel that relying exclusively on language acquisition theory to inform your practice naturally leads to a very narrow view of ELT, and the failure to consider wider principles can be quite damaging. For example, PPP (and other methods whereby the teacher decides in advance what learning will take place) applies the principle that the teacher knows what the learners want to know better than the learners, and that learning takes place best when knowledge is dispensed unidirectionally, from teacher to students, and deposited into their brains. Paolo Freire (1996: 52-67) described this type of methodology as a ‘banking model’, and was critical of (among other things) the power dynamic that it creates between teacher and learners.

I tend to be quite critical of methods that assume, accept or promote any form of inequality or power imbalance. I’m more in favour of participatory methodologies – methods that require the learners to be involved in all aspects of the process, from selecting content to identifying opportunities for learning, right through to selecting criteria for assessment. Of course, it’s not always possible to follow fully participative approaches to ELT within the performative and prescriptive paradigms that ELT professions usually find themselves having to work within, but it’s the responsibility of teacher educators to make sure the limitations of existing paradigms are exposed.


I’m not sure what Geoff was expecting when he asked these questions, and I’m not sure what he’ll think of my answers either. I’m not even sure what I think of my answers. Maybe it’s because of the position I’m in as I write this – starting to get back into working on a teacher education programme after a break from it, but not into the swing enough that I can give fully-formed concrete answers about what I do on a regular basis. It would probably be a useful exercise for me to revisit these questions after some time, as this will probably allow me to identify specific examples of what I actually do, rather than what I think I do or what I think I want to do. Please remind me to do this.




Freire, P. (1996), Pedagogy of the Oppressed (revised edition), London: Penguin.

Kachru, B. B. (1985), ‘Standards, Codification and Sociolinguistic Realism: the English Language in the Outer Circle’, In R. Quirk and H.G. Widdowson (eds), English in the World: Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures, pp. 11-30, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

O’Neill, G. P. (1986), ‘Teacher Education or Teacher Training: Which is it?’, McGill Journal of Education Vol 21:3.

Pennycook, A. (2017), The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Seidlhofer, B. (2005), ‘Key Concepts: ‘English as a Lingua Franca’, English Language Teaching Journal, 59:4, pp. 339-341.

Right – this calls for immediate discussion! (IATEFL 2018 Reflections Part 2)


After IATEFL 2015 I wrote this blog post, reflecting on Russ Mayne and Nicola Prentis’s session about women in ELT. The focus of the post was less about disproportionately high male representation in relatively influential positions in ELT, and more about the fact that these positions have been held by the same men for such a long time. In an attempt to be humorous, I included a few references from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, as the whole idea of people blindly following messianic figures and hanging on their every word seemed relevant. This year, as I write another IATEFL reflection, I can’t help thinking of this other scene from the same film:


Since 2015, the whole issue of women in ELT has become much higher profile, with the Fair List and Equal Voices in ELT campaigning for better representation of women among speakers at ELT conferences, Gender Equality ELT, which raises the profiles of individual women in ELT, and the ELTtoo movement, which seeks to raise awareness of sexual harassment and bullying in the ELT profession. However, there also seems to be a considerable amount of resistance to these types of movements, as I discovered at this year’s IATEFL conference.

The title of Adrian Tennant’s talk was “Labels – Not the Way Forward!” He started by making some fairly uncontroversial statements about labels and labelling, like how the term non-native speaker implies some kind of deficit model, a bit like the word disabled, and that the whole idea of labelling certain groups is socially constructed. It may (or may not) be worth pointing out that disabled is a word that most disabled people prefer other people to use when referring to them, but I could see his general point – labelling and the whole notion of identity politics is highly problematic. However, Adrian then went on to make the rather more contestable claim that positive discrimination always fails, and that we must therefore find alternative ways to ensure that discrimination does not take place in our profession. He then told us that he wanted to propose some kind of competency-based framework that could be used to ensure fair and equal representation, as an alternative to actively promoting certain under-represented or discriminated groups.

Now, I think I can understand Adrian’s argument to some extent. It seems he is uncomfortable with people being given preferential treatment simply because of who they are, rather than what they are capable of doing. Most of the discussion that followed centred around representation among conference presenters, and he seems concerned that increasing the number of women and non-1st language users of English as conference presenters simply because they happen to fall into these categories could have a negative impact on the quality of conference presentations. There is a certain logic to this, but I think it’s worth exploring a bit.

Adrian’s main criticism of labels is that they are socially constructed. This of course means that they are the product of human social interaction and are therefore value-laden. What he didn’t mention though is the fact that the under-representation of certain groups on the conference circuit is also socially constructed. The current situation in ELT, in which the majority of conference presenters are men men, particularly white men, and more specifically white men whose first language is English, and even more precisely white men over 45 whose first language is English, is not a product of genetics or biology. It’s a reflection of the male dominance that exists in most contexts in the world today, and “native speakerism” is undoubtedly a legacy of the imperialistic origins underpinning ELT as a global profession (consider colonialism and the notion that English was historically regarded as the “property” of the colonisers).

So any notion that men are in any way deserving of the privileged positions that they find themselves in is also socially constructed. Adrian surely isn’t saying that the current imbalance is because of some kind of biological difference that naturally makes men better conference speakers than women. Surely not. What he might be saying though is that he doesn’t believe that white men still dominate positions of relative influence in ELT as a result of privilege – that they are where they are on merit. Certainly, he does seem concerned that any affirmative action in favour of women could result in the discrimination of men.

But within the current – socially constructed – reality, men do enjoy a degree of privilege. And I’m saying this as a middle-class, middle-aged white man whose first language is English. However fantastic I may be at my job, it is still the case that being a white native-speaking male has been very useful in allowing me to build a successful career. I probably don’t need to provide examples of how being white and a first-language user of English have been beneficial in terms of finding work and not having to work very hard to prove myself to any students who wanted a “real” English teacher. Being male has also had its advantages, though. I can’t say I’ve ever been hired because I’m a man, but I have been in front of all-male panels where it probably counted in my favour. I’ve also found myself in male-dominated management teams and I know it’s been easier for me to get my point across – or at least have it heard – than it was for my female colleagues. Also, becoming a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace has never been something I’ve had to worry about.

I’m not just talking about things that happened a long time ago, either. Everyday sexism is very much alive and well in ELT. At IATEFL this year I witnessed three instances of what most people would describe as inappropriate behaviour. In one case, a female friend of mine introduced herself to a male representative of a large global publishing company, who she had previously only had email contact with. She went to shake his hand, and he grabbed her and forced her into a hug that she really didn’t want or feel comfortable about. The second time was when a very well-known man in the ELT profession, one of the elder statesmen of the conference circuit, went up to a female presenter at the end of her talk to compliment her – not on the quality or content of her talk, but on how beautiful she looked. And the third one was when a male presenter made a really crass joke about having to end his talk because otherwise the woman at the back of the room would whip him, and that he would actually enjoy it. Yes that actually happened.

Within this context, it doesn’t seem in any way legitimate for men to express concern that they might be in danger of suffering somehow as a result of the increased representation of women. The only men who should feel threatened by the possibility of women getting 50% representation at conferences are the ones who are themselves bad conference speakers, and who therefore shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

Of course, Adrian Tennant’s alternative solution – to create a framework that measures the competencies of conference speakers – also seeks to weed out the bad presenters and ensure quality is maintained. But it’s interesting that he is proposing the framework, and presumably wants to have at least some input in deciding what competencies it should include. Based on what though? Based on what he thinks is a good conference speaker? Based on criteria that he thinks are relevant in assessing conference presentation? Or even if he didn’t devise the framework himself, the criteria would have to be based on people’s previous experiences of attending conference, which of course have been dominated by men. You can’t criticise labels for being socially constructed and then propose an alternative that is literally the creation of a construct modelled on existing patriarchal social norms.

Look, I don’t know Adrian Tennant, he seems like a nice enough person, I don’t wish him anything bad and I think he genuinely means well. I just find it odd that a man who has achieved considerable success in the ELT profession – or any man for that matter – should object to action that is already succeeding in increasing the representation of women and challenging sexual harassment in the workplace. You could only do that if you thought that discrimination against women isn’t a thing, or if you thought that you had a better solution than the women who are already doing a pretty good job of addressing the issue. Typical man.

Pulling at Invisible Threads: IATEFL 2018 Reflections Part 1

After IATEFL 2017 I wrote a post that expressed concerns about the level of control and influence that publishing companies and other for-profit organisations have over the conference. I described a session by Sue Kay that demonstrated how publishing editors had rejected her materials based round a text that portrayed a billionaire in a slightly negative light (heaven forbid!), and another text about Malala Yousefzai and Kailash Sathyarti winning the Nobel Peace Prize (like who cares about rights to education?), opting instead for a text about a commercial product that reduces urban pollution (that’s that problem solved then). I really wanted Sue to be using the session to criticise the publisher (which was Pearson, by the way), but she didn’t directly do this. In fact, she seemed to be trying to tell us that we should adopt similar principles when selecting materials for classroom use, or, better still, we should just use Pearson’s materials because they have already gone through a rigorous checking process.

This year, I watched Dorothy Zemach give her plenary talk which, in many respects, did what I had wanted Sue Kay’s 2017 talk to do. Like Kay, Zemach described materials she had sourced and lessons she had prepared which had been rejected by publishing editors. But instead of stopping there and implying that we have to just accept that publishers can be a bit picky sometimes, she was quite openly critical of the way publishing editors make decisions about her proposals for coursebook content. You can watch her full talk here.

It was interesting, and encouraging, to see a coursebook writer being so openly critical of publishers. Normally they use IATEFL to promote their materials and try to convince us that their coursebook is somehow better than all the others because it does more of this or doesn’t do quite as much of that. It must take a bit of courage for a writer to stand up in front of a whole conference, particularly one with such a strong publisher presence, and expose some of the unethical and irresponsible practices inherent in coursebook publication. I’ve previously written posts that are very critical of coursebooks, and my IATEFL talk last year was a pretty open attack on the way they contribute to the censorship of important topics from the English language classroom. But I’m not a coursebook writer, which allows me to be openly critical without risking my livelihood.

I did get the feeling this year that ELT professionals are starting to become less accepting of the dodgier aspects of coursebook design. Zemach’s talk focused mostly on content and values, but I was also interested to see Hugh Dellar, another coursebook writer, having a pop at the way coursebooks approach grammar. In his talk, Hugh was highly critical of the way in which coursebooks tend to spend a whole unit focusing on a single language item, and then do little or no overt focus on that item for the rest of the book. Of course, he then went on to tell us that his coursebook series doesn’t do this, but still, he did seem to be arguing against the structural syllabus – the most commonly used organising principle in coursebook design that runs counter to widely accepted second language acquisition theory and which, according to Mike Long, offers ‘…a psycholinguistically unrealistic timetable in the form of an externally imposed linguistic syllabus …[leading to]…virtually guaranteed repeated failure’ (Long 2015: 25).

So, we’ve got coursebook writers openly criticising both the content and the structure of coursebooks. This in itself suggests that the situation must be pretty bad, if writers are so frustrated by the neoliberal ways of their paymasters that they feel they have to say something. A recent article by Keith Copley compounds the view that things are pretty bad, as his study comparing coursebooks today with those of 30 years ago concludes that:

Commercial ELT, through its materials and branding, is therefore not merely reflecting a neoliberal zeitgeist, but in many respects is   strategically positioned within it (Copley 2018: 59).

However, while I welcome any critical analysis of coursebooks and the nefarious practices of publishing companies, I’m not sure how much impact they’ll have. Dorothy Zemach told us that when she comes up against editors who only want to include sanitised, uncritical content, they tell her “that’s what the market wants”. This in itself is a very neoliberal thing to do – create a market that relies heavily on your product and then blame the market for wanting it – that we should all start telling publishers that what they are giving us is not what we want, which will encourage them to change their ways.

The problem I have with Zemach’s proposed solution is that it is still couched within the neoliberal paradigm that dominates ELT (Kerr and Wickham 2015). It assumes that market forces can solve the problem. I would argue that the neoliberal mindset that underpins this view is in fact the source of what’s wrong with our profession, and therefore cannot possibly offer the answer.

If we take a critical look at why ELT professionals (apparently) want publishers to produce coursebooks that promote neoliberal ideology and present language atomistically, the following points emerge:

  1. Private ELT institutions need to sell their courses as “products”. Using a series of books that ostensibly “cover” each “level” of English allows them to offer this.
  2. The linear model of learning creates an illusion that students learn incrementally, which allows ELT providers to provide “evidence” of “success”. This is useful for both private and state-funded institutions, both of which are accountable to other stakeholders.
  3. It’s possible to call yourself, and be regarded as, a qualified English language teacher after completing a 4-week course. With the best will in the world, such a small amount of input can’t provide the knowledge and skills required to be good at designing your own materials or syllabus, so many teachers have to rely on pre-published materials. They are a captive market.
  4. The majority of these 4-week courses use global coursebooks in their teaching practice. This means that many people graduate as qualified teachers and they literally don’t know anything else other than how to teach with a global coursebook.
  5. Teachers in most contexts are contracted to teach as many hours as their employers feel they can get away with giving them. If the employer provides a coursebook that can be used without the teacher having to do too much planning (or none at all), this reduces the need for planning time and increases their potential to spend more time in front of a class.
  6. Most courses train teachers to avoid selecting topics that might potentially make students feel “uncomfortable”. The result is that many teachers lack the skills to effectively manage class activities that centre round some of the more serious issues that dominate the world today. Instead, they prefer to focus only on topics that are bland and inoffensive.
  7. The highly lucrative concept of the globally-recognised TESOL qualification allows teachers to be geographically mobile – a phenomenon that relies on the notion that the same teaching techniques can be applied in any context, which in turn legitimises the use of the same global coursebook anywhere in the world. Teachers who are trained in Bournemouth, start working in Bogota and then move to Bangkok are comforted by the fact that they can use the same coursebook in all three contexts, and that the dominant discourse tells them that this is somehow OK.
  8. ELT practice tends to be informed by Applied Linguistics research; research and academic literature that relates to general education plays a relatively minor role in shaping our practice. This means that the whole idea of education as a transformative, emancipatory act, and its potential to contribute towards creating a fairer, more equitable world, is often absent from discussions about effective language teaching. This allows neoliberal values to be promoted in ELT coursebooks without most of us even noticing.

I suppose what I am saying, then, is that complaining to publishers may lead to some changes being made to coursebook content and design, but we’ll still have coursebooks. We’ll still have coursebooks because we’ll still be trained to rely on them, and our managers will still want us to use them, and our students, who are by now familiar with the norms of the English language classroom and who want to believe that language is something you can learn atomistically, will still expect us to use them. For years now, we’ve been seduced by the beauty of the material presented to us by publishers, and it seems that people like Zemach and Dellar are finally starting to identify faults hidden beneath that beauty. But ultimately, they’re pulling at invisible threads. Criticising the material is pointless when the emperor is naked. That’s what we really need to face up to.



Copley, K. (2018), ‘Neoliberalism and ELT Coursebook Content’, Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 15:1, pp. 43-62.

Kerr, P. and Wickham, A. (2015), ELT as an Industry, available from: [last accessed 15/04/2018].

Long, M. (2015), Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching, Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.


Exploring ELT as Emancipatory Practice

Here is a link to the talk I gave at IATEFL 2018 in Brighton, plus a copy of the slides I used. I am grateful to IATEFL for the opportunity to present these ideas, and to the British Council for filming it.

As always, I welcome any comments.

IATEFL18 Final

Exploring ELT as Emancipatory Practice

or try this link?

Don’t bother with the link below – it seems to have been removed from YouTube now.

Football cliches and ELT

“Technically they’re very good”

This is a sentence that I’ve heard many times to describe football players. It’s often said by a Scottish pundit, usually to describe some team from Eastern Europe, as a means of explaining why the Scottish team lost/are losing/will lose. I suppose what it means to be technically very good is that you have the ability to do the things that you want to be able to do during a football match – control the ball quickly, don’t give it away with your first touch, pass accurately, hit the target when you get a shot in, swerve the ball round the wall, put spin on the ball so your free kick dips under the bar at the last second – that sort thing. Having good technical ability, then, seems to be about being able to do the low-level, mechanical things well, with the focus being on the physical attributes required to perform those tasks. So it’s ultimately about balance, control, coordination, strength, stuff like that.

If we were to apply the same term to English language teaching, we might say that a teacher is technically very good if they can do similarly low-level things like set up tasks, clarify language, and generally manage the class effectively. So we’re looking at skills like eliciting language, grouping students, grading language, giving and checking instructions, asking CCQs, effective boardwork, using various drilling techniques, that sort of thing. We might also say that lesson planning is a largely technical pursuit, especially if teachers are expected to follow a specific format, in which case lesson planning pretty much consists of applying a formula. If you have done one of those 4-week intensive, internationally recognised TESOL courses, or something similar, you probably found that this course mostly focused on your ability to develop these technical skills.


“That takes great vision”

Of course, it’s possible to be able to have all the technical skills and still be rubbish at football. In fact, when pundits describe players as “technically very good”, sometimes they are damning with faint praise. What they actually mean is “they lack creativity”. It’s not much good being able to make a 60-yard pass if you can’t identify this as the right pass to make. Keeping the ball is one thing, but using it to get your team into a scoring position is something else. The most outrageous banana shot in the world is no good whatsoever if you can’t get the ball out of your own half. Football is also a game that requires creativity and vision. Knowing that a pass into space will let your striker in behind the back four, or a short pass now will give your winger time to make a run into the box, or a back-pass will allow your team to build an attack slowly from the defence. Being able to see what needs to be done on the football pitch is at least as important as having the ability to actually do those things.

In language teaching, we might talk about creativity or vision in terms of how effectively the teacher applies their technical skills – how well they can see what needs to be done and then use technique to achieve that aim. So, for example, if they want to focus on a specific aspect of pronunciation they may decide to do choral drilling, or mumble-drilling, or back-chaining. Being able to do these things in the classroom demonstrates technical ability, but knowing which one is most appropriate for the thing you are focusing on, that takes some vision. And if you can make up a quick series of choral and individual drills on the spot to allow your students to use the target language with more confidence, then that’s creativity. If you’ve done one of those diploma-type courses, one of the ones where you normally need a certain amount of prior experience before being accepted, you’ve probably been required to demonstrate some creativity and vision in your teaching. The focus in those courses tends to be not only on technique, but also on knowing why certain techniques are effective, and which techniques to use in which situations.


“They show a lot of heart”

Traditionally, Scottish football teams are not particularly well-known for their technical ability or their creativity. But what they have tended to have in abundance (not so much recently mind you) is something called “heart”. When football pundits talk about heart they seem to be referring to a level of commitment that goes beyond enthusiasm. It’s about playing with passion, as if your life depends on it. “Leaving everything on the pitch” or “knowing what it means to wear the shirt” are other clichés that can be used when talking about players having “heart”. Such attributes manifest themselves on the pitch in the form of last-gasp tackles, chasing every ball, using whatever part of your body you legally can to clear the ball off the line, or making that mazy run into the box in the dying seconds to get a shot on target, even when the rest of your team has given up. But mostly, showing heart is more than just doing things on the pitch. It’s about knowing what it means to win – not just to you and your teammates, but to everyone involved. The wider impact of a victory – on the club, the fans, the nation even, can be far-reaching in terms of both its emotional and economic impact. Players with heart understand this. They don’t just see the match in terms of 90 minutes and 22 players, they consider the wider impact and use this to motivate themselves to be more successful.

Of course, you get teachers who show a lot of heart as well. These are teachers who think beyond individual lessons and the achievement of specific language aims. They think about the impact of their practice on their students’ lives, and the lives of those around them. They don’t just think “I’m going to use the topic of sport to introduce and practise some common verb + sport collocations”, they think “If I use the topic of sport and get my students to practise common verb + sport collocations, this will allow them to find out what sports clubs exist in the local area, which may encourage them to take up a new activity that will be good for their wellbeing”. “Heart” in language teaching isn’t really about language teaching at all. It’s about the (non-linguistic) impact that the learning experience can have on the learners. How language learning affects learners’ ability to participate in, and contribute to, the world.

If you’ve gone through the Certificate-followed-by-Diploma model of CPD in the ELT profession, you may not have done much in the way of overt focus on “teaching with heart”. This doesn’t mean that none of the teachers who followed this path have any heart – of course many of them do. The point is that the training courses they did would have focused a lot more on technique, vision and creativity. How often does a trainer on one of those courses ask the question “So how is this lesson going to enhance your learners’ lives?” or “Does this lesson do anything to address inequality?” How often, if ever, has a trainee’s main lesson aim on one of these courses been “To make students aware of the extent of gender bias in local government”? Most short, ELT-specific TESOL courses tend to focus instead on the low-level stuff, reducing ELT to a series of procedural tasks, and evaluating teachers on their ability to employ these tasks with a greater or lesser degree of effectiveness. Trainees are rarely asked to consider the wider impact of their teaching, and are instead encouraged to focus on just how effectively (or not) their clarification stage allowed the students to grasp the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous. Or whatever.

Having said that, for the same reasons that a football manager doesn’t select players purely on their level of enthusiasm, we can’t expect a teacher to be effective simply because they have a lot of heart. You can have all kinds of ideas about the purpose of education and how it can/should be used to develop certain knowledge and skills with a view to making the world a better place. But if you don’t know how to grade your language and give instructions that are clear enough for learners to understand what to do (never mind why you want them to do it) you’re unlikely to get very far. If you want your students to be able to use specific language items so they can set up a community development project, that’s great, but if you lack the boardworking skills, or the ability to ask effective CCQs, or even the linguistic knowledge to know what forms you’re dealing with in the first place, then you’re not going to have much success, if any. If you’ve done a generic teaching qualification, one of those ones where you get the same qualification irrespective of the actual subject you teach, you may find that you have learned a lot about what it means to teach with heart but, compared to people who have gone through the route of completing ELT-specific professional teaching qualifications, with their heavy focus on observed teaching practice, writing detailed lesson plans, and ability to manage the class in order to maximise learning (as opposed to managing the class for effective crowd control), you may find yourself with fewer technical skills at your disposal.


“(S)he’s the full package”

So I suppose what I’m saying here is that people come into our profession from different directions. But I’m not sure if any of the more common pathways allow ELT professionals to become sufficiently well-rounded. Depending on what pathway you followed, you might be very strong technically but have no idea why you’re doing any of the things you’re doing, or indeed why you’re getting your students to do the things you’re (very expertly) getting them to do. Or, you might design and deliver a course that covers relevant and useful topics that will impact positively on learners’ lives, but which doesn’t actually teach them any language because you lack the technical skills to do this. Obviously, experience can be very helpful in developing all aspects of our teaching, but input can accelerate that development massively. What we really need is a course that develops the full package from the beginning, linking technique, vision, creativity and heart to produce teachers who not only know how their teaching can contribute towards making the world a better place, but who also have the lower-level skills to make sure that when they do this, they do it effectively.

I’m hoping that some people will read this and get frustrated because I haven’t mentioned a wonderful course that they have done, or run, or know of, which does exactly what I’m calling for. If that’s you, please mention it in the comments section below. Thanks.

Honour the Deal


Before I get into this properly I feel I need to acknowledge my audience. Most people who read this blog are English language teachers, and for many of these good people, the life of a teacher is a precarious one. Zero-hours and temporary contracts are commonplace, salaries are often pitifully low compared to other professions, holiday pay and maternity leave are frequently non-existent, and pension schemes are equally rare. Nevertheless, expectations from management are, in many cases, disproportionately high, with teachers required to work split shifts or teach at weekends as part of their normal timetable, as well as attending CPD or other training in their own time and often at their own expense. If, for whatever reason (a student complaint, poor class results, whatever) a teacher is judged as performing below a required standard, they face the very real risk of having their contract terminated. If I’ve just described your teaching context, the concept of educational institutions being run by out-of-touch managers who prioritise bottom-line figures and profit margins over quality learning and teaching is a given, to the extent that it probably doesn’t even seem worth writing about. To you, this post may just seem like a big long petulant whine, or, at best, nothing that you can relate to. However, please bear with me.

You see, I happen to have a permanent contract in a Scottish further education college. This means that, compared to most English language teachers around the world, I get really well paid, have fantastic holidays and enjoy a high level of job security. And yet, a recent dispute between Colleges Scotland, the association that represents college managers, and EIS-FELA, the lecturers’ union, means that I’m on strike for a 5th day in the past four weeks, and I’ll be on strike again tomorrow. But why? What on earth would make me and my colleagues sacrifice so many days’ pay and take action that can only damage relations with our managers? Well the thing is, this dispute isn’t about how much we get paid, or how many holidays we have. It’s about other, more important things, related to power, control, equality and trust.

A bit of background is required, and I’ll try to be brief. Between 1993 and 2016, further education (FE) colleges operated as independent bodies. The vast majority of their funding still came from the government, but they weren’t under government control. The union had to negotiate terms and conditions for its members separately, within each individual college. Inevitably, this led to different terms and conditions existing in different colleges. It happened gradually, but over the years, lecturers in some colleges saw their terms and conditions improve, while things gradually got worse in others.

By 2014, the disparities in terms and conditions had become enormous, with an annual salary difference of around £10,000 between the highest- and lowest-paying colleges. The differentials were made more obvious when the government introduced a process of regionalisation, which required colleges to merge with each other. Suddenly, lecturers found themselves working for the same employer and doing the same job, but being paid vastly different amounts. In some cases, pay and conditions within colleges still hasn’t been harmonised. Lecturers share the same staffroom, but get paid different rates and have different terms and conditions.

A couple of years ago, colleges became reclassified as public bodies, increasing their accountability to the Scottish Government, particularly with regard to expenditure. Around the same time the government proposed a return to national bargaining, which would allow EIS-FELA to negotiate pay and conditions with Colleges Scotland on a national level, allowing them to move towards achieving the same terms and conditions across all colleges. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the union was in favour of this, but the managers were less so. In fact, they were reluctant to even accept national bargaining had been introduced – even after it had – and it took a one-day strike from lecturers in March 2016 and some government intervention to get them to agree to any kind of plan that worked towards harmonisation of terms and conditions.

The 2016 deal focused on the equalisation of pay, and aimed to bring all salaries up to the same level as the highest paying college, over a three-year period. Obviously this was very good news for the lecturers in the more poorly paid colleges, who had had a raw deal for such a long time, and it was less good for those in colleges that paid higher salaries. But EIS-FELA members voted overwhelmingly to accept the deal, as the main objective was to bring an end to pay inequality; once this had been established we could negotiate terms and conditions and national bargaining would function as it should.

However, after this deal was signed, nothing happened. The first salary adjustment was due to take place in April this year, and it didn’t. When pressed to explain why this was the case, Colleges Scotland responded that pay harmonisation could only be implemented if other aspects of lecturers’ conditions, such as annual leave and weekly teaching hours, were also addressed. This was not what had been agreed and, following a ballot, EIS-FELA entered into an official dispute with Colleges Scotland. As there was no further movement or indication that the deal would be honoured, another union ballot saw lecturers voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.


Now, strike action is serious, and is generally only something that unions and the workers they represent do as a last resort. It is worth noting that college lecturers in Scotland have been on strike for more days in the past 4 weeks than in the previous 25 years. It is also worth pointing out once again that many lecturers who are in favour of strike action stand to gain very little on an individual level – but this is not about individualism. It’s about a collective sense of professional worth, a feeling that all lecturers who do the same job should be recognised equally for doing it. Furthermore, it is about being able to trust that your managers respect and value what you do, and the need for mutual trust between employers and employees in order to maintain a positive and productive working environment. When repeated calls for the deal to be implemented were ignored, and when the deadline on 1st April 2017 passed without any pay adjustments being made, lecturers felt that this trust had been broken. A deal had been agreed, and managers had refused to honour it.

Since industrial action started 4 weeks ago, relations between lecturers and managers have deteriorated further. Statements on the Colleges Scotland website and quoted in the press repeatedly claim that the 2016 pay deal was inextricably linked to other conditions, and that lecturers are being offered a 9% pay rise but, in addition, they are demanding more holidays and fewer weekly teaching hours. None of this is true. The deal over pay has no conditionality attached to it, other than an acknowledgement that Colleges Scotland would draw up a plan to sort other conditions out soon. The 9% figure is based on some calculation of the average pay increase that lecturers will receive in order to achieve pay equality. But again, this is over a three-year period and is necessary to address the pay inequalities that have existed for so many years. Saying that lecturers want more holidays and fewer teaching hours is also untrue. Everybody knows that college lecturers get lots of holidays – why would we demand more? That would be silly. There is also inequality in the amount of annual leave offered at each college though, and the truth behind the claim is that Colleges Scotland want to harmonise holidays downwards. Lecturers aren’t asking for more holidays, they’re just not keen on losing what they have.

As for teaching hours, it’s the same thing. Lecturers currently teach between 21 and 26 hours per week, depending on what college they work in. College managers want to be able to make all lecturers teach 26 hours per week. For many college lecturers, the prospect of increased weekly teaching remits is a serious concern. The upheaval caused in recent years as a result of regionalisation and new policy implementation has made the FE curriculum more outcomes-based, more attainment-focused, and has also increased the level of performativity in colleges. It is no longer enough to simply teach in a way that allows your students to learn effectively. Large amounts of evidence need to be generated to allow the teaching and learning process to be evaluated by other people. Increased accountability isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se, but it means that non-teaching time is at an absolute premium. Lecturers need time outside the classroom to source or design materials, prepare lessons, mark homework, deliver assessments and provide ongoing support to students on an individual and group level. To any teacher reading this, the need for sufficient prep time is self-evident, but it seems less obvious to college managers.

Ultimately though, whether you agree with the union’s desire for harmonisation to always go in lecturers’ favour, or whether you think that some lecturers should make some sacrifices in the name of equality, this particular debate is irrelevant. The fact is that an agreement has already been reached. Colleges Scotland agreed to implement the equal pay deal. They are now reneging on this deal by claiming that it has to be linked in with other aspects of lecturers’ terms and conditions. If that is the case, why did they agree to the March 2016 deal in the first place? Either they made a massive error of judgement by not realising the financial implications of the deal, which raises questions about their competence, or they signed the deal but had no intention of implementing it, raising questions about their integrity. Either way, this dispute makes Colleges Scotland, and the managers it represents, look pretty bad – incompetent, or devious, or possibly both.

Perhaps it is a fear of looking stupid, then, that is motivating Colleges Scotland to present alternative facts to the public and to try and re-define the debate so it includes annual leave and teaching hours. It is misleading to publicly express disappointment at the union’s unwillingness to negotiate, when a deal has already been negotiated and just needs to be implemented. Not only that, but the Scottish Government says the funding to allow pay to be harmonised has been made available, so Colleges Scotland can’t say that the deal is unaffordable; if the government is footing the bill, managers don’t stand to lose anything, do they?

Well, maybe they do. In that long period when colleges were publicly funded but privately run, senior management teams in individual colleges had a large degree of freedom in how they spent funds. Not only did they set salaries and write job descriptions for their staff, they also had considerable autonomy when it came to spending on other things, and there have been instances in the past where managers have used college funding in ways that have been regarded as, let’s say, questionable (for examples please read here, here, here and here), and more recent stories would suggest that at least some of them are keen to ensure their own interests are well-served, as can be seen here and here. However, returning colleges to the public domain increases the level of scrutiny over how college principals spend funds. Re-introducing national bargaining means that individual colleges no longer have the capacity to force their staff into accepting unpalatable changes to their terms and conditions (I’m not saying all college principals want to do this, just that they had the ability to in the past and they don’t any more). Making colleges national bodies and  nationalising negotiating procedures means a loss of control, therefore a loss of power. Some principals don’t seem to like that.

We are now in a really unpleasant situation, with strike action affecting classes at a crucial stage in the academic year. As well as having to bear the financial burden of going out on strike, lecturers are acutely aware of the impact of industrial action on college students, and the temptation to cross the picket line, or cram more work than usual into non-striking days, will increase if the dispute continues. However, the whole purpose of strike action is to be disruptive. If lecturers withdraw their labour and students manage to complete their courses successfully anyway, not only does this minimise the impact of the industrial action, it also justifies (in managers’ eyes) shaving hours off of existing courses. It may seem paradoxical, but if lecturers’ main responsibility is the delivery of high quality teaching and learning for their students, they must strike, and the more disruptive the strike is the better. The onus is not on lecturers to resolve this dispute; all they want is the implementation of something that has already been agreed. The onus is on managers to honour this deal.

As I said at the beginning of this post, college lecturers are in a far more privileged position than many of our fellow teachers. But we’re not in this position because we have benevolent managers who understand and value the job we do. We are in this position because we have a strong union, and a strong sense of solidarity. We are now taking the opportunity presented by national bargaining to bring about an end to unequal pay. Many of us stand to gain little or nothing from the agreed pay deal. However, if we allow our managers to break this deal, we allow them to do the same again in the future and we can look forward to a gradual erosion of pay and conditions for us, and an erosion of quality for students. Lecturers with permanent contracts in the Scottish FE sector are not in the same precarious position as many teachers who will read this, but we will be if we don’t stay strong and united. Concerns about our own terms and conditions are part of it, but this is more about the sector as a whole. We need to use national bargaining to create a platform that allows us to deliver a high quality curriculum for our learners. Students matter. Prep time matters. Never mind the spin – just honour the deal.

For updates on the progress of the dispute between EIS-FELA and Colleges Scotland, you can visit the EIS-FELA website

Or follow the EIS on Twitter – @EISUnion

Or visit either the Honour the Deal Facebook page or the Students Supporting Lecturers Facebook page

Or try searching for any of these hashtags:

#honourthedeal     #preptimematters     #principlesoverprincipals