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In a Comment piece in the News Letter of 10 December, I argued that a project designed to investigate the link between deprivation and academic under-achievement was deeply flawed.  OFMDFM, who financed the ILiAD project, didn’t seem to appreciate that the sought-after link had already been investigated in one of the most sophisticated education experiments ever conducted: the USA’s Project Follow Through.

Follow Through


Project Follow Through monitored the academic attainment of 79,000 pupils from 180 low-income communities for 20 years.  It arrived at an unequivocal conclusion: those pupils who were taught by traditional methods consistently reached academic standards approximating to their middle class peers.  This conclusion was replicated by two other highly-regarded bodies.  Progressivist curricula – such as those centred on the pupil’s ability to “learn how to learn” – were demonstrated to damage the attainment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  This is important because our Revised Curriculum is just such a curriculum.

lyndon johnson


The lessons from Project Follow Through are clear: abandoning the Revised Curriculum and returning to traditional approaches to teaching and learning would benefit all of our children, but particularly children from poor backgrounds.  In addition, a great deal of money could be saved if we turned our back on notions like Assessment for Learning (where children are required to mark their own work) and “levels of progression” (which no country on the planet uses).  We could invest more money in our teachers if we weren’t funding what Michael Gove dismissively called “the blob.”




I am writing now to report something I discovered after the publication of my  Comment piece.  I began to feel even more uneasy about the ILiAD project when I read a paper by one of the project’s authors: Dr Cathal McManus of the School of Education at Queen’s.  In an article which addressed “Protestant working-class underachievement and unionist hegemony” and published in Irish Studies Review he argues that the ideas of Antonio Gramsci offer a superior theoretical lens through which to view the underachievement of Protestant working-class boys, than the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu.



What is curious is that the ILiAD project use Bourdieu for their theoretical lens.  Why wasn’t Gramsci chosen?  His reasoning reinforces the findings of Project Follow Through.  Could Gramsci’s rejection of curricula like the Revised Curriculum, and enthusiasm for traditional approaches to the classroom, explain the curious choice of the ILiAD team?


Stephen Elliott


Chair, Parental Alliance for Choice in Education