History events at the IHR

The origins, rise and crisis of scientific rationalism in English education

01 November 2012, 17:30 - 19:30

Event Type: Seminar


Professor Bernard Barker (University of Leicester)



Bernard Barker's paper traces aspects of the thirty-year history of scientific rationalism in English education, from its origins in the legitimacy crisis of the 1970s to near-bankruptcy in the aftermath of New Labour. Bureaucratic, rationalist methods seemed to provide attractive solutions to the perceived threat of social, moral and cultural disorder in the 1970s; and to neo-liberal demands for increased human resource efficiency in the 1990s. Scientific approaches neutralise or by-pass value conflicts and promise transformational gains in productivity and output. The paper draws on Bourdieu's 'Outline of a Theory of Practice' to suggest that these gains are illusory because scientific recommendations are not founded on practical mastery of teaching and the curriculum. Schools are cultural, not bureaucratic organizations. Thirty years on there is a crisis of scientific rationalism because apparent improvements in education have been exposed as a set of tricks, including teaching to the test and grade inflation, that have impoverished the curriculum and children’s learning. Barker argues that renewed attention should be given to professional practice and to the creative tensions and dilemmas teachers face in crafting high quality learning experiences.


Please note:  NOT Gordon Room (G34),as previously announced, but S261 (Senate House, second floor)


Venue: Room 261 (Senate House, second floor)

Senate House
University of London
London WC1E 7HU

Related Events: History of Education History