Zombie Interventions

A graveyard at night. Mist… the blanket that comforts those resting below. The camera closes in on one grave stone in particular. It stands slightly apart and askew. An ominous minor key lets us know that something is about to happen. And it does. A hand shoots free of the earth, reaching for the dark sky. Fingers slightly separate and stretched in desperation. Across the graveyard, the dead break free from their tombs, animated once more, but not living. They are anything but alive.



When I wrote this post back in 2018, we were busy killing the intervention zombies created by the data apocalypse. Intervention culture was rampant in the preceding years: compulsory lunchtime sessions, Easter revision programmes, targeted tuition and small group work. As I argued at the time, there is nothing wrong per se with ‘intervention’ (in terms of giving a little extra help to those that most need it), but the data-driven, last minute GCSE booster type intervention was a mutation that served to dis-empower and label students, and create hours of largely unproductive work for an overburdened profession.

The signs that this culture was corrupt were many. The identification of students needing intervention was based on a simplistic and false notion of progress – a flight path to success. The ‘gaps’ to be closed were between an expected grade and a predicted grade, rather than a clear conception of what it would be valuable to students to know, but which they did not yet fully grasp. Intervention intensified as GCSEs neared, evidence of what was driving this surge of effort – the pursuit of grades over a desire for education.

Of course, these zombies still walk the earth. We didn’t destroy them entirely. You may still see them roaming through the corridors of your school. But the epidemic of data-managerialism which gave rise to the zombie apocalypse has subsided, thanks to the curriculum vaccine. But now that very vaccine threatens to reanimate the intervention zombie.

What the curriculum vaccine did was to focus us on the object of learning, rather than the codes in which we measure it. This refocusing was timely and refreshing. It helped purge the system of some unhealthy practices, including the tendency to attempt to increase grades without attending to whether students fully comprehended the curriculum.

However, as with all attempts to act upon a complex system, the latest solution will manifest in the problem when it re-emerges. To extend our metaphor, the vaccine is a catalyst to mutation.

Cue lockdown. As unexpected events go, this was a humdinger: this particular apocalypse uncomfortably close to not being metaphoric.

Had this event happened just a few years before, many of us would have perceived this disruption as a period in which little altitude was gained on the flight path. Our ‘enlightened’ perspective means it is perceived instead through a different lens: an interruption to our carefully sequenced curriculum. Neither narrative is correct, but neither entirely without insight. The point is not their truthfulness. The point is that this is how we choose to see what transpires, and this determines how we react.

If we are not careful, we risk reanimating the intervention zombie. We have a tendency to believe that the way we see things now is superior to how we used to perceive them. However, we should remember that our ability to do stupid things probably hasn’t diminished. Along with our shiny new perspective, we should note that the actions we take now, and our justifications for them, may some day appear naive and unwise.

Equipped with our enhanced curriculum understanding, we see new gaps to close: areas of the curriculum which weren’t covered; knowledge which remains insecure; partial stories told. If the curriculum is the progression model, then insufficient progress is evident by the content we have failed to cover. These are the deficiencies we use to justify resurrecting a new wave of interventions.

The signs that zombies once again walk the earth are no different to before. Watch out for solutions which depend on teachers being asked to teach well above reasonable levels for no recompense, which label certain students as faulty and feckless, which are disproportionately targeted at those nearer to exams, and which are justified in relation to a narrow view of what school is for – whether that be grades or powerful knowledge.

If we commit the same atrocities in the name of a new God, can we claim moral superiority?

I’ve read enough horror to know that the dead will not stay dead. I feel a sequel coming on.

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