a priori

a term originating from the work of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) referring to any knowledge which is known to be true independently of experience. It contrasts with a posteriori which refers to knowledge confirmed by observation. Kant attempted to distinguish analytic a priori statements - true by reason of definition - from the synthetic a priori which are necessarily true statements but which are informative about experience, such as statements in mathematics or the statement 'every event must have a cause'. Synthetic a priori statements are said to be never false in any logically possible world.


a term for a secondary school, most common in the independent sector. With 'the' definite article, it is also a term for the higher education community generally. In England, since 2000 a (city) academy is a secondary school, centrally funded but with sponsorship from business, faith, or voluntary groups, the aim being to improve standards in areas of disadvantage. The Academy was originally the name given to the school of Plato (427-347 BCE).

access course

a qualifying programme of study normally undertaken by learners who wish to commence a more advanced course but who do not yet have the required certification for that course. It is often aimed at adults returning to formal education.


a term from the work of Jean Piaget (1896-1980), referring to a response to a new experience where the learner has to adjust, modify, their existing conceptions to make better sense of the new, and previous, experiences (see assimilation, schema).


a term introduced to the public sector from business management. In education it refers to the idea that the performance (in a variety of areas) of institutions, groups and individuals be judged according to measurable criteria. It is controversial partly because quite a number of educational aims are not easily quantifiable or measurable with the result that they are either only weakly covered by the accountability model or that other data, more susceptible to measurement, are perhaps given undue attention.


the process of acquisition of the values and customs of the social group into which an individual enters. This may occur unconsciously, in schools for example through the workings of the hidden curriculum (see socialisation).


success, particularly where it represents a great personal accomplishment. Often wrongly conflated with attainment which refers to level of achievement and often also unhelpfully narrowed to success in terms of academic assessment. Currently, many educational systems are trying to broaden out the sense of achievement to take account of other areas of success in learners' lives.

action plan

a systematic outline of the tasks and responsibilities involved in achieving an objective.

active learning

an approach which involves the learner doing something more than simply passively receiving what is taught. Cognitively, it may involve some form of mental processing aimed at an output of some sort, but more usually it refers to an actual practical activity where something is performed, made, or worked on by making use of, or creating, the new learning.


both Jean Piaget (1896-1980) and John Dewey (1859-1952) stress learning as an adaptive process whereby the learner makes adjustments in response to interaction with the environment, physical and social. Learning enables one to proceed successfully as a result of such adaptation. Paulo Freire (1921-1997) disliked the term as he felt it lacked a sufficient sense of agency and he preferred to use the term 'integrative' to show the way in which the learner, when free, not only responds to, but is able to act upon, the environment.


a term form the work of Alvin Toffler (b. 1928) for an organisation with a fast-moving administrative and managerial style, which aims to be more flexible and reactive and to avoid the static routines of bureaucracy.'ad hoc' is a Latin term meaning 'to this', so indicative of a temporary or specific activity or arrangement.


the period of human development between childhood and adulthood. It involves the reaching of puberty and roughly corresponds to the teenage years. The personal, social, and biological changes involved can make it a difficult transitional time for the individual.

advance organiser

a term from the work of David Ausubel (b. 1918) for any device used at the beginning of a learning experience which aims to alert the learner to what is to follow or to prepare them to process new material more effectively.


pertaining to the emotions, feelings, and attitudes. In recent times the significant role of the affective in learning situations and educational institutions generally has been the subject of increased attention.

affirmative action

a form of positive discrimination where extra resources and/or privileged treatment is afforded to selected minority or disadvantaged groups with the goal of enabling them to achieve educational parity with more dominant social groups.


statements of broad educational purposes or intentions. Objectives tends to refer to narrower, more specific goals in terms of what a learner may be able to do as a result. Some critics view this as too tied to behaviourist theory while others such as John Dewey warned of the danger that a rigid adherence to pre-set aims may foster a mechanical approach to teaching.


a term from Marxist philosophy referring to the feeling that people experience of being estranged from key aspects of their social existence. Examples would include a feeling of powerlessness within society or of being depersonalised within some large, faceless bureaucracy. In the educational world, some teenagers who find the school system, its processes and demands, to be out of line with their own lives and cultural identity, and to be beyond their power to influence, experience alienation as a result.


in education this is the extent to which the aims, assessment, and teaching approaches of a course of study all fit together. Constructive alignment means that teaching methods and the assessment system share common principles. For example, a course which aimed to produce learners capable of persuading others would need to be taught in a certain way and assessed appropriately: multiple-choice written test would not be in alignment in this case.

alternative education

a form of education different from that offered by the state system. It may refer to radical or progressive approaches but can also be used to cover particular arrangements for learners for whom state provision is deemed, or has proved, to be unsuitable.


an irregularity; an illogical instance within an otherwise set, regulated framework; a deviation from a rule.


the identification and detailed examination of the constituent parts or elements of some phenomenon. It lies somewhere between description and critique.


a distinction drawn from the work of Immanuel Kant: an analytic statement is one true by definition - 'all bachelors are unmarried' - whereas the truth of a synthetic statement requires confirmation by empirical fact - 'grass is green'.


a term, no longer in favour, used to refer to pedagogy in an adult learner context.


an irregularity; an illogical instance within an otherwise set, regulated framework; a deviation from a rule.


a term from the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) for a situation where social regulation has broken down and norms governing behaviour are unclear, confused or absent. He associated it particularly with periods of social disruption such as economic depression. It has lately been used in relation to concerns about social exclusion or the so-called underclass.


the theory of the educational thinker Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) which stresses human spirituality. It is concerned with the inner search for spiritual freedom and the study of spiritual knowledge arising from this search (see Steiner schools).


of behaviour or attitudes which are opposed to prevailing social norms.


a formal contracted relationship between an employer and new employee whereby systematic training (for a particular occupation or trade) is guaranteed for a period of time usually under the supervision of an experienced worker. It is less common now in post-industrial Britain.


a term used for certain branches of study such as languages, literature, philosophy, history, as distinct from the sciences.


used loosely as a synonym for anti-social but properly distinguished by referring to behaviour and attitudes which take no account of others, as distinct from anti-social behaviour which is opposed to social norms or conventions; descriptive of a person who cannot interact effectively with other people.

Asperger's syndrome

a pervasive developmental disorder, first identified by Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger (1908-1980). It falls within the autistic spectrum and typically involves difficulties with social interaction, communication, and flexibility of thinking or imagination. There may also be sensory, motor and organisational difficulties.

assertive discipline

a popular approach to behaviour management based on a rigid system of rules, rewards, and consequences (sanctions) which are actively taught to students and consistently enforced. The ultimate goal is that students therefore come to choose to behave, as required. It has been subject to some criticism: for example, for being a purely behaviourist approach aimed at compliance (on the teacher's terms), where behaviour is conditioned, rather than learned or rationally chosen.


any process or means aimed at identifying the knowledge, skills or attitudes of a learner.


a term from the work of Jean Piaget (1896-1980), referring to the way in which a learner can make sense of new experiences by incorporating them into their existing conceptions (see accommodation, schema).


what is taken for granted, accepted as true. In educational research it is particularly important that unwarranted assumptions do not affect the design of a study or the interpretation of evidence. In teaching, assumptions about learners can trigger self-fulfilling prophecies.

at risk

a term used particularly for children and young people whose personal circumstances are deemed to put them in a position where unwanted outcomes (however perceived) may be possible or likely. It is commonly used in reference to child protection issues.


a term for an approach which breaks down a process or activity into its individual parts. It is often criticised for being overly mechanistic especially regarding social activities (such as teaching) or for failing to recognise the bigger, broader picture through excessive attention to constituent parts or minutiae.

attainment gap

a term which refers to the difference in academic attainment between learners from different social backgrounds. Empirical evidence for many years has pointed to this gulf between the academic attainment of those from middle-class backgrounds and those learners from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Politicians with a commitment to social justice see this as a problem to be addressed and are held to account for failing to do so effectively.


the act, or frequency, of being present in a formal educational setting. As attendance at school is compulsory for certain age groups, and as a set level of attendance sometimes is a requirement for certain courses, accurate details require to be kept (see truancy).


a person's tendency to feel about certain people or situations in a particular way. The development of 'positive' attitudes in relevant areas is seen as important for effective learning.


a term used to refer to the phenomenon of pupils or students not completing a course for various reasons. 'Attrition rates' normally refer in percentage terms to the number who have withdrawn from, or not completed, a particular course of study.


pertaining to hearing. An aural test would be where listening was the medium as opposed to written or visual material.


describing an activity or assessment procedure which involves students demonstrating their learning or skills in real-life situations or in tackling real-world problems. For example, the task of designing a poster publicising an event would be authentic if it was intended to be used in relation to a real, rather than imaginary, occasion with which the student was involved.


describing an approach in education where the learner is largely excluded from decision-making or negotiation. The teacher, or equivalent, makes all the decisions in an autocratic, dictatorial way. It can also refer to a managerial style in the same vein.


a term with numerous meanings. In education, it can refer to the power or right to make decisions and issue instructions and commands such as that vested in a local authority or in a post such as that of headteacher. It can also refer to an accepted, or expert, source cited in support of some viewpoint or opinion.


a condition, now recognised as encompassing a wide spectrum, which typically involves difficulties in communicating with others and in dealing with new experiences. Causes are unknown but much research currently centres around understanding it better and developing ways to support the education of learners with autism.


a person who is self-taught. It may refer to one subject area but more commonly it is used in a general way.


the ability to do things without having to think about the task, or without having to engage consciously with its specific actions/processes. Fluent reading is said to be an example of this sort of activity. Automaticity is seen as highly significant in (second/foreign) language acquisition.


freedom to make own decisions and exercise informed choice. It can refer to one of the fundamental aims of human education but in educational settings it can often refer to the extent to which a teacher, or equivalent, is able to exercise their own professional judgement, free of central direction or prescription.


a tenet, 'law', or established principle.