Posts filed under ‘Building Schools for the Future’

Education. It’s a risky business!


The TES recently undertook a survey of over 2200 parents on the issue of the potential boycott of SATS by the NUT and NAHT which showed that the unions do not have the support of majority of parents over this issue. This is in strong contrast to the findings of research carried out by NAHT and the  Department for Children, Schools and Families which found that 85% of their survey of 10,400 parents wanted league tables and national testing scrapped.

Whoever you may choose to believe this does raise interesting issues about where parents do stand in relation to education system changes. In fact parents have very little influence but I am interested in what they think because if the education system is to change radically, and I believe it must, this must happen with the agreement and crucially, involvement, of parents. They must be on side.

And I think this is problematic because mostly parents do not want to take risks with their children’s education. And a reason we do not want to do this (I am a parent also) is that is we place such high emotional value on getting their education right. 3 Years ago my daughter was allocated a secondary school that we felt was wholly wrong for her and had not been one of our original choices. Although it was not our fault on hearing this news we felt we had badly let her down, kind of neglected her welfare somehow.

The next few weeks of preparing an appeal case took over our lives completely and felt like the most important thing we had ever done, literally. Thankfully we won the appeal and the relief and joy was equal in measure to the opposite feelings we had experienced.

I then continued at the forefront of the campaign that led to the establishment of the so called’ lottery’ (I prefer ballot) admissions system in Brighton which judging by the vilification of me and some of my colleagues in the local press was testament to the strength of feeling over these issues.

Whether or not getting our kids to the right secondary school should take on such an elevated sense of importance is another matter. The fact is it does. And as long as it does I wonder what it will take to persuade parents to do anything vaguely radical when it comes to their kid’s education.

I recently attended an event about the future of education at the British Academy in London at which a parent, who is also a teacher, told us that he had sent his young teenage daughter to study in France for a whole term in order to enhance her experience, broaden her outlook etc.. He told us that it had been a great success and that his daughter came back more fulfilled as a result.

He then made the following, very interesting point. He said that although he and his wife believed their actions would be of great benefit to their daughter, they couldn’t actually guarantee that. They were trying something out so there was an element of risk involved. He then said that whilst he felt it OK to take that risk in respect of his own daughter, he didn’t feel he could take the same risk in respect of the pupils he taught.

I get his point, and therein lays a particular problem in respect of the progress of the radical changes that we must undertake.

May 29, 2009 at 3:09 pm 1 comment

Ask the experts ??

Futurelab_logo_colour small Ken-Rob-2-763967 small

During the past week I attended two events in London, both on the theme of the future of education. The first was at the British Academy and was a discussion day about the future of education organised by Futurelab, the second was at The Purcell Rooms on Southbank and was an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the ‘All our futures’ programme, which is chaired by Sir Ken Robinson.

The first was around general issues about the future if education fuelled by Futurlab’s research in this area. The second was about ‘creativity’ (or lack of it) in education. Across both these events, which were worthwhile attending, there was a common, and unfortunately not unusual, lack of young people’s voices in any significant way.

When I raised the issue at the Futurelab event it was met with the usual comment that there is so much information to gather that it is not always, unfortunately, possible to represent everything in their research. This is a common response (I raise this question on a regular basis at different events I attend). What I would like to know is that if it is hard to represent all views why is it always young people’s views that are left out.  And also, if not everything is represented, is the research actually relevant.

Another interesting issue that arose was about creativity in schools. When Sir Ken Robinson talks about creativity in schools he means as an integral part of the whole of schooling, and not just an adjunct (e.g. creativity hour).  At the Futurelab event I raised the issue of the ‘freeze frame’ technique (the technique of getting young people to enact an event, freeze at a certain point, and describe how the character they are portraying thinks and feels at that moment) and its value as a teaching/learning technique.

It was my 14 year old daughter who introduced me to this technique (something she had come across in drama classes) and her who suggested that it might have a role across the whole curriculum.

I introduced this at the Futurelab event as an example of why it is valuable to seek young peoples views (I would never have found out about it had we not been chatting over dinner), how such teaching and learning possibilities may themselves inform building and space requirements (such techniques require space), and how creativity could be integrated across all subjects.

Unfortunately, the ‘expert’ panel to whom I addressed this didn’t really ‘get’ it. They understood the value of this having come from my daughter (pupil voice) but didn’t, I felt, get the fact that I was referring to the technique being used across all subjects, not just as a good technique for drama. Nor did they get the implications this would have on school, building design (vis a vis the BSF debacle).

This was disappointing. My difficulty is that if the so called experts whom I would expect to be ‘on side’ don’t understand these issues the great hopes for the future as I see them are very distant indeed.

May 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm 1 comment

19th century education meets 21st century building under BSF

I was having a look at a Teachers TV video about a building completed under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

This is the  Hadley Learning Community building in Telford which was completed in January 2007 and is regarded as a flagship building under the programme.

The building is designed to house facilities for primary, secondary, children with severe and profound learning difficulties, early education and childcare, and a variety of community activities and is something of a behemoth

There were a couple of issues that were raised in the video that I found disturbing and perhaps typical of what goes on under the BSF programme.

Firstly it became clear that when the building opened to secondary students the needs of the students in respect of their settling into this radically different environment (from their older, smaller school) were not properly accounted for.

In fact the centres principal Dr Gill Etough, who guided the whole building project from its beginnings, doesn’t feel that ‘anybody in the whole Building Schools for Future has really [noticed that we need to know how to] deal with the kids to make them more settled’.

This is astounding considering that the secondary school exists to serve the needs of its pupils, or should do. I suspect that the senior management of the centre were blinded by the glory of the building itself.

Secondly when Dr Etough went into one of the classrooms and the children didn’t stand up she said to them, ‘Aren’t you supposed to stand up when I walk into the room’ to which they were all required to stand up and intone ‘Good morning Dr Etough’.

This is astonishing and something from the 19th century, not the 21st.

For me this one of the issues with the whole BSF programme. Apart from the fact that it is attempting to ‘predict the future’ at a time when the future is particularly unpredictable, there is a disconnect between the architects vision of the 21st century school building and the education vision of those who will run it.

As one of the pupils commented when asked what she thought of the new building, ‘It’s ok, but schools, school’.

March 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm Leave a comment

Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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