Codified Body of Knowledge – Response to Challenges – Part 2 – Is history being rewritten?

As noted in my recent posts, in July I spoke at the Festival of Education, advocating for a codified body of knowledge that all teachers were expected / given the opportunity to learn in training.

One criticism levied against my suggestion came on twitter from Carmel O’Hagan:

Twitter 2

I’m certainly keen to hear more about what is mistaken in my example about MFL, but leaving that to one side for just a moment, I was most taken by the comment near the bottom:

There is a rewriting or airbrushing of history going on here.

Interpreting this, the challenge would be: This has already been tried, and failed.

You could imagine my shock when only two weeks ago I learnt of the existence of the ‘Mathemapedia.’

Mathemapedia 1

Especially given that in a brief section of the speech about what such a body of knowledge might look like or be composed of, I offered this graphic:


Here’s a side by side comparison:

CBoK Comparison

Carmel’s tweet came at around the same time, and so I wonder is she right to say that this has all been tried before, and didn’t work?

To some extent this seems to be true, that is to say, perhaps something akin to what I’m advocating has been tried before.

Why did it fail?

In the case of the Mathemapedia at least, there are obvious criticisms to be made around design and user interface and so forth… but to be honest even if the content was exactly what teachers needed, and the interface made it fluid and simple to use, I still think we’d find that few had heard of the Mathemapedia, because there is a more systemic, underlying problem that I don’t think has been previously addressed.

Time.  Structure.  Direction.

There is, as yet, no real professional structure to teaching.  The ‘structure’ that exists – such as it is – is:

Teacher -> Head of Department -> Assistant Head -> Deputy Head -> Head

In other words, increased managerial responsibility, further away from teaching, and certainly further away from subject specialism.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a great career track, as a manager in education.  It is fundamentally *not,* however, anything to do with professional development as a teacher.

We need to structure teacher development; we need real, shared understanding of what that looks like.  Some things will always be in development and difficult to assess, and might even shift depending on context (such as classroom management) whereas others can be assessed for directly, and ticked off once known and understood (such as ‘x ways of teaching ratios.)  Some things will belong in a codified body of knowledge, while others will belong to coaching frameworks.

I don’t believe an airbrushing of history is taking place, because without a structure and direction for subject development, and without the time to allow it to happen, we cannot say that we’ve ever taken teacher knowledge seriously, as a part of qualification training, or professional development.


An important part of my case was the lack of assessment for teacher knowledge.  I didn’t feel the same sense of ire as many when Michael Gove announced that unqualified teachers could teach in schools since I felt like achieving QTS was such a non-event.  A few people gave their vague opinions, which were that I should be a teacher, and assigned some judgement as to how well they felt I’d performed during my first training year.  It’s not that I resent the nice things they said about me, naturally!  But rather… it didn’t feel particularly rigorous.  I didn’t feel I’d done anything special to mark me out as someone who was a professional, fully qualified teacher, any more than the next well-meaning well-intentioned well-educated would-be-teacher off the street.  I didn’t feel that anyone had any real sense of what I truly knew, or didn’t know, about the subject I was teaching, nor what I knew, or didn’t know, and about how to communicate it to other people, of varying ages, varying stages of development, and varying prior knowledge.

Insofar as I’m aware, there has never been a requirement for teachers to learn and demonstrate knowledge of a codified, and extensive, body of knowledge regarding their subject, the pedagogy of their subject, the psychology of learning and memory, and theories of instruction.

Insofar as I’m aware, there has been no time set aside for this kind of study, and no assessment mechanism making it mandatory to qualify.

There is certainly no real structure offered to this kind of study once QTS has been achieved, limited direction, and unequivocally no time granted nor assessment required, as a part of a teacher’s ongoing professional development.


Even if attempts have been made to codify knowledge for subjects like mathematics and MFL in the past, if it has never been a mandatory requirement of teachers that they know these bodies of knowledge in order to qualify, then it cannot be said that history is being rewritten now, when suggesting that it should be so.

In the end this will be about more than just the writing of a book; it’s the creating of a profession.

About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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3 Responses to Codified Body of Knowledge – Response to Challenges – Part 2 – Is history being rewritten?

  1. whatonomy says:

    Isn’t it the function of qualifications to demonstrate knowledge? If you teach English Lit, it’s more than likely that you should have a degree in English Lit. Also, doesn’t a codified body of knowledge trap the subject in amber? A teacher mediates between the evolving subject and the growing student. All parts of the equation are moving. That’s why codification is ultimately thankless. It would need to be rewritten as soon as it was completed.

    • Kris Boulton says:

      The degree challenge comes up each time – best response to it is probably in the body of the previous post (in short, no, the degree guarantees nothing of the sort.)

      Does it lock teachers in to a specific subject? To some extent, yes, or at least suggests that to be considered a qualified teacher of another subject they should undergo a similar learning process. I for one have no problem with that. I’m a ‘qualified’ maths teacher with a masters in physics. I do *not* consider myself in any way, shape or form qualified to jump into a classroom tomorrow and start teaching physics! Yet, this is the current attitude we have to teachers and teaching (see the original post on this topic – subheading: once you can teach, you can teach anything – imo simply not true.) This is at its worst with English and the humanities, where teachers are moved around as if serious subject knowledge has no bearing at all on the quality of teaching!

      Growing student: sure, what I’m speaking about here is only one under-represented facet of being a teacher.

      Need to be re-written: not so. Yes, it should likely be a living, evolving body of knowledge, and in line with that teachers should probably be expected to keep up to date with the latest developments and discussions, but it’s simply not correct to say that it would ‘need to be completely rewritten as soon as it were completed.’

      • whatonomy says:

        I accept your point and think it’s useful to distinguish between subjects. In English (my subject) there is a much greater emphasis on skills. The knowledge strand actually remains controversial, which is why we constantly swing between the classics and modern (typically American) literature. You’re right that humanities teachers tend to be moved between a greater range of subjects. What I meant by set in amber is that by codifying we risk making judgements about our subjects that will be open to critique and continual revision. But I accept that this is not grounds for avoiding codification. If anything it supports your call to action.

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