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Prof Frank Coffield
Prof Frank Coffield profile picture
  • Honorary Emeritus
  • IOE - Social Research Institute
  • UCL Institute of Education

I retired in 2007 after 42 years in education, as a teacher in a comprehensive and then in a boys’ approved school in Scotland, as a lecturer in education at Jordanhill College of Education in Glasgow, and at Keele University (1970-80), and as Professor of Education at the universities of Durham (1980-96), Newcastle-upon-Tyne(1986- 93), and the UCL Institute of Education, University of London (2003-2007). I’ve written books on juvenile gangs A Glasgow Gang Observed, (1973), under the pseudonym James Patrick; A Cycle Deprivation?: A case study of four families, (1980), with Phil Robinson and Jacquie Sarsby; Sacred Cows in Education: Essays in Reassessment, (1983), edited with Richard Goodings; Growing Up at the Margins: Young Adults in the North East, (1986), with Carol Borrill and Sarah Marshall; Drugs and Young People, (1994), with Les Gofton; Vandalism and Graffiti: The state of the art, (1991). With Robert MacDonald, I researched enterprise schemes for young people and we published in 1991, Risky Business? Youth and The Enterprise Culture. I was Director of the ESRC’s Learning Society Programme from 1994 to 2000 and edited two books with contributions from the projects which made up the Programme: Differing Visions of a Learning Society, Volumes 1 and 2 (2000). The Programme also produced four collections of essays, which I edited: Learning at Work, (1998); Why’s the beer always stronger up North? Studies of lifelong learning in Europe, (1999); Speaking truth to power, (1999); and The Necessity of Informal Learning, (2000). I then moved to researching Further, Adult and Vocational Education , publishing Improving Learning, Skills and inclusion: The impact of policy on post-compulsory education,(2008), with Sheila Edward, Ian Finlay, Ann Hodgson, Ken Spours and 2 Richard Steer. I followed that with: Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review, with David Moseley, Elaine Hall and Kathryn Ecclestone, (2004) and the four of us wrote Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice, (2004). I then edited with Richard Steer Public Sector Reform: Principles for improving the education system, (2007). Since my retirement I’ve written: Just Suppose Teaching and Learning Became the First Priority… (2008); All You Ever Wanted to Know about Teaching and Learning but Were Too Cool to Ask (2009); Yes, but What Has Semmelweis Got to Do with My Professional Development as a Tutor? (2010); and (with Bill Williamson) From Exam Factories to Communities of Discovery: The democratic route (2012). I then published Beyond Bulimic Learning: Improving teaching in Further Education (2014). Next came John Dewey’s Democracy and Education: A British Tribute, co-edited with Steve Higgins (2016). I then turned to studying inspection which resulted in Will the Leopard Change its Spots? A new model of inspection for Ofsted (2017). My latest publication for the Fabian Society is: Suddenly Radical Change is Possible: Proposals for a Post Covid-19 World, available at https://countydurhamfabians.blogspot.com/2020/05/suddenly-radicalchange-is-possible.html

Research Summary

I began researching for my thesis (Glasgow University, 1968), which resulted in my first book A Glasgow Gang Observed, and I’ve continued to research over the next 60 years. Looking back I can discern four distinct periods but they were not planned as I, like others, had to chase funds when they were available and sometimes not in areas that I would necessarily have chosen. A red line, however, runs through all my work: a concern for social justice in order to improve the lot of those who have not had my advantages. My first interest was in the problems faced by young people aged 14-25 and I have written on such topics as juvenile delinquency, gang warfare, drugs and binge drinking, babybattering families, the so-called “cycle of deprivation”, vandalism and graffiti and youth enterprise schemes. Young people have to contend with a wide variety of interconnecting problems, but universities have departments that act as silos, where Psychology has next to no contact with Sociology and vice-versa. In 1994 I was appointed Director of the ESRC’s Learning Society Programme where I managed 14 projects which a variety of topics from markets in the post-16 sector to developing knowledge and skills at work. The opportunity then arose to study Further, Adult and Vocational Education when I won an ESRC award within the Teaching and Learning Research Programme to focus on the impact of national policy on the post-16 sector. This led to a concern with the reliability and validity of Learning Styles Questionnaires which were at the time ubiquitous and unquestioned. I directed a team of four researchers who produced two highly critical reports which received national and international attention. 2 I then pulled together six colleagues within the IoE who wanted to critique the UK government’s model of public service reform. We wrote chapters on the limits of top-down management in national policy on literacy; market incentives in schools; the voice of parents in education; the skills of the educational workforce and the infrastructure of institutions. The final theme of my research is a continuing and deepening interest in teaching, learning and assessment (TL&A), in particular within the post-compulsory sector. I produced publications aimed at tutors and then at students. This research highlighted for me the lack of democracy not just within education but within British society. Two books resulted, one co-authored with Bill Williamson, the other co-edited with Steve Higgins. I then turned my attention to the damage being done to TL&A by Ofsted inspections in Will the Leopard Change its Spots? which concluded that Ofsted was doing more harm than good; and by offering an alternative model for inspection. Indeed, in all my publications, I’ve been at pains to offer not just a critique of policy and practice but constructive ways forward.

Teaching Summary

I find the distinction drawn by ORCHiD between research and teaching unhelpful. I’ve tried to live up to Wilhelm von Humbolt’s dictum: “Die Einheit der Forschung und Lehre” – the unity of research and teaching, where I taught what I was researching and researched what I was teaching. There’s only one process, not two. I’ve taught students at all stages from undergraduates studying for a B.Ed degree, to postgraduates on PGCE courses, to practising teachers studying for Masters degrees, and on to part-time and full-time Ph.D students. I’ve also acted as Chief External Examiner for undergraduate degrees at the universities of Bath, Glasgow, Leeds and London; as external examiner for Ph.D theses at the universities of Cardiff, London, Glasgow and Lulea (Sweden); and external assessor for Chairs in Education at the universities of Cardiff and Cambridge. The main topics I’ve covered in my teaching are: the psychology of education; the psychology and sociology of adolescence; deviance; teaching, learning and assessment; the impact of national policy on practice; assessment for learning; the work of leading educational psychologists eg Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner; and management and change in education. I’ve given lectures on my publications within the universities where I’ve worked and at national and international conferences in the UK, Europe and the USA. When it comes to inaugural lectures, I am a serial offender, having delivered one at Durham in 1981 (Cycles of Deprivation, 1982); in Newcastle in 1999 (Breaking the Consensus: lifelong learning as social control, 1999; later published in the BERJ 25, 4, 1999, 479-499); and in the IoE in 2007 (Running ever faster down the wrong road: An alternative future for Education and Skills). Since the publication in 2008 of Just Suppose teaching and learning became the first 2 priority… I’ve spoken at staff development conferences at more than 80 colleges of FE and Sixth Form Colleges. From the 100+ articles that I’ve written I’ve chosen those which in my view best represent my writing and which have been cited most often: • (1983) “Entrée and exit”, The Sociological Review, 31, 3, 520-545 • (1992) “Training and Enterprise Councils: the Last Throw of Voluntarism?” Policy Studies, 12, 4, 11-32 • (2002) “Skills for the Future: I’ve got a little list”, Assessment in Education, 9, 1, 39-43 • (2005) “A new learning and skills landscape? The central role of the Learning and Skills Council”, Journal of Education Policy, 20, 5, 631-656 • (2007) “How policy impacts on practice and how practice does not impact on policy”, British Educational Research Journal, 33, 5, 723-741 • (2009) “Rolling out ‘good’, ‘best’ and ‘excellent’ practice. What next? Perfect practice?”, British Educational Research Journal, 35, 3, 371-390 • (2012) “Why the McKinsey reports will not improve school systems”, Journal of Education Policy, 27, 1, 131-149

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