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Some Barriers to Educational Innovation from Outside the School System

by John Raven - 1984

Results of a survey exploring parent, student, and teacher expectations of education are given. Educational goals are not being fulfilled because of unwillingness to recognize that there are a variety of values in society. Assessment procedures that go beyond academic achievement are necessary. (Source: ERIC)

The views expressed in this paper should not be attributed to the Scottish Council for Research in Education.

Research by the author1 working in the United Kingdom and Ireland, by DeLandsheere2 in Belgium, and Johnston and Bachmen3 in the United States shows that, although there are considerable differences in their priorities, most teachers, pupils, ex-pupils, parents, and employers think that the main goals of education include fostering self-confidence, the ability to take initiative in introducing change, the ability to work with others, the ability to make one’s own observations and learn without instruction, and the willingness to work for the good of the community in which one lives. All these authors also show that most teachers and pupils are agreed that these goals are sadly neglected at the present time, and, as a result, poorly attained. These opinions are confirmed in studies of the qualities needed at work and in society,4 and evidence of their neglect is provided by Flanagan.5

Several of these studies sectioned the data by the socioeconomic status of the parents, the age at which the pupils expected to leave school, or the jobs the pupils expected to enter.6 Although there was indeed major variance in priorities with socioeconomic status—whether of background or of anticipated occupation—it is not sufficient to invalidate the conclusion that there is substantial agreement that fostering the qualities mentioned should be included in any list of the main goals of education.

More recent data lead one to modify—but by no means withdraw—this conclusion.

Whereas the previously summarized studies dealt with the qualities these various groups thought that it was important for schools to try to foster, the parents we interviewed in the course of our studies of preschool education were asked what quantities they would like their children to develop.7 This change in focus permitted us to ask about goals that would not normally be included in lists of potential objectives in education. Such goals included being strong and tough, being able to stick up for oneself, being able to get the better of others, and having respect for one’s parents.

Some of the results so obtained are presented in Chart 1. It will be seen that parents from different social classes often want their children to develop different, indeed incompatible, qualities. Thus high-socio-economic-status (HSES) parents seem to want their children to be interested in intellectual activities, to ask questions, to think for themselves, to question authority, to be individualistic, and to be independent. Lower-socio-economic-status (LSES) parents much more often want their children deferent, dependent, obedient, strong and tough, and able to stick up for themselves. They are not merely indifferent to the sorts of qualities valued by HSES parents; they are actively opposed to them. Opposition to children’s asking questions, bookishness, and independence has been widely reported.8 But opposition to such things as children’s using books to find the information they wanted took us more by surprise (“Oh, no, I wouldn’t want that; goodness knows what he might come across poking about in books”).

Attention should also be drawn to the fact that by no means all of the variance in the qualities parents wish their children to develop is “explained” by socioeconomic status (SES); there is a great deal of variance within SES groups. There are a number of observations to be made about these data. Two of them may be introduced here.

First, many of the goals are incompatible in schools. One cannot pursue them at the same time in the same classroom. One cannot encourage some children to be sensitive to slight feelings on the fringe of consciousness, mull these over, bring them up into full consciousness, and explore their implications (a process that is essential to artistic and intellectual creativity) and, at the same time, “beat the badness out of” others to kill their original sin (curiosity). One cannot encourage some children to question authorities about the reasons for their demands and encourage them to develop the qualities that are needed to get authorities to change their demands, and, at the same time, encourage other children to obey commands without question.

Second, if one compares the priorities of the parents with one’s knowledge of what goes on in schools, or with research reported in the literature,9 it appears to be true that schools reflect “working-class” values rather than “middle-class” values. Not only do schools tend in practice to stress the goals more often espoused by working-class families (emphasizing such things as obedience, paying attention to prescribed rather than self-selected tasks, and not asking questions), but teachers tend also to adopt the working-class practice of providing specific information and asking “tutorial” questions to find out if the child has learned what he has been told (and punishing him if he has not) rather than the middle-class procedure of trying to create developmental environments that facilitate the growth of the child’s idiosyncratic competencies.

It is important to understand that the variance in concerns that is documented in Chart 1 is socially functional in some poorly understood but important way. Thus, when one studies the variance in the importance that secondary school pupils attach to developing such qualities,10 one finds that the variance is at least as closely related to the status of the jobs the children themselves expect to enter as it is to the variance in the status of their fathers’ job. Thus, one finds that pupils who expect to be downwardly mobile (that is, pupils who come from high-status backgrounds and expect to enter low-status jobs), and who have therefore presumably been brought up in homes that stress internalized controls, originality, and independence, stress the need for rigid codes to follow, strict rules to guide their lives, obedience and conformity. Conversely, one finds that upwardly mobile pupils, unpromising though their backgrounds are, stress the importance of developing independence, responsibility, leadership, the willingness and the ability to challenge authority, and individuality. It is therefore important to respect this variance in, pupils’ values rather than to try to stamp it out by submitting all to a common program of education. Indeed, an even stronger statement may be justified; it may be of the greatest possible importance to society for schools to seek to produce pupils with a wide range of very different values and concerns and an equally wide range of different patterns of competence.

Another fact to emerge from our more recent study was that, when we asked people whether it was important to have individualized programs of education, in which what a pupil learned would be tailored to his particular interests and inclinations, the response was most emphatically that one should not.11 It would be neither possible nor desirable to do so. It would not be possible because those we interviewed did not know how it could be done. But the reasons it would not be desirable are more serious. It would not be desirable to individualize provision because this would mean that the sons and daughters of the more articulate and the more powerful would get the “best” deal—and there was no concept that “the best” could be, indeed was, defined in different ways by different people. The reason for this would seem to be that, as Chart 2 shows, most parents already know what Berg, Dore, and Collins have been at pains to establish: namely, that schools are primarily about getting jobs, and only very secondarily about facilitating growth and development.12 Since jobs are usually allocated primarily on the basis of a single criterion (i.e., exam success), it follows that the task of schools is to promote success on that criterion. Thus there can be no variety of goals, and individualization of provision would simply mean that some children would get more help than others.

Attention may now be drawn to the implications of these data for that great nonevent: parental involvement in schools. How can teachers involve parents in the educational process in any meaningful way when these parents are not only going to try to get them to move in incompatible directions, but also, at the same time, going to demand that all children and parents are treated in the same way?

This may in fact be the least worrying of the observations to be made on the basis of these data. It may be that our two findings—namely, that the qualities parents want their children to develop are extremely varied and, second, that they are not prepared to countenance different children’s being treated in different ways—spell the death knell for many other educational innovations—indeed, for any type of effective education in schools.


To see their implications for education and educational innovation it is necessary to introduce data from earlier work.13 When we asked teachers, pupils, and parents, employers, and employees what qualities they thought it was most important for schools to help children to develop, most of the qualities that were said to be most important were value laden. Thus, the teachers stressed the importance of pupils’ developing their characters and personalities, developing a sense of duty toward the community, and knowing right from wrong. How are schools to help pupils develop their characters and personalities if one refuses to recognize the legitimacy of helping different pupils to develop different qualities? By insisting on uniformity in treatment—uniformity that must necessarily be incompatible with the values of most pupils and parents—one sets up a situation in which it is impossible to pursue what are agreed to be some of the main goals of education.

More seriously, although it is not as obvious in the teachers’ data as in the pupils’ data, most of the competencies it is most often thought that schools should strive to foster can be encouraged and assessed only in relation to valued goals. To take some examples: No one can be expected to expend the effort required to take initiative, to lead, to invent, to make one’s own observations—or even to express oneself well—except in relation to goals one values. To do any one of these things it is necessary to devote a great deal of time and effort to the activity. One has to monitor the effects of one’s actions to see what these effects have to tell about the situation being dealt with. One has to elicit the cooperation of others. One has to study the fleeting feelings on the fringe of consciousness that form the basis of all effective action, bring them up into full consciousness, and ponder their implications. One has to set aside time that one would prefer to devote to other things, to persist in the face of difficulty, to put up with the anxieties that swell up when one tries to do something new and difficult. It follows that pupils cannot practice these qualities unless they are working toward goals they personally value and unless they are able to do so over an extended period of time. And if pupils cannot practice doing these things, they certainly cannot learn how to do them more effectively. One reason most teachers believe that they actually neglect the very goals they believe to be most important may therefore be that they cannot individualize educational activity in relation to their pupils’ values.

Just as these qualities cannot be fostered except while pupils are pursuing goals they personally care very strongly about, so neither can they be assessed except in relation to these goals. It is entirely incorrect to conclude that a pupil lacks the ability to take initiative simply because he does not take initiative in relation to a task we have set him. It is more likely that he simply does not value this goal. So, to make realistic assessments of these qualities one must first find out what a pupil’s values are and then ask whether he can display these abilities in relation to his valued goals.

Now, given (1) that most pupils and parents attach great importance to obtaining credentials14 and (2) that obtaining credentials is of the greatest possible importance,15 these findings may also help explain why teachers tend to neglect the very goals they consider most important. Unless they assess these qualities as part of the certification and placement process they will be unable to attend to them. But unless they assess them in relation to pupils’ values the assessments will not be meaningful. The dilemma is clear, and it may help to explain not only what it is that the main goals of education tend to be neglected but also why it is that so many curriculum-development programs directed toward these goals have failed to take root. It is for this reason that Holt may be wrong to seek individual explanations for the failures of each of the curriculum-development programs he reviews.16

It would seem from the material we have reviewed that this neglect of the main goals of education, and the failure of curriculum-development projects to take hold more widely, may rest on a general unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy—indeed the importance—of a wide range of values and patterns of competence in society. It may also rest on a lack of determination to find ways of recognizing and utilizing these competencies in society (through, for example, a full-employment policy), and on a widespread public preference for policies based on the rationing of privilege17 and an equal chance in the “race.” (Interestingly enough, and very disturbingly, these public perceptions, expectations, and preferences in relation to education are mirrored in relation to public policy in general, whether that policy has to deal with housing, welfare, health, or urban planning.18 As in education, it would seem that these views may be responsible for the fact that the socialized sectors of the economy tend to make provision only for a uniform, grey mediocrity, or lowest common denominator, which actually satisfies no one, rather than diversified provision that provides choice and variety suited to a range of people with different preferences.)

To solve the problem as far as education is concerned two things would seem to be necessary. One would be a commitment on the part of society to do all it can to recognize, develop, utilize, and reward all the talents available to it. (This is very different from our current practice of using the school system to allocate some people to high-status positions in society and assign others to lives of degradation and humiliation at the hands of our welfare services because they have “failed” when tested against “unarguable” criteria of merit afforded by the school system after having been presented with a clear opportunity to compete in that race.)

The other would be to find ways of testifying to the possession of a much wider range of alternative qualities and competences than is provided by the current examination system. Measures of the styles of behavior and activities that pupils value, and their patterns of competence, are essential if such qualities are to be recognized and fostered in schools. They are also essential to the effective implementation of staff guidance, placement, and development procedures in the work place and community. Only then will we, as a society, be able to place and develop the human resources available to us and give people credit for the talents they really possess.

Unfortunately, teachers do not appear to be particularly anxious to become involved in the developments that are needed to broaden the basis of educational assessment. This is partly because they went into teaching to help people, to communicate, and to do a worthwhile job in the community, and they do not wish to act as feudal barons allocating position and status.19They want to be relieved of the whole irksome business and be free to get on with education. Of a large sample of teachers, 64 percent said that “employers and universities should have their own selection procedures, and thus leave schools free to gear their curriculum to the educational objectives that they consider most important and to award certificates indicating that pupils have completed a general education course, rather than certificates concentrating only on academic attainments.“20

Such attitudes in part reflect a failure to acknowledge the crucial role that sociological processes, mediated by examinations, play in deflecting teachers from their goals. Given that the sociological demand will not go away, it is likely that teachers will end up teaching toward whatever qualities are assessed as part of the selection and placement system, whoever administers it.

But teachers’ reluctance to broaden the basis of assessment goes deeper than this. It is not clear exactly what the position is since the available data—although it contributed substantially to clarifying the issues—was collected before these issues became clear. From what we have seen, an effective assessment system would examine both pupils’ valued styles of behavior and the components of competence they displayed in relation to those valued goals. In the surveys,21 this distinction was not made. The questions dealt with academic abilities on the one hand, and character and personality on the other, and more attention was focused on whether examinations should provide information for use by teachers, pupils, schools, or employers. Nevertheless, the large-scale survey data give a very strong impression that many teachers are reluctant to get involved in assessment in the wider area that we are concerned with here.

The reason for this is not entirely clear-again, the importance of collecting the data was not clear to us at the time we initiated the surveys. Nevertheless the reasons include:

A belief that these qualities cannot be assessed with any objectivity.

A belief that schools do not sufficiently foster them to warrant teachers’ assessing them. (It is felt that they should take responsibility only for assessing qualities they themselves have fostered.)

A belief that these qualities are age-or situation-specific.

A fear of political or legal repercussions. (Pupils might sue them for damaging their life chances.)

Since it would seem that the task of bringing education back into the schools and developing more effective manpower guidance, placement, and development policies is critically dependent on developing better means of assessing these qualities, it is important to examine the validity of these arguments one by one.

While it may well have been true that teachers’ assessments of qualities other than academic ability have, in the past, not proved to have great validity,22 this may be due to the fact that relatively few teachers create situations in which pupils can practice and display these qualities. As Bloom, Anastasi, and others have observed, teachers had, in the past, little information on the basis of which to make such assessments.23 There is therefore a chicken-and-egg problem. If teachers do not assess these qualities they will necessarily continue to neglect them—for neither they nor their pupils will be able to get credit for having spent time seeking to develop them when the time comes to scramble for a job or gain entry to an institute of higher education. And if teachers continue to neglect to create situations in which they can foster these qualities, they will remain unable to assess them with any validity.

If values, motivation, and other components of competence are indeed situation-specific, that would be an extremely important conclusion. It would mean that we could, on a national basis, create many more situations in which it would be possible to encourage people to take initiative and responsibility, and to make the most of their knowledge and ability. It would not, however, be an argument for not assessing such qualities. Quite the contrary, the only way in which such an important conclusion could be established and operationalized would be to develop means of assessing these wider qualities and then document the nature of the situations that evoked them.

The argument that such qualities should not be assessed because, by assessing them, one might damage the life chances of some of one’s pupils neglects the fact that, by assessing them, one would greatly enhance the life chances of many other pupils whose careers would otherwise, at present, be damaged by poor academic attainment. In actuality, things are worse than this because the life chances of very many people are placed in jeopardy when individuals who do not in fact possess important values and managerial abilities are placed in positions of responsibility in firms and in society. As I have shown elsewhere, this happens with monotonous regularity.24

Behind the fear of legal repercussions for damaging the life chances of pupils lies the belief that many of these other qualities are so much more important than academic ability. To declare that a pupil lacked initiative or responsibility would damage his life chances more seriously than if one simply said that he lacked the ability to do arithmetic. Thus, many teachers are saying that they are willing to assess—in any public manner—only that which is unimportant. However this is not the whole story. As we all know, assessment of these qualities is, in fact, so important that it does not stop. It is, instead, driven underground. What actually happens is that assessments of qualities of personality and character are made, in confidence, and without recourse to redress on the part of pupils who are incorrectly assessed. These assessments are made on the basis of evidence that, as we have seen, cannot possibly be expected to lead to valid assessments, and they are made in the context of failure to examine their reliability and validity in the ways in which academic assessments have been subjected to scrutiny in the researches reviewed by Ingenkemp.25

Despite the fact that we do not have any statistical evidence on the relative frequency with which these various arguments for not broadening the basis of assessment are put forward, we do have reason to suspect that the main reason is a lack of knowledge of the ways in which such qualities could be validly assessed. In the survey that yielded the data discussed earlier, there was clear evidence that teachers at least wished to broaden the range of assessments that were made. Eighty-four percent said that teachers’ assessments of a pupils’ work over the year should form an essential part of examinations, and only 34 percent said that examinations currently paid enough attention to inventive, creative work. In a much smaller unpublished study,26 I found that all the teachers who were interviewed thought it was important for noncognitive qualities to be assessed. They thought that education should be concerned with the whole child and that many pupils had qualities that were not recorded in traditional examination assessments. The other qualities they wanted to assess included honesty, self-confidence, social abilities, and creativity. Pupils likewise wanted to have other qualities assessed because they thought they had important abilities that were not recorded on examination certificates, and that the picture these provided was very one-sided. They placed particular emphasis on assessment of social abilities.

So far, our discussion has suggested that the interpretation that best fits the available data is not that most teachers are actively opposed to assessing such qualities—although many are—but that they have not yet recognized the crucially important role which not assessing these qualities as part of the certification and placement process plays in deflecting them from the very goals they themselves believe to be the most important from an educational point of view.

We have also seen that these crucially important attitudes of teachers are only part of a much wider set of social and civic attitudes and expectations that operate, in practice if not in intent, to drive education out of the schools. The question then becomes whether we are prepared to implement a national system of multiple-talent assessment that goes beyond academic abilities and that, if it is to include other competencies and motivations, must inevitably become concerned with values.

Despite the obvious political dangers inherent in such a system, it remains true that, without it, we cannot recognize, develop, guide, or utilize the talents and motivations available to us as a society. We will be stuck with a manpower policy that essentially consists of filling vacancies by means of a lottery, with its inevitable corollary that a large number of people will be incompetent to do the jobs we ask them to do while being perfectly capable of doing something else. We will continue to select and promote on the basis of seniority and irrelevant academic qualifications rather than on the basis of appropriate talents and abilities. We have to choose between developing a society that is based on open acknowledgment of the importance of a diversity of values and talents and one that assumes that we all have basically the same talents and priorities but differ only in our “level of ability,” and in which those with more ability are entitled to a greater share of society’s resources.

If we are not going to move in the direction of recognizing the value of diversity in interests, motivations, values, and talents, the implications are serious. We cannot have an educational system that works toward the goals most people set for it. We cannot have curriculum-development programs. We cannot have parental involvement in schools. We cannot have educational programs geared to community needs but only programs that will enable some pupils to move out of deprived areas only to be replaced by their “less able” peers. We cannot expect our manpower policies to do anything other than squander most of the resources available to us because it will not be possible to recognize people’s talents and place them in positions in which they can utilize those talents. (It is no longer possible for people to be dismissed or promoted over others without giving reasons.) And it will not be possible to break the stranglehold of educational institutions over growth and development because it will not be possible to testify to the development of other qualities through out-of-school experience or on-the-job experience. Only educational institutions will be able to confer the credentials required to compete more successfully in the scramble for the scarce resources available in society.

If we are to develop more diversified policies, we will have to challenge some of the very basic civic and social attitudes and assumptions documented earlier in this article and to put in hand a considerable amount of research and development the need for which is barely recognized at the present time. This research and development will have to be primarily concerned with encouraging people to examine and redefine their beliefs about the way their society does and should work and with developing the psychologically based tools that are required to administer a multiple-talent assessment, guidance, and development procedure.27


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 85 Number 3, 1984, p. 431-443
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 881, Date Accessed: 1/16/2022 4:28:45 PM

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