Did Professor Hayes views disadvantage the Phoenix   FS bid?


News that the Phoenix Free school ,in Manchester, had not won DFE approval to open in 2013, in the latest round, came as a shock to those involved, not least because it sought to stress its links with a military ethos and self-discipline and was backed by former army head, Lord Guthrie.  One of the schools very public supporters was Professor Dennis Hayes of the University of Derby.  Hayes co-authored a book with Kathryn Ecclestone ‘The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.  They broadly share the views of Professor Frank Furedi about the teaching of social and emotional development in schools. In short, they are highly sceptical.  They see the main   focus of schools in the maintained sector now   as  social engineering ,  no  longer  seeing  serious academic study as paramount.

Their basic critique is that all the ‘support’ and apparent concern for wounded individuals offered by therapy, and its prioritisation of the emotions, leads to ‘diminished selves’.  A therapy industry has grown up based on ‘pop-psychology’, not  informed empirical evidence.  From demeaning and effectively compulsory ‘circle time’ in primary schools to ‘learning power’ programmes and peer mentoring in secondary schools to the endless monitoring and self-surveillance techniques in FE to the emphasis on vulnerability in  University  the authors depict an educational world which has surrendered to  these therapy ‘professionals’.  Their argument is that training in appropriate emotional responses and a cultivation of what they call ‘a passive narcissism ‘has become the norm.  In schools a concern with vulnerability is giving way to a programme that actively promotes ’emotional well-being’ as part of the curriculum. This they claim,’  is a bizarre kind of attempt by government to order up happiness by edict.’ The authors point out that the SEAL programmes which were so enthusiastically promoted by New Labour are based essentially on this  ‘pop-psychology’. SEAL is ,according to the government , “a comprehensive, whole-school approach to promoting the social and emotional skills that underpin effective learning, positive behaviour, regular attendance, staff effectiveness and the emotional health and well-being of all who learn and work in schools”. The SEAL programmes  are not the result of empirical investigation but rather gain their legitimacy because they echo what is going on in popular culture.  Indeed, Therapy becomes a way of life. Therapy believes that people are weak and vulnerable; everyone is a victim and external challenges are best avoided.  In contrast, the authors believe that young people benefit from engaging with the world and not being wrapped in cotton-wool. They argue that adult students are demeaned by emphasising the benefits to ‘self-esteem’ of participating in adult education above the increased subject or craft knowledge they gain. They want an education which is based on the Enlightenment values of ‘reason, science and progress’. They argue for a compulsory (this is implied) liberal humanist education based around subjects and the authority of teachers.

One wonders whether this had any impact on the DFE when assessing the suitability of  Phoenix’s bid. Hayes may have a point . And to be fair, the above outline of his views probably doesn’t fully do them justice , and over-simplifies them,  but this kind of thinking,  more generally, is not currently mainstream (mind you neither is creationism and the Guardian claims that three of the latest successful FS bids have creationists behind them -they dont -but lets not go there).  Certainly their approach to traditional ,rigorous  academic  education follows the Governments line. But thinking in DFE and the government, more generally (think of Cameron’s Happiness index)is that support for  positive thinking, emotional intelligence, resilience and so on are  part of a child’s  rounded education and can, at least to some extent, be  supported  in school to help the childs personal  development and  of course to  improve outcomes. Emotionally mature and resilient pupils tend to do well at school regardless of background.

This is an extract from a recent Government  policy document  ‘Supporting the development of young people’s underlying social and emotional capabilities is a strong theme in the Government’s Positive for Youth strategy, which encourages a stronger focus on early help to support all young people to succeed’

(A framework of outcomes for young people-2012)

Acknowledgements to:


The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education is published by Routledge (2009)



  1. I was familiar with Frank Furedi’s work but hadn’t come across Hayes, so many thanks for the pointer. Hayes’ ‘passive narcissism’ sounds similar to the disturbing levels of debilitating dependency I witnessed recently in one school and wrote about in the TES.

    Something anyone who has had much contact with the therapeutic industry will know, is that it attracts a worryingly large number of clearly damaged individuals. I suspect many teachers will recognise the type of colleague who seems to relish school emergencies or accidents and will immediately abandon any educational activity when such an event happens, however trivial. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same school where I witnessed such utter hopelessness in many children, was bursting at the seams with none teaching, para professionals.

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