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Why no Subject Didactics in England?

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posted on 2024-05-15, 09:28 authored by Brian Hudson

I greatly appreciate the invitation by Helmut Vollmer and Martin Rothgangel to contribute to such a significant publication. To be able to present the situation regarding subject didactics as an academic discipline in England, or rather the lack of it, it is necessary to consider the national policy context and historical development of education in the country over a significant period. I have structured my contribution around three key questions. The first of these is “Why no pedagogy in England?” that was first raised by Brian Simon in his influential paper published over forty years ago (Simon, 1981). The original paper was reprinted twice (Simon, 1985 and 1994), and, in this contribution, I refer to Simon (1985). The second question is “Why no didactics in England?” which is inspired by the response from David Hamilton to Brian Simon in his paper “The Pedagogic Paradox (Why no didactics in England)?” (Hamilton, 1999). I consider the longer-term historical development and the influence of more recent European and international developments in discussing these two questions. Thirdly, I directly address the question of “Why no subject didactics in England?”. In doing so, I discuss the way in which subject-specific education reflects a ‘blind spot’ on the part of policy makers, especially since 2010, and how its place in teacher education has become increasingly marginalised during this time.

In the discussion I reflect on the competing conceptions of both quality and professionalism between the academic community and policy makers over recent years and on an associated clash of values about the nature of higher education and its role in the professional education of teachers. Despite what may seem to be very infertile ground however, I outline some contemporary developments within the academic community in relation to subject-specific education that show promise for the future should there be the development of a more enlightened policy context. Furthermore, I draw a comparison with developments in Sweden where I have strong research ties. I do so by considering the nature of Educational Sciences, which have evolved over recent years, and which represent a policy direction that contrasts sharply with that in England. By comparing the two countries and their policies in this way, the educational consequences and implications for both become clear. Finally, I offer a summary overview of the current situation in England and reflect on the likely consequences should the direction of policy remain unchanged in future years. Through this process I hope that the topical areas and questions raised by the editors will be addressed fully.

Prior to developing an outline of the context and historical development, it is necessary to make some preliminary remarks about the organisation of education and associated research across the UK for an international readership. The situation has evolved over time and in 2023, England has a distinct school system and associated system of teacher education within the UK. However higher education and research funding are organised across the four nations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) as a UK-wide system. Further, in carrying out the research for this paper, I have noticed ambiguities in relation to the use of the terms “subject” and “discipline” and so I have chosen to refer to “academic disciplines” in higher education and “school subjects” at the level of school education.


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Book title

General Subject Didactics: Comparative Insights into Subject Didactics as Academic Disciplines

Place of publication

Münster, Germany




Allgemeine Fachdidaktik

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  • Education Publications


University of Sussex

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Rothgangel M; Vollmer HJ

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