A national system of education cannot function without policy. But the path to practice is seldom smooth, especially when ideology overrules evidence or when ministers seek to micromanage what is best left to teachers. And once the media join the fray the mixture becomes downright combustible.

Drawing on his long experience as teacher, researcher, government adviser, campaigner and international consultant, and on over 600 published sources, Robin Alexander expertly illustrates and illuminates these processes. This selection from his recent writing, some hitherto unpublished, opens windows onto cases and issues that concern every teacher.

Part 1 tackles system-level reform. It revisits the Cambridge Primary Review, an evidence-rich enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England, which challenged the UK government’s policies on curriculum, testing, standards and more besides. Here the reform narratives and strategies of successive governments are confronted and dissected.

Part 2 follows the development of England’s current National Curriculum, exposing its narrow vision and questionable use of evidence and offering a more generous aims-driven alternative. This section also investigates the expertise and leadership needed if children are to experience a curriculum of the highest quality in all its aspects.

Part 3 reaches the heart of the matter: securing the place in effective pedagogy of well-founded classroom talk, a mission repeatedly frustrated by political intervention. The centrepiece is dialogic teaching, a proven tool for advancing students’ speaking, thinking, learning and arguing, and an essential response to the corrosion of democracy and the nihilism of ‘post-truth’.

Part 4 goes global. It investigates governments’ PISA-fuelled flirtations with what they think can be adapted or copied from education elsewhere, examines the benefits and pitfalls of international comparison, and ends with the ultimate policy initiative: the United Nations mission to ensure ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ for all the world’s children.

Education in Spite of Policy is for all those teachers, students, school leaders and researchers who value the conversation of policy, evidence and practice, and who wish to explore the parts of education that policy cannot reach.

chapter 1|10 pages


part Part 1|91 pages

Above the parapet

chapter 2|14 pages

A tale of two reviews

chapter 3|16 pages

Health of a nation

chapter 4|14 pages

Success, amnesia and collateral damage

chapter 5|5 pages

Triumph of the eristic

chapter 6|17 pages

What works and what matters

chapter 7|23 pages

Evidence, mediation and narrative

part Part 2|89 pages

Curriculum convolutions

chapter 8|18 pages

Reform, retrench or recycle?

chapter 9|9 pages

Epistemic imbroglio

chapter 10|11 pages

Entitlement, freedom and minimalism

chapter 11|12 pages

Neither national nor a curriculum

chapter 12|12 pages

Beyond the reach of art

chapter 13|8 pages

True grit

chapter 14|17 pages

Curriculum capacity and leadership

part Part 3|88 pages

Speaking but not listening

chapter 15|15 pages

Promise and politics of talk

chapter 16|33 pages

Evaluating dialogic teaching

chapter 17|18 pages

The unquestioned answer

chapter 18|20 pages

Dialogic pedagogy in a post-truth world

part Part 4|79 pages

Education for all

chapter 19|18 pages

Towards a comparative pedagogy

chapter 20|19 pages

World beating or world sustaining?

chapter 21|22 pages

Moral panic and miracle cures

chapter 22|18 pages

In pursuit of quality