There are many ways to explain learner-centred teaching and terms such as ‘child-centred methods’ have a long, chequered history (Chung and Walsh 2000; Kliebard 1995). But however we view its history or conceptual base, all modern followers of this tradition are likely to believe that school-students, both factually and by rights, are agents for their own learning. That is, there are empirical and moral claims at the heart of all learner-centred positions. ‘Progressivist’ teachers of a spiritual sort (perhaps inspired by Swedenborg or Froebel: Bloomfield 2000; Froebel 1909) or informed by developmental theory (perhaps in Rousseau’s work: Darling 1994) delegate both natural rights and practical decision-making powers to pupils (revisiting Wilson’s 1999 distinction between teacher-accountability and responsibility). Good practice is no longer invested in teaching activity per se. It is intimately tied up with the way teachers guide and delegate rather than ‘manage’ learner behaviour.
What is ‘idealised’, then, is the autonomous learner able to shape his or her own destiny over the short and long term. Teachers may ‘facilitate’ rather in the way a midwife facilitates a baby’s birth (Rogers 1983); they may ‘empower’ students (Kelly 1989) or ‘liberate’ their natively endowed talents within institutions (Silcock 1999). For Kelly (1989, following Stenhouse 1975), teachers of learner-centred curricula foster learning processes (positive attitudes, talents for independent learning, for rescheduling tasks in personally accessible ways and so on) and find performance targets distract from their primary task. This partly explains why, since the late 1960s or so, interventionist governments in the UK have viewed with ill-concealed mistrust the delegating of powers to pupils that ministers believe only teachers should wield. Their top-