Education in Spite of Policy  book cover
1st Edition

Education in Spite of Policy

ISBN 9781138049871
Published December 31, 2021 by Routledge
410 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

A national system of education cannot function without policy. But the path to practice is seldom smooth, especially when ideology overrules evidence or when ministers seek to micromanage what is best left to teachers. And once the media join the fray the mixture becomes downright combustible.

Drawing on his long experience as teacher, researcher, government adviser, campaigner and international consultant, and on over 600 published sources, Robin Alexander expertly illustrates and illuminates these processes. This selection from his recent writing, some hitherto unpublished, opens windows onto cases and issues that concern every teacher.

Part 1 tackles system-level reform. It revisits the Cambridge Primary Review, an evidence-rich enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England, which challenged the UK government’s policies on curriculum, testing, standards and more besides. Here the reform narratives and strategies of successive governments are confronted and dissected.

Part 2 follows the development of England’s current National Curriculum, exposing its narrow vision and questionable use of evidence and offering a more generous aims-driven alternative. This section also investigates the expertise and leadership needed if children are to experience a curriculum of the highest quality in all its aspects.

Part 3 reaches the heart of the matter: securing the place in effective pedagogy of well-founded classroom talk, a mission repeatedly frustrated by political intervention. The centrepiece is dialogic teaching, a proven tool for advancing students’ speaking, thinking, learning and arguing, and an essential response to the corrosion of democracy and the nihilism of ‘post-truth’.

Part 4 goes global. It investigates governments’ PISA-fuelled flirtations with what they think can be adapted or copied from education elsewhere, examines the benefits and pitfalls of international comparison, and ends with the ultimate policy initiative: the United Nations mission to ensure ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ for all the world’s children.

Education in Spite of Policy is for all those teachers, students, school leaders and researchers who value the conversation of policy, evidence and practice, and who wish to explore the parts of education that policy cannot reach.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  3. A tale of two reviews
  4. Health of a nation
  5. Success, amnesia and collateral damage
  6. Triumph of the eristic
  7. What works and what matters
  8. Evidence, mediation and narrative

  10. Reform, retrench or recycle?
  11. Epistemic imbroglio
  12. Entitlement, freedom and minimalism
  13. Neither national nor a curriculum
  14. Beyond the reach of art
  15. True grit
  16. Curriculum capacity and leadership

  18. Promise and politics of talk
  19. Evaluating dialogic teaching
  20. The unquestioned answer
  21. Dialogic pedagogy in a post-truth world

  23. Towards a comparative pedagogy
  24. World beating or world sustaining?
  25. Moral panic and miracle cures
  26. In pursuit of quality


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Robin Alexander is Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge, Professor of Education Emeritus at the University of Warwick, and Fellow of the British Academy. His five-nation Culture and Pedagogy (2001) won the Outstanding Book Award of the American Educational Research Association, while Children, their World, their Education (2010), and his work as director of the Cambridge Primary Review, won the SES Book Awards First Prize and the BERA/Sage Public Impact and Engagement Award. His most recent book, A Dialogic Teaching Companion (2020), is a summation of many years of work on the quality of talk in teaching and learning.


"I found it inspirational because, along with the disappointments and frustrations, there is another feature which shines through every page: the author’s passionate concern for the world’s children and their education. It is, above all, the record of a man who has devoted his life, whatever the difficulties, to making a difference." - Derek Gillard, Forum