In political education all are teachers and all are learners: A proposal for successful professional development.

In political education all are teachers and all are learners: A proposal for successful professional development.

For me political education does not mean pouring approved knowledge into human receptacles and then measuring the rate of regurgitation. It is an interactive human activity in which teachers are learners and learners are teachers.

In 1971 the now defunct Politics Association was formed in order to stimulate political education. From it emerged the Political Literacy Working Party. As a member of that Working Party I believe that, despite much effort to sustain political education, governments have worked to diminish it. The recent attempt to influence the new A-Level Politics syllabus and shrink its inclusion of women and feminism is just one demonstration of how we are perceived to be receivers of policies that are made according to the values of very few people. This hardly promotes optimism in the political processes that are shaping professional development in England.

We can, of course, learn much from the formal curriculum but what we learn from each other often becomes even more important. Our learning about professional development ought to lead us to become more proficient in our exercise of professional skills. I suggest that the following principles are especially important if we are to engage in greater public participation in becoming more accountable and more responsive as professional educators.

Key Principles

1. We need to encourage an inclusive discussion of public values
Politics is not the clever manoeuvring of political parties offering policies and personalities as commodities for sale. It is, first and foremost, about public values.

2. We need to generate relevant knowledge and understanding
The public are entitled to real knowledge and too often our understanding of it is manipulated to our disadvantage.

3. We need to foster participation and engagement
Can we really call ourselves a democracy when participation and engagement are limited to occasional ballot papers?

These key principles ought to enable:

1. Critical sense making
We need to share the critical sense that we make of government and politics and grow our knowledge and understanding.

2. Age is irrelevant
Everyone has a voice. Why wait for an arbitrary age in order to be heard?

3. No political traffic wardens
The project is not about catching people out when they question orthodoxy.

4. Respect
Expressing values, views and arguments should generate respect. Challenging and being challenged help us to grow in our professional development. Different cultures, backgrounds and identities are essential in informing this professional development.

Classifications and categories need a health warning. The walls we make can be porous. The concept of fairness, for example, bleeds through the wall within the concept of justice. I suggest the following as ‘food for thought’ about the political processes that are influencing professional development:


How are we represented? What makes us vote the way we do? What makes us not bother to vote?


How do governments, local and central, make decisions?


Are governments accountable to the people or are the people accountable to governments?


What is an issue? Do we argue enough? Do we need more knowledge to discover hidden issues?

Making this happen

It would be good to have IPDA members thinking about how political processes are influencing professional development. I hope to collect, assess, analyse and summarise the political processes that are influencing professional development. I drafted the last GCSE syllabus for Government and Politics. One quarter was on the accountability of government to people. I soon began to realise that all too often, the public are being held accountable to the government. We are not citizens. We are subjects and that is how too many governments treat us. In my years setting and examining questions on Government and Politics at CSE, 16-Plus and GCSE I learned that setting closed questions with right/wrong answers was unfruitful. It was far better to set open questions, see where candidates took you when they responded and then try to make critical sense of what they wrote. I learned a lot that way. Political education is not a one-way process and these thoughts can help us in our reflection on how professional development is influenced by politics. In recent years, at IPDA international conferences, academics from beyond the UK (for example Urban 2009 and Vermunt 2016) have cast perceptive insight into political processes in the UK and how they influence professional development. The value of their keynote addresses was built on the perception of being ‘outsiders’. This can enable fresh and original observations to inform our subsequent professional development.


  • Urban, M., 2009. Strategies for change: rethinking professional development to meet the challenges of diversity in the early years profession. Paper presented at the IPDA conference, 27-28 November, Birmingham, UK.
  • Vermunt, J.D., 2016. Keynote address. Paper presented at the IPDA conference, 25-26 November, Stirling, UK.


Cliff Jones


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