Thirteen new princesses – FE, adult education and dancing

The Princess of Cambridge was born in the first week of May 2015 and – with a bit less fanfare – a new book, Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, was published on International Workers’ Day.

Dancing Princesses

We often hear Further and Adult Education being described as the ‘Cinderella Sector”. It’s easy to see why – hard-working, productive, put upon, poorly funded and often invisible next to (far from ugly) sister sectors in education. This collection of writing from twelve experienced practitioners has a preface by Frank Coffield and takes another fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm as a basis for an extended metaphor, celebrating the sector’s exuberance and possibilities. Here is the publisher’s summary description:

‘Cinderella’ is the dominant metaphor used to describe further education, but this book challenges the deficit metaphor and replaces it with another of the Brothers Grimm’s tales, the ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’. The twelve princesses escape from the room they are locked in to dance all through each night. As a metaphor for teaching in FE, this tale suggests the possibility of subversion, of autonomy in teaching and learning, and a collective rather than individualist notion of professionalism, even within repressive contexts.

Twelve chapters from twelve experienced practitioners suggest professional development that will culminate in a collective, celebratory alternative. They explore the professional aspirations and commitment to social justice of prospective teacher education students in spite of the current ideological context of FE. They argue for inspiration from critical pedagogy so FE can maintain transformative professional space. They explore the impact of technology on learning, and the physical spaces in which teaching and learning are situated. They challenge the prevailing managerialist use of lesson observation and the resistance and collusion of FE managers. And they propose a notion of professionalism that focuses on educational values rather than market forces.

This engaging, accessible and thought-provoking book is essential reading for teacher training courses, postgraduate students, sector researchers, and members of professional bodies and trade unions. If the sector is to be Grimm, asserts this inspirational collection, it should be so on our own terms: powerful, democratic and professional.

The link between dancing and adult education is not unique to this book. Writing almost 15 years ago in the Times Educational Supplement, Alan Tuckett, who is now President of the International Council for Adult Education, said that policy-makers could do well to remember the dictum of anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to join your revolution.”

The book is full of enthusiasm and idealism tempered by realism. It is accessible and based on a wealth of experience. It should stir up debate as people think about critical pedagogy and possibilities at a time of constraints. You can find some early reviews of the book here.

Just suppose…

Jan Murray’s feature on Frank Coffield in the IfL’s InTuition journal caught my eye recently. (See Its title, ‘Just suppose this man ran education’, was a nod to the title of his influential 2008 research paper ‘Just Suppose Teaching and Learning became the first priority’.

Frank Coffield’s 2002 contribution to the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference became a landmark speech after he pointed out that, ‘there is nothing about teaching and learning in this whole conference, it’s all about finance and businesses and estates…’. He spoke on the subject of ‘Education before Business’ at the WEA Yorkshire and Humber Region’s Annual General Meeting in Leeds in 2009 and his passion for teaching and learning was all the more infectious because of his modesty and gentle humour as a speaker.

It’s a good time for reflection as a long weekend break approaches, so, in the spirit of Coffield…

– Just suppose we had a national culture of lifelong learning involving all generations.
– Just suppose education was accessible for everyone.
– Just suppose every adult could read, write and be able to communicate through digital media.
– Just suppose we encouraged people to be creative, curious, critical thinkers who kept on learning how to learn.
– Just suppose our education systems in the UK were as effective as Finland’s.

What do you suppose?