the rate of the presentation of material for learning or the rate of study, speed of learning.


a term used variously. Sometimes it is a synonym for the 'hidden curriculum' but more correctly it refers to the out-of-school experiences which contribute to a learner's ability to benefit from schooling. It can also be part of a planned approach where the paracurriculum involves older students no longer in school but now in employment, within an overall structure of educational support. In some college contexts it refers to additional modules in personal skills or creative activity which are not central components of a course of study.


a typical example or model of something; a conceptual framework underlying the theories and practice of a scientific subject or area of inquiry.


an apparent contradiction which is true or contains elements of truth. Any situation which contains contradictory elements or qualities.


of statistical procedures, where the sample data under analysis is drawn from a population with a known form, the normal distribution (see non-parametric).

parish schools

in Scotland, under an Act of 1696, schools established by local landowners and administered by local church officials. The state system did not originate until 1872.


a term from ancient Greece meaning speaking freely or boldly. It was appropriated by Michel Foucault (1926-1984) who made particular use of it in the idea of 'speaking truth to power', a democratic means by which the dominant can be challenged.

passive learning

a term associated with instructivist or transmission approaches to teaching where learning is largely inactive and receptive. It is also a term sometimes used for incidental learning, where it occurs without the learner's active, conscious effort.

path dependence

this is a phenomenon, found in a number of different fields, where past or traditional practice continues even when better options have become available or where the circumstances that gave rise to the original course of action no longer exist or have become irrelevant. In education, examples might be to do with curriculum content, teaching approaches, arrangements for professional development, or administrative procedures. It can also be applied to aspects of learners' behaviour. Sometimes called path dependency.


the art, 'science', or principles and methods, of teaching. Some see it as having three key aspects: methodology, rationale, and reflection. In some contexts, the term is used more broadly for the science of education, didactics, or upbringing. One problem with understanding it as a 'science' is the implication that there are set formulae for teaching which can be applied in all circumstances. This is misguided, given the social complexities of learning, and so pedagogy as the 'art' of teaching may be less problematic in this regard, at least.

peer assessment

evaluation carried out by one or more learners on the work or performance of another learner or group of learners. It is argued that the involvement of a fellow learner can result in better feedback or in a better response to such feedback, and also that the involvement of learners in this way in the assessment process aids their own understanding of the topic/task/material.

peer pressure

the social pressure felt to conform to the actions, behaviour, values, or attitudes of one's peers. It can have positive or negative consequences, depending on the nature of the peer group, and the perspective taken.

per capita

a Latin term - literally 'by heads' - meaning, for each person, or in relation to people taken individually (see capitation).


the view that the purpose of schooling is to inculcate in the young the fixed body of knowledge and social and cultural attitudes possessed by the community/society in question. It is an ultra-conservative, traditionalist outlook.


how something is done, carried out, or executed. Assessment and evaluation of performance is prevalent through out the education system from that of learners, of teachers, as well as being conducted at departmental, institutional and government levels.

performance indicators

measures of effective performance, often statistical, related to the objectives or responsibilities of the post or institution under review. They are usually measures of output such as rates of attendance, exam results, and per capita costs of a school. They are often used comparatively to make judgements about relative worth, but have been criticised for an overly mechanistic, quantitative, and limited way of judging educational issues.


usually used in relation to pay, where wage or salary is linked to measures of how well one has been judged to have fulfilled one's role or met stated standards or targets. It is controversial in education for several reasons, most notably because of the difficulty of measuring teacher effectiveness, but also because the collegiate nature of a school makes it difficult to determine the precise contribution of a single individual.


a management system of accountability, where judgements and evaluations are made of the performance of an individual or group and their value or worth calculated in terms of the ratings awarded. A complex system of performance indicators, appraisal, targets, and monitoring is often involved. In education, it is often criticised as overplaying aspects of business management as opposed to professional issues and concerns. It is also questionable if some of the complex, but central, aspects of education can be readily translated into easily assessed indicators, with the result that it is said that the system ends up valuing what it can measure rather than measuring what it values.


descriptive of a teacher who is not employed in one institution but to teach in a number of establishments, travelling round from one to another. It is a common system in the employment of school music instructors, for example. The word is also sometimes used of a teacher who teaches in a number of different settings within an institution, without having a teaching area 'of their own'.

personal construct

a central concept in the work of George Kelly (1905-1967), referring to the ways in which a person attempts to perceive and understand the physical and social world. Each of these personal constructs acts like a theory which is then adapted in the light of experience.


a complex term from psychology which is resistant to simple definition as it is theory-dependent and contested. Generally, the term refers to the predictable and unique ways in which an individual responds to the environment. Some see personality as having a causal role in behaviour whereas others see it as merely a term for that accumulation of behaviours.

Peter principle

the principle that in an organisational hierarchy, members are promoted until they reach a level beyond their competence. In education, it would refer to those who do well at one level of management and are then further promoted until they reach a level at which they cannot cope. It is named after its originator Laurence Peter (1919-90).


a trend in 20th century philosophy which stresses the importance of human consciousness and its direct experience of the world. It was influential in the development of existentialistideas. Educational research in this tradition would typically tend to focus on individuals' own responses to and understandings of their experience more than on observations or tests of their actions or attitudes.


the general study of the nature of reality, reason, and morality. The Greek roots of the word mean 'love of wisdom'. The philosophy of education is concerned with studying the purpose of education and exploring its basic concepts.


the practice of using someone else's work or ideas, unacknowledged, as if they were one's own. The internet has vastly increased the potential for this form of deceit to be exercised but modern technology also offers greater potential for its detection.


the formal process of making decisions about the future. At teacher level it involves preparing teaching programmes and associated resources and assessment. At institutional level it may involve decisions about such things as future objectives, priorities, budgeting, staffing, resources, and investment. Educational bodies of all sorts would typically plan around central issues of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, although other pressures would inevitably have to be faced also.


a term in biology referring to the capacity of an organism to adapt to changes in its environment. In education, it is an important concept in child development as it stressesnurture as opposed to nature, that development is affected by environment and not determined solely by genes.


children, particularly in the early years, learn through play and so professional planning at these stages often concerns developing and extending play activities for educational purposes.


organisations, often voluntary, set up to provide young children with opportunities to meet and play together prior to the nursery stage.


belief or practice which reflects toleration of numerous distinct groups, beliefs, or practices in society, or which views such a situation as socially desirable. It is also a term used in policy analysis for an approach which encourages, or is based on, many individuals or groups having an equal say in policy making. It is contrasted with elitism.


a complex term which can be summarised as an authoritative principle, plan or guide for a course of action, which embodies values. Policy can be understood as a product and as a process and need not be a text: unwritten policies are commonplace. In state education, policies and policy influence can emanate from many sources, the principal ones being at government levels - national and local - and at the level of institutional management.

policy ownership

the fact or process of being committed to a particular policy because one has been involved in its creation. This is seen as a powerful management and institutional goal and is reflected in the number and extent of policy consultation exercises. These, however, would be self-defeating if designed as cosmetic rituals, as many believe, merely giving the appearance of an open and inclusive approach.

policy refraction

the phenomenon by which policy changes in nature as it proceeds from the decision-making level to implementation/enactment. Often, there can be a wide divergence between original policy guidelines and how they actually work, or are implemented/enacted, in practice.

political correctness

the use of terms which aim not to exclude, marginalise, or insult any person or group suffering disadvantage or discrimination. On one side, it is sometimes criticised for oversensitivity or for creating clumsy and unnatural expressions, while on the other side it is criticised since underlying prejudiced attitudes may simply be masked by a façade of this inoffensive rhetoric.


the science or art of government; the principles, opinions, or methods involved in the conduct of political affairs. As schooling is a political creation, it is necessarily subject to political debate, influence, and control.


an institution in the UK offering courses at degree level or below, often associated with vocational or technical subjects. Since 1992, it has gone out of use as these institutions were able to be renamed 'universities' from then.

positive liberty

a term from the work of Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) which refers to the capacity to exercise choice and agency by virtue of having the power and resources to do so. It would normally involve some kind of external intervention to enable this to happen: for example, becoming literate or numerate increases one's capacity to act as one wishes, as does the acquisition of money or status. Negative liberty, on the other hand, merely means the absence of external restraint but this type of freedom may only be theoretical if one does not have the resources or ability to act as one would desire.


a philosophical position which holds that all knowledge, including that of the social sciences, is what can be obtained using scientific methods - observation and experiment. It is thus linked to empiricism and opposed to metaphysics, religion, and idealism. It has been criticised as being too narrow in scope and in presenting a simplistic view of factual knowledge (see postpositivism).


not a single theory but rather a range of reactions to modernism and its assumptions. It rejects the idea of an all-embracing grand narrative, a single theory or principle that explains all human endeavour. It doubts the objectivity of science, for example, is sceptical of anything thought of as foundational, essential, or necessary, instead preferring to accept a variety of perspectives, none of which can be privileged. In the arts, the term refers more to an eclectic approach which rejects traditional forms and disciplines.


a reaction to positivism, holding instead that knowledge is provisional, and subject to revision and to perspective. It holds that objectivity is questionable but that knowledge is still possible not just in scientific terms but in hermeneutic, critical, moral, and other forms, particularly in the social sciences.


related to postmodernism but focused on rejecting the idea that social systems have fixed underlying structures that determine their meaning. In literature, it stresses that texts have multiple meanings and ways of being understood and so interpretation can never be definitive. In social theory, it is particularly focused on how power relations are immanent in our constructions of the world and the way in which power shapes social practices and systems.


ability which has not yet emerged or been demonstrated, but is assumed to be within an individual's capability. It is a term used widely in education but is extremely difficult to ascertain or identify in any demonstrable way as it is inevitably based on perceptions which may be misplaced or erroneous (see underachievement).


a term for what is actually done. In education, it normally refers to the actual work and behaviours of professionals. Teaching as a practice therefore refers to the ways in which it is typically conducted (see praxis).


a philosophical approach which determines the value of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application. More generally, it refers to any approach which seeks workable solutions rather than holding fast to any unbending position or beliefs.


a term dating back to Aristotle but now more commonly associated with Marxist or radical thinking such as that of Freire who sees it as, for the educator, reflective action united with critical theorising.


a statement about what will be observed or will take place, prior to the event. Its effects are multi-faceted; inaccurate or ill-judged predictions in educational contexts can have serious negative consequences (see self-fulfilling prophecy; Pygmalion effect; halo effect)


a preconceived opinion or belief unsupported by evidence. The opinion may prove to be factually correct or incorrect, but the use of the word today tends to be associated with groundless discrimination and bias


in logic, a statement in an argument from which the conclusion is drawn (see deduction; syllogism); more generally, any assertion or presupposition on which an argument or theory is based.


a term from the work of Jean Piaget(1896-1980), referring to early nonlogical stages of learning, where the learner may still be confused by appearance, struggle to decentre their thinking, and muddle issues about causation and consequences (see concrete operational; formal operational; sensori-motor)


a view of moral judgements which sees them not merely as expressions of liking or preference but that labelling an action as 'right' or 'wrong' also represents a form of command, indicating that the speaker endorses this judgement as having universal applicability. To say that murder is wrong includes a sense of the imperative 'Do not murder'.

pressure group

a group of people who try to influence (education) policy in line with their particular interests and priorities. Typical techniques are the lobbying of powerful individuals and the use of the media to publicise and promote their views.


the effect whereby individuals recall or prioritise issues that have been most recently experienced (recency) or those which were experienced initially (primacy).

primary source/data

original material deriving from a first-hand account, an eye-witness report, a participant's evidence, or similar (see secondary source/data).

prior learning

what a learner knows beforehand. It is an important concept for teachers to be able to plan effectively. As it is a key factor in future success, it needs to be measured carefully if the particular impact of a teaching input is to be gauged.

private schools

educational institutions, independent of state control. They are almost always fee-paying. Although not run by the state, they may still be subject to state inspection and regulation to ensure legal compliance with broader issues of human rights and child safety.

private sector

a term for all educational establishments which are not part of the state system. It can also be used more generally for any organisation which is not within the state sector, so there can be private sector involvement in school meals for example if the local authority pays a private company to provide these as opposed to having a meals service of its own (see public sector).


the process of, or belief in, transferring public services or utilities into private ownership and control.


advantage or preferential treatment.


the chance of an occurrence; the likelihood that something will happen.


a process or period which tests someone's fitness for a particular post. It is most commonly used in relation to the early part of a teaching career before full membership of the profession is achieved.

problem-based learning

an approach to teaching which requires functioning knowledge for success. It is common in professional education such as medicine or dentistry where the aim is not to test a student's grasp of factual information but the student's ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.


an approach which tries to ensure that applied knowledge, developing practical strategies, is central to the teaching and learning experience. Learners are required to use their knowledge, usually in a collaborative way, to work on situations and challenges which are presented to them.


difficult, debatable, uncertain, complex.


the state or quality of being affiliated with a profession. In education, it is a loosely-used term which usually refers to ethical standards relating to practice, conduct, attitudes, and commitment. It can be used as a form of moral blackmail, however, if professionals are encouraged to comply with some development or initiative on the grounds that anything other would be unprofessional.


an approach to assessment which provides detailed judgements about a range of relevant characteristics, qualities, abilities


movement from one activity or experience to another in a sequenced, systematic way. It is seen as a key concept in curriculum planning to ensure that the planned programme has a sense of development from the simple to the complex or involves building on a prior experience.


a long-term educational assignment, involving personal initiative. In primary education it is often synonymous with topic, a theme-based approach to teaching, allowing for a whole variety of different subject disciplines to be taught or experienced in an integrated way.


advancement in rank or position, such as from teacher to headteacher. It is also a term used sometimes for pupils being moved on a year group in advance of their age-group peers.


descriptive of something which serves as introductory or preparatory to further learning or study. It is often used of the learning of basic concepts within a discipline which serve as the platform for subsequent, more advanced learning.

proportional equality

the treatment of relevant persons or groups according to their due. This means that distribution will not be numerically equal but will be governed in relation to persons' deemed rightful needs. In the classroom, this might mean the teacher spending more time with some pupils rather than others, because of some factor deemed important. The basis for this proportional treatment is not fixed and so the principle can be used for quite different approaches: for example, one version might be to channel teacher support towards the more able, as they are deemed more deserving; another version, would be to favour the less able, as they are seen to be more deserving. (see numerical equality)

proximal praise

a technique in some approaches to behaviour management designed to generate compliance, where a positive comment on the behaviour of other (compliant) pupils nearby is used instead of a negative comment to the person whose behaviour is of concern. It is criticised by some as being morally dubious since the praise is not genuine but merely used as a strategic means to influence another person.


a term originally from ancient Greek philosophy and early Christian theology which refers to 'guiding the soul'. In psychotherapy it refers to attempts to influence a person's behaviour by suggesting desirable life goals. More generally it means any similar approach aimed at changing one's outlook, values, aims.


a method of treatment for various mental disorders. It was originally associated with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).


the science of the nature, functions, and phenomena of mental activity.


the measurement of mental ability. It has been highly controversial because of its involvement in IQ issues and selection (often on dubious grounds).


a term for the physical and muscular functioning of a human, or referring to the coordination of thinking and physical movement.

public pedagogy

this term refers generally to learning that occurs beyond formal schooling. In recent times, it has been used to indicate the learning that occurs through disparate means such as events, popular culture, technology, informal and public places. It can also be used to refer to dominant ideology and how it can promote a particular view of things though its various means of influence: media, politics, work practices, business discourse, etc.

public sector

the term for all activity, organisations, and institutions which are run and funded by national or local government. This includes such aspects as the state health service, the education system, social services, and defence (see private sector).


any person taught by another. It has gone out of favour because of its connotations of inferiority and passivity. The term student has become more popular but seems inappropriate for the very young.

pupil-teacher ratio

the number of pupils in an institution divided by the number of teaching staff. A ratio of 30:1 would mean that for every 30 pupils there was one teacher. There have been recent moves to have this reduce significantly but academic opinion is divided on its merits and political opinion baulks at the increased costs involved. Many private schools market themselves on the basis of a low pupil-teacher ration, the implication being that personal attention and support for each individual pupil will be greater than would be the case in larger-sized classes.

Pygmalion effect

a term used for the phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy whereby teacher expectations hugely influence student outcomes: learners are seen to achieve in line with what teachers expect them to achieve. The term derives from the play by George Bernard Shaw where a flower girl is trained so she can be passed off as a Duchess.