‘Impact’ is just another meaningless educational buzzword

There’s a new favourite word in the education lexicon; you may be familiar with it. The word is ‘impact’ and it’s everywhere. Louise Burton, history teacher, writes in Teachwire.

Take for example the story of my friend. Recently, she was organising a poetry workshop for her English class. Her line manager was sceptical and challenged her decision: “But what impact will this have on the students’ learning?” she demanded.

She ploughed on defiantly with her workshop because her knowledge of the subject and her pupils – as well as her many years’ experience of teaching – led her to believe (almost instinctively), that she was doing the right thing.

But when her manager wanted to know about ‘impact’, she was really asking: “Can I hold you to account; is what you are doing measurable?”

The world of education is now overrun by people who lack the qualities my English teaching friend has. They are technocrats, obsessed with measurement.

Everything is quantifiable, everything can be reduced to a target and easily transferred to a spreadsheet.

Of course, much of this obsession with measurability is not motivated solely by a desire for ever better exam results; it is also driven by the conviction that schools can change society.

For example, tracking the progress of ‘disadvantaged’ children against a set of targets is a process based on the belief that if these youngsters achieve at a higher level, that will result in social mobility.

Increasingly, the holding of teachers to account via assessment objectives and targets – rather than disciplinary knowledge – is determining how subjects are taught in school.

This in turn undermines the authority of the teacher as subject specialist.

A former English teacher told me how her head of department once spoke to her after observing through the classroom door a room full of pupils reading a novel: “I see a lot of reading, but not a lot of learning.”

“At this point”, the teacher told me, “I decided to fall on my sword.”

Read the full article ‘Impact’ is just another meaningless educational buzzword

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Glenn Mascord

    Totally agree. Ousted originated its use I think along with myths about how progress and learning are easily visible to the inspector/observer.

  2. Lucy Chambers

    I write impact reports for my school librarianhip work and find that they have the desired effect, ie alert SMT’s to the value of school librarians. I assign everything I do to objectives valued by the school, such as improving learning of Pupil Premium pupils, and evaluate them before and after my intervention. Having these objectives enables me to run interesting projects which the school values and the pupils and library itself benefit from. Impact evaluation is more work but the effort is rewarded. I apply for grants to support my projects and libraries and evaluate the impact of those: the write up generates more grants and more financial support from the school as I explained n to SMT the value of my work. Basically, it’s how you use the information generated that matters, the analysis against criteria that matter in the school is what shows the value of my work.

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