Is Identity Politics fomenting Intolerance ?

Mark Lilla, Professor of humanities at Columbia University, New York, in his new book is “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics” says that Identity politics on the left was at first about large classes of people – African Americans, women, gays – seeking to redress major historical wrongs by mobilising and then working through our political institutions to secure their rights. But by  the 1980s, it had ” given way to a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow, exclusionary self-definition that is now cultivated in our colleges and universities.” Identity politics generally refers to the idea that we are all members of a particular distinctive  group or groups with whom we identify  sharing common interests and values and politics is about representing and protecting these groups perceived  interests.

Professor Lilla refers to  ‘identity liberalism’, in other words a  focus on racial, gender and sexual identity, rather than on the  politics of the common good.

He  says that by undermining the universal democratic “we” on which solidarity can be built, duty instilled and action inspired, it is unmaking rather than making citizens. In the end, this approach just strengthens all the atomising forces that dominate our age.’

The universities of our time, he claims , instead cultivate students so obsessed with their personal or group  identities that they have  precious left   to register  any interest in, or engagement with ,  people and matters that don’t touch on their chosen  identity

The main result has been to turn young people back on to themselves, rather than turning them outward towards the wider world they share with others. It has left them unprepared to think about the common good in non-identity terms and what must be done practically to secure it – especially the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.

Clare Foges of the Times picked up on a similar theme in the paper this week . Again she sees it through the lens of left wing politics.  She said there is now a tendency to put people in boxes, to see the minority status first  then the individual second, rather  than  the other way round . There is now  an obsession, she says  with identity and difference which she claims is central to  Labours  strategy . Lost in all this though  is a sense of the common good, what is good for the community and country.

It is not exclusively of the left though, it seems to me. .  Pigeon holing people and defining   them as part of a group is common practice across the political and social spectrums. Social media aids  this process,  at  scale . If you define yourself as part of a group, you interact with  other members of that group and this helps reinforce your identity,  your views and values within  that group. In this echo chamber there is a tendency not to look outwards and to engage with others but to look inwards for support and reinforcement.  This in turn can breed intolerance and shut off  interaction debate and discussion. In the worse cases  people outside your group are seen  as a  threat which needs to be  addressed –and attacked or ostracised.   This  in turn begets trigger warnings, safe spaces and no- platforming. .  Wrapped around this   is the myth   that  these groups are homogeneous  , that they  share distinctive ,  common views and values. So you end up with vapid bogus  generalizations-  People of Colour think that … transgender people think this  .. Gay people think that..   Even  men and women are pigeon holed in this way.

Identity politics though leads to an atomised society .It is the individual group that is more important than the broader community.Sensitivity to the feelings of that group and individuals who mirror the views of the group, become paramount.  And if you are not part of that group   and you have not  lived  their experience and were not born into  it,   then you cant  know how they  feel.   So,   your views are irrelevant and  carry no weight. This is  an exclusive rather than inclusive form of  politics and engagement.  More than that, outsiders   are not entitled to express their  views . In this way intolerance is fomented and debate  shut down . And ,the rich  irony, is that if you express sympathy for a group ,with which you are not identified,  you can now  be accused of ‘appropriation’.   One  strongly suspects that this is one of the reasons why freedom of speech and expression has become such a fraught issue. Identity politics can shut down openness and transparent engagement. Too often the apostles of tolerance  ,who see themselves as liberals and champions of minorities rights   are, it turns out,   among the most intolerant.

The New Statesman wonders whether the left on the back of identity politics   has become too diverse. It opined recently ‘ The left must be more than a rainbow coalition of disaffected groups or identity interests. An obsession with self-affirmation can weaken solidarity and fellow feeling. It can lead liberals to tolerate illiberal behaviour in the name of “multiculturalism”. It can lead to the weakening of historic bonds – of class, of institutional loyalties.’

This all seems true.  Politics does seem to be more atomised, more exclusive and less focused now on shared values and action. Tolerance of others views is in short supply.If you really want diversity, you have to accept not just the views you like, but the ones you don’t.  The quality  of the public discourse is suffering .  Knowing this is one thing. Knowing what to do about  it  another. But pushing back on attempts to curb freedom of expression and speech seems  a good starting point  . So too  is teaching  young people  more about   liberal values, of how to engage responsibly  in informed debate ,to pursue truth,  to fact check,   to be tolerant of others views and more inclusive in their engagement with others  on political issues ,these  all   seem  to be  good starting  points.



University Technical Colleges have not had a particularly good press of late.

Some UTCs have found it hard to recruit and retain young people. A handful have  had to  close. Others have had too  variable performance,against accepted benchmarks receiving  poor Ofsted ratings. Indeed, when judged against a range of criteria such as student recruitment, attainment outcomes, and closures / conversions to different school types, it is clear that the introduction of UTCs has been, lets say,   challenging.  But  its important to get these challenges in their proper perspective. Arguably they are not operating on a level playing field,  as  Lord Baker,   their strongest advocate,  has pointed out.  UTCs recruit students from age 14, which works against the grain of the current system   and  the government, frankly  could have done more to help them establish themselves and to create an enabling environment in which they might have more easily  thrived.

As far as performance is concerned, analysis from NFER suggests that (at least some) of the poor performance of UTCs, in the headline accountability measures, may be because the academic measures do not recognise the composition or breadth of curriculum offered by most UTCs. In addition, UTCs are only responsible for two of the five years that students spend in secondary education, but are being held to account for all five years, which doesn’t seem entirely fair.

The Principal of Silverstone UTC, Neil Patterson, recently blogged that Silverstone gets its pupils from 80 to 90 different schools: ‘We work hard to ensure school leaders know what we do.   They are best placed to advise their students on whether UTC Silverstone offers the right education setting.’ But, he adds, ‘Sadly this approach doesn’t always work. All too often parents of students looking to join us describe the pressure their children are put under to stay at their current school, without consideration for their child’s abilities, interests or career ambitions.’ This is a common complaint. If a child moves, then the school loses the funding that goes with that child. So,  schools have a vested interest in persuading that child to stay put. Whether or not that  is in the childs interests.

Patterson continues ‘On the other side of the coin, parents of disruptive students often tell us that their child’s previous school advised them to apply to the UTC. These children faced permanent exclusion at their previous school. Those schools tell parents that we are better suited to their children because we are “hands on”. This concerns me a great deal because the reality is that most of their KS4 study is still the same, and while engineering might be an applied subject, there is not the level of “hands on” activity that most students are led to believe by school leaders who haven’t taken the time to find out about the UTC’

We also know that Careers guidance in some  schools can be patchy and variable in quality and that there may well be  what’s called ‘cognitive biases’  at play, when it comes to teachers (often unqualified for guidance work )  spelling out options that are open for girls, (ie STEM subjects and vocational  subjects  are sometimes ignored as viable  options )so rather too  often children are not getting access to good  independent advice, guidance and  information- whether that is  related to UTCs, or other vocational and technical options.

Despite this as it happens,  Silverstone is doing OK. UTC Silverstone has seen an increase in applications from 98 to 197 from just March to May this year

The government seems to have realized that it could have done more to ease the introduction of UTCs Earlier this year, the government made it a legal requirement that all local authorities should write to the parents of Year 9 children to tell them about their local UTC.  Letters went out for the first time in Spring 2017.  In addition, the government has legislated to entitle UTCs to go into local schools from September 2017 to explain to the students the type of education that UTCs offer. This may lead to a further significant increase in the rate of applications at KS4.

A new  delivery model will always need time to bed in, as the academies programme has shown,  more generally. So, it’s probably too early to judge UTCs. There is,  rightly,  pressure on them to raise their game   and to to deliver, across the piece, better results, and to attract and retain more students. But they have had significant challenges to address, and recent changes should help them . Lets hope so because our vocational and technical offers for pupils lag far behind those  on offer from our continental competitors.


Careers Guidance-A New Alliance to work with the Government  

A new careers strategy was first proposed by the Government back in December 2015, in response to the universal view from education and business that, in many areas, access to careers advice for young people was patchy and inadequate and ‘was on life support’ (CBI 2013)

Four major organisations in the career development space have now  come together to create a new alliance: The Career Management Quality Alliance (CMQA) which is  keen to help expedite this  new,  long delayed Careers Strategy.

Chair of the Alliance and President of the Career Development Institute, Virginia Isaac, said “We want to be helpful to Government. To move things along, we have gathered the views of key education and careers bodies in the country and produced a position statement ‘A Careers Strategy that Works for Everyone’. If this thinking can be incorporated into government policy there will be a good chance of breaking through the current log-jam and making good some of the acute erosion of career guidance in recent times”.

The Career Management Quality Alliance comprises:

The Career Development Institute (CDI): the UK-wide professional body for everyone working in career education, career information, advice and guidance and career coaching.

Careers England: the trade association for employer organisations and traders involved in the

provision of products and services promoting career education and guidance in England.

Assessment Services Ltd: the assessment body for the matrix standard, the Government owned quality standard for organisations providing information, advice and guidance


The Quality in Careers Consortium: which oversees the Quality in Careers Standard, the national quality award for careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) in schools, colleges and work-based learning.

The  Career Management Quality Alliance wants the governments long awaited Careers Strategy   to be published  soon after Parliaments return from  its Summer Recess, “ to prevent further erosion of services and to enable us to work together to build a system that enables every citizen to contribute effectively to the economy and to have a successful and fulfilling career”

A statement from the Alliance, issued on 2 August,  sets out the key elements,   in the form of twelve points, that it proposes should be included in a  Careers strategy . The Alliance says it is ready to work with the Government to agree the final strategy and to support its effective implementation.

  1. The strategy must set out a vision that support for career management should be available to everyone throughout life, and it should pay equal attention to services for young people and for adults.
  2. The focus should be on both enabling individuals to develop the skills and qualities needed to plan and manage their own careers (commonly referred to as ‘career management and employability skills’) and providing access to personal career guidance at times when it is needed.
  3. Schools and colleges should be encouraged to adopt the eight Gatsby benchmarks of good careers practice and to appoint a careers leader with responsibility for the provision of careers support.
  4. The statutory duty to provide careers education in the curriculum should be reinstated and raised to age 18. It should be supported by a recommended national framework of career management and employability skills.
  5. All schools and colleges should be strongly recommended to achieve the Quality in Careers Standard and incentivised to do so through development funding linked to a commitment to achieving the Standard.
  6. To meet the statutory duty to secure access to impartial careers guidance, schools and colleges should be required to use the services only of careers advisers with a professional qualification in career guidance and, where they commission services from an external organisation, they should ensure that the organisation is accredited to the matrix Standard.
  7. A network of Career Development Co-ordinators should be established across the country, to work with the Enterprise Co-ordinators in the LEPs (whose work focuses on the twoGatsby benchmarks that relate to engaging with employers), to support schools and college with their careers programmes.
  1. The specification for the National Careers Service should be revised to ensure that its services reach all adults and that it provides support for developing career management and employability skills as well as information, advice and guidance. Its services should also be extended to young people who are NEET, home educated or not in school or college for any other reason.
  2. All careers advisers working in the National Careers Service must hold, or be working towards, an appropriate professional qualification.
  3. All organisations providing career management and employability services, through theNational Careers Service and other publicly funded support, must be accredited to the matrix Standard.
  1. Private sector organisations and traders providing career management services that are not publicly-funded, should be encouraged to use professionally qualified staff and to work towards the matrix Standard.
  2. The Government should investigate how changes to the tax system and development loans could encourage both individuals and employers to invest in career management support


“Dialogic teaching is distinct from the question-answer-tell routines of so-called ‘interactive’ teaching, aiming to be more consistently searching and more genuinely reciprocal and cumulative” says Professor Robin Alexander .  According to Alexander it  requires:

interactions which encourage students to think, and to think in different ways

questions which invite much more than simple recall

answers which are justified, followed up and built upon rather than merely received

feedback which informs and leads thinking forward as well as encourages

contributions which are extended rather than fragmented

exchanges which chain together into coherent and deepening lines of enquiry

discussion and argumentation which probe and challenge rather than unquestioningly accept

professional engagement with subject matter which liberates classroom discourse from the safe and conventional

classroom organisation, climate and relationships which make all this possible

It  is claimed that it helps the teacher more precisely to diagnose students’ needs, frame their learning tasks and assess their progress.

The proposition is that by  engaging in genuine dialogue with others, individuals can operate at a higher level of thinking than would be possible on their own.  So ‘dialogic teaching’, emphasises dialogue through which pupils learn to reason, discuss, argue, and explain in order to develop their higher order thinking as well as their articulacy.( so, think,  Socractic Dialogue!)

The Education Endowment Foundation has recently completed an evaluation of a Dialogic Teaching intervention. The aim of the intervention was to raise levels of engagement and attainment across English, maths, and science in primary schools by improving the quality of teacher and pupil talk in the classroom. The intervention was developed and delivered by a team from the Cambridge Primary Review Trust (CPRT) and the University of York. Year 5 teachers in 38 schools, and a teacher mentor from each school, received resources and training from the delivery team, and then implemented the intervention over the course of the autumn and spring terms in the 2015/2016 school year. Following the intervention, pupils were tested in English, mathematics, and science. This efficacy trial compared the 38 schools (2,492 pupils) in which the intervention took place with 38 control schools (2,466 pupils). During the intervention, the evaluation team also carried out a survey and interviews with a sample of teachers, mentors, and heads, plus case-study visits to three intervention schools

Key conclusions

  1. Children in Dialogic Teaching schools made two additional months’ progress in English and science, and one additional month’s progress in maths, compared to children in control schools, on average. The three padlock security rating means we are moderately confident that this difference was due to the intervention and not to other factors.
  2. Children eligible for free school meals (FSM) made two additional months’ progress in English, science, and maths compared to FSM children in control schools. The smaller number of FSM pupils in the trial limits the security of this result.
  3. The intervention was highly regarded by headteachers, mentors, and teachers who thought that the Dialogic Teaching approach had positive effects on pupil confidence and engagement.
  4. The majority of participating teachers felt that it would take longer than two terms to fully embed a Dialogic Teaching approach in their classrooms. It could therefore be valuable to test the impact of the intervention over a longer period.
  5. This intervention requires teachers to change classroom talk across the curriculum, supported by training, handbooks, video, and regular review meetings with mentors. Future research could aim to differentiate the effects of these different elements.

EEF Dialogic Teaching Evaluation report and executive summary

July 2017- Independent evaluators: Professor Tim Jay, Ben Willis, Dr Peter Thomas, Dr Roberta Taylor, Dr Nick Moore, Professor Cathy Burnett, Professor Guy Merchant, Anna Stevens



There has been much debate in education about the need to develop in students critical thinking. Critical thinking  means having the ability  to see both sides of an argument clearly, while deducing or confirming conclusions from both the facts and arguments.  To think critically,  it is  thought  you need domain specific knowledge ,as well as certain  generic  skills. You  need to learn how to handle and order  facts,  as well as to learn the facts themselves.
The “critical” part of the term “critical thinking”  doesn’t refer to the  act of criticizing, or finding fault, but rather to the ability to be objective and dispassionate. So, “Critical,” in this context, means essentially  “open-minded,” seeking out, evaluating and weighing all the available evidence, affording a value to that evidence and reaching a rational,  objective , conclusion  .  Being Objective,  or rational,  though  is not as easy  as it might seem. Our  in built biases can interfere in our thinking process’s.  These are  sometimes known as cognitive biases.  And we can let our  emotions  get the better of us, so rational thought and objectivity goes  out the window.

According to Professor Dan Willingham,  looking at the issue  from the cognitive scientist’s point of view, the mental activities that are typically called critical thinking are actually a subset of three types of thinking: reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem solving.One likes to think that students who have studied A levels have developed, to a significant extent good critical thinking skills . Certainly those with the best grades.  And that at University they develop these skills further,  and advance to a different level of critical thinking. But do they?  There does appear to be a cultural shift underway .  Subjective emotional responses  have an elevated status.  Sometimes it seems the only valid response to any idea  argument or situation is the individual’s own—how he or she “feels” about it, subjectively. Are they offended by it? Has it hurt their feelings? This is when and where emotion and feelings trump rationality and it would seem critical thinking.  So  Could all the banning, no platforming, safe spaces and trigger warnings simply be symptomatic of the fact that subjectivity has replaced objectivity as the default position.  Is it the case that students, much more than in the past, are  increasingly incapable of processing conflicting viewpoints intellectually; they can only respond to them emotionally? Is this what is meant by the snowflake generation? Food for thought


The Prime Minister made it clear in her Telegraph article of 7 March that whatever the results of the Green paper consultation, ‘Schools that Work for Everyone’ the government will plough ahead, regardless, with its plans to extend selection in the state school system. There will be new selective free schools established and existing grammars will be allowed to expand . Indeed resources have already been  earmarked to make this happen . It requires some cynicism to set up a formal consultation exercise and then to announce firm policy before that consultation is even complete. Self-evidently, this makes a mockery of the consultation process. It also demonstrates a disrespect to all those education professionals who contributed to the consultation exercise in the genuine expectation that their submissions would be taken into account in the formulation and implementation of policy.  The largest, and oldest state  secondary school network  in the country, the SSAT, which submitted its own response to the  Green paper,   called the process “a travesty.”

It also runs a coach and horses through the idea of evidence led, and informed, policy. The overwhelming evidence is that selection does little for social mobility, and has a  negative educational impact on those students not in selective schools, particularly the most disadvantaged. It also suggests that the Prime Minister has much less understanding of the frustrations of voters, who believe that politicians neither listen to nor act on their concerns, than her rhetoric suggests.


The Governments new Careers Strategy appears to be almost ready for publication. It wont appear before the EU Referendum but conceivably it could appear between the Referendum and the Summer Recess in  late July. Alternatively it could be released over the summer.

The Government is clear that it wants  much more employer engagement with schools, along with enterprise advisers and co-ordinators  in the regions  and better work experience. What it is less clear about , is how to generate more systematic  and meaningful contacts between  qualified, independent careers advisers and young people. It keeps on strengthening statutory guidance for schools   but this has had  little impact on the way ‘autonomous’ schools deliver careers advice, which remains unacceptably  patchy, both in terms of quality and scope. Guidance only has any impact if there is a robust and transparent accountability framework. And this doesnt currently  exist.  Destination measures may  help longer term but are  still in the design phase  and are not helping  young people going through the system now. Ofsted makes the right noises on careers guidance and is pretty scathing about how so many schools fail to step up to the plate, but you can still get an outstanding rating  with poorly rated  careers provision and the light touch regime means that many schools escape the regulators eye for many years .

There are   subtle signs that MPs from all parties are beginning to lose patience with a lack of action from Ministers in this area and will be looking at the new strategy very carefully .   They may  understand that if you want to improve social mobility, inclusion and productivity and to fill the skills gaps it is vital  to improve the access our young people have to high quality professional advice at key stages in their lives,  along with greater employer engagement ,of course  .It is not either, or, it is both. They are mutually supporting.  If they stick to  ensuring the strategy is informed by all the  Gatsby’ benchmarks’ then they should be OK. If they cherry pick, including some, but not others, it will end up an incoherent mess with no system wide impact. Watch this space.