Dhaka, Bangladesh
It's time for a real revolution in Britain's schools

It's time for a real revolution in Britain's schools

(From previous issues) To achieve this multidimensional education these educators believe that there need to be fundamental changes in the way schools run - a revolution in curriculum planning, timetabling, the role of the teacher and, perhaps most of all, our beliefs about young people. These are essential changes in approach that we are developing at School 21, which we opened in 2012. We need a noisy education not a silent one. A noisy education is one where we elevate speaking to the same status as reading and writing. Where we allow young people such as Ava to find their voice and help them grow in confidence and articulacy. It is a place of curiosity and questioning, debate and depth of understanding. The dialogic classroom is one in which talk aids thinking and understanding; through Socratic seminars and exploratory talk, children of a young age learn to wrestle with moral issues, explore difficult concepts and hone their arguments. We want staff to be noisy too: debating their craft and speaking up for how they want to change education. We need education to be based on trust not compliance. We need to trust young people more. School needs to be not a grinding slog that will lead one day to qualifications, but a joyful time of growth and exploration. We need to believe that students can produce work of genuine value to the world while at school. That is why one of our core approaches is the idea of craftsmanship, crafting work through multiple drafts until it is beautiful. It is why we give students real problems to solve from the community - saving local habitats, using maths skills to campaign against the construction of a local concrete factory, telling the stories of the local immigrant populations for the first time. We also need to trust staff more. Give them the space, the time and the collective autonomy that produce extraordinary learning for young people. That is why we provide dedicated time for collaborative planning; regular, precise and supportive feedback for all staff; and an atmosphere of inquiry, research and intellectual rigour in which teachers feel "re-professionalised" and not just cogs in the exam factory wheel. We need education to be expansive not constrained Schools are too often inward looking, lost in their own bubbles. We need to make schools engaged in the world, porous to outside organisations, and support them to form productive collaborations to foster innovation. Students benefit from real-world learning, from having experts - scientists, theatre directors, mathematicians, historians - critique their work. It is why we have reinvented work experience so students spend half a day every week in an organisation doing a real-world project: recent examples include designing an app for the Department for Education to support business managers in schools; redesigning the children's menu at a chain of hotels; working out better systems for listening to frontline staff in a major bank. Three changes to the system are essential to have any chance of a new pathway. First, Ofsted requires a complete overhaul. It was once perhaps essential, a way of ensuring minimum standards, a floor beneath which schools could not go. It encouraged and in some cases forced schools that had no strategic plan or poor behaviour systems to get their act together. But at its heart is a destructive and damaging view of human nature. Instead of believing, as they do in most countries, that failure in schools is not the result generally of laziness or incompetence, the whole philosophy of Ofsted has been punitive. Rapid inspections, brutal judgments, a them-and-us culture. The result is a climate of fear, and inevitably headteachers start to do things they know are not what students and teachers really need - over-monitoring, prescription for all lessons, over-testing - all in the name of doing well under Ofsted criteria. The stakes are so high that doing something turns into doing anything - almost regardless of the impact. With the arrival of Amanda Spielman as the new head of Ofsted this month, now is the time for a radical change. Ofsted should be scrapped altogether or reformed so dramatically that it becomes a genuinely peer-led and developmental organisation. There are three functions that Ofsted can usefully perform and all need a different solution. One, to check compliance - are children being safeguarded and protected? Here there is a case for no-notice inspections so that a school cannot cover up any shortcomings. Two, to check on standards of progress and attainment. This can be done using nationally collected statistics without a visit and if there is anything alarming it can investigate further with the school. Three, to develop the school. This should be done over several visits during a year and be conducted by a group of peers - headteachers and teachers. It should be designed not to catch a school out, but to work with it on a plan for improvement and innovation. No grades are necessary just an action plan that has to be shared with all. Second, we need a different and more sophisticated exam regime - less high stakes, less standardised, fewer subjects, but measuring a broader range of qualities. GCSEs should be scrapped. They are a school leaving exam at 16 when you are not allowed to leave education until 18. They should be replaced by a smaller set of exams, including English, maths and science, which can be taken when students are ready in their education and could be benchmarked internationally. There should be the chance for students to be assessed on a broader range of qualities, including a portfolio of their best work and their spoken language. Third, we need an agenda for opening up education to genuine innovation. Now is the time, not for incrementalism, but for changes capable of meeting the pressing needs of the age. We need an innovation hurdle that has to be leapt by those wanting to open new schools. There should be money targeted at innovation in those parts of the country that need the biggest boost to education outcomes - including the north-east and north-west, old seaside towns, and parts of the Midlands. Regional schools commissioners should be charged with nurturing innovation and helping schools broker partnerships with organisations that can help transform learning and provide real-world opportunities. There should be proper funding for the systematic teaching of speaking skills in all schools as one of the most important ways of increasing social mobility. There are thousands of young people like Ava, wanting to find their voice and make a difference to the world. And thousands of extraordinary, passionate, thoughtful teachers ready to be unleashed to do amazing things. Most want to be freed from outdated notions of being traditional or progressive. There is common ground among the vast majority of teachers, a shared desire for an engaged education. They are hungry for a more expansive education that connects pupils to the great works of our past but also the richness, variety and opportunities of the modern world. An education that is layered, ethical and deals with complexity as an antidote to the shallow, overly simplistic debates our young people often have to listen to. The best defence against extremism and "illiberal" democracy is an education that teaches reflection, critical thinking and questioning. Now is the time to release this energy. It is the time to remove the straitjacket, unshackle the potential and let our system become the most creative and exciting in the world. Standing outside Mango, a high street fashion shop, on Oxford Street are a dozen School 21 students in orange boiler suits. They are in the middle of a human rights project developed in their Spanish lessons. They are protesting about what they see as the injustice of a powerful company that has failed to compensate the people of Bangladesh for a fire in their clothes factory. They have produced a website, petition and learned the Spanish that will allow them to communicate with the shop's owners and are now drumming up support for their campaign. In the words of their website: "We are a group of people with big ambitions who believe in finding justice for those who need it. There are other campaigns that we are doing all under the hashtag #S21redlines. Many people would say that we are 'just' children, but Mozart was 'just' a child and to compose something better than his work at seven years old, you'd be hard pushed. On our side we have professional campaigners, government officials and big human rights organisations so we can do a lot. We are big thinkers. We are for success. We are for the 21st century. We are for justice." An engaged education - perhaps the only hope we have in this mad world.

Share |