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Continuing from the other thread about what is education, how about a discussion on what would constitute the ideal school?

What should be the size, content, skills and structures of the ideal school? Should secondary school be differently structured from primary? If you were setting up a school and cost was no object, what would it look like?

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There's a good discussion going on at the moment on the TES chatline about primary education - is the UK prescription in primary school doing more harm than good? Are children being forced into the basic skills too early? Do Steiner/Montessori schools have the right idea about early education?

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  • 5 weeks later...

I no longer know much about English primary schools, having fled the country 30 years ago, but from what I hear, more and more of the "marginal" subjects are being weeded out -- less history, less music, less art, less PE -- in order to make room for literacy and numeracy.

This is, in many ways, a swing of the pendulum away from some of the ideas which became popular in the 1970s and 80s and led to a decline in the attention given to the acquisition of basic skills. Thus, for example, the memorization of times tables was "banned" because this was parrot-like rote learning and didn't help students understand the mathematical meaning of the operations they were carrying our. A whole generation of teachers collected shoeboxes full of bottle caps so students could "see" what 6 x 7 "meant". And a generation of students left primary school not being able to work out how much 7 chocolate bars should cost if each had a price of 6p.

A similar thing happened with reading. Children didn't need to be taught to read. If you just exposed them to enough "real" books, they would somehow develop the skills required through some sort of osmosis -- Goodman referred to phonics as the educational "f-word"...

The end result was that more and more students were leaving school theoretically well-qualified, but actually unable to meet the demands either of higher education or of the world of work. So we had the imposition of the National Curriculum by the Thatcherites, and it's strengthening by the Blairites. But has it really made the difference it was supposed to? Certainly more time is spent on skills acquisition in schools, but I'm not sure there's much evidence that it's been fruitful, and it's certainly true that the breadth of the curriculum has been impoverished.

Where would I start if I were suddenly to be appointed minister of education? I think I'd begin by insisting that all lecturers on education courses at university be required to spend one year in five actually teaching in a classroom. The same rule should also apply to anyone empowered to take any decisions likely to impinge on classroom practice. This might bring a much-needed air of practicality to the training they impart. Then I'd declare a moratorium on all "educational initiatives" for five years. I'd drop league tables which only encourage schools to eat further and further into "periferal" subject areas. I'd make a measure of staff morale a major item in the evaluation (and pay!) of school SMTs. That would do for a start!

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Continuing from the other thread about what is education, how about a discussion on what would constitute the ideal school?

What should be the size, content, skills and structures of the ideal school? Should secondary school be differently structured from primary? If you were setting up a school and cost was no object, what would it look like?

This is a big subject and this is just a brief summary of my initial thoughts.

(1) My ideal school would be voluntary. I have always thought that compulsion damages children’s attitude towards education. I think if the child was in the classroom because they had decided for themselves they wanted to be there, it would dramatically change their attitude towards learning.

(2) If attending school was up to the individual, it would mean that teachers would have to work hard at making it a useful experience. It would also expose those teachers who can only get people in the classroom because the law tells them they have to be there. Therefore, market forces, would either force the teacher to change or they would have to leave the profession.

(3) All lessons would be based on what the teacher thought it was necessary for the students to learn. In other words, this power would be taken from the government and exam boards and handed over to the teacher. It is then up to them to prove that they have got it right.

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(1) My ideal school would be voluntary. I have always thought that compulsion damages children’s attitude towards education. I think if the child was in the classroom because they had decided for themselves they wanted to be there, it would dramatically change their attitude towards learning.

There may be a great deal in this. When we have organised voluntary extra classes for exam students in the Easter holidays the atmosphere of the institution has changed beyound recognition.

What however might be the social consequences of large numbers of children and parents opting not to attend school at all

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This is a big subject and this is just a brief summary of my initial thoughts.

(1) My ideal school would be voluntary. I have always thought that compulsion damages children’s attitude towards education. I think if the child was in the classroom because they had decided for themselves they wanted to be there, it would dramatically change their attitude towards learning.

(2) If attending school was up to the individual, it would mean that teachers would have to work hard at making it a useful experience. It would also expose those teachers who can only get people in the classroom because the law tells them they have to be there. Therefore, market forces, would either force the teacher to change or they would have to leave the profession.

(3) All lessons would be based on what the teacher thought it was necessary for the students to learn. In other words, this power would be taken from the government and exam boards and handed over to the teacher. It is then up to them to prove that they have got it right.

We are now working in such a system. The students choose assignments and by doing these assignements they learn necessary skills and acquire knowledge. There are no lessons, but students can go to teachers to help them with completing their assignements.. if enough students want the same explenation a kind of lesson is organised. The students themselves decide when to attend and what to learn.

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There may be a great deal in this. When we have organised voluntary extra classes for exam students in the Easter holidays the atmosphere of the institution has changed beyound recognition.

What however might be the social consequences of large numbers of children and parents opting not to attend school at all

In this sense you cannot allow students complete freedom. Maybe they would have to complete a certain number of major projects. I would like to see a system where students would have the freedom to select a project and a supervisor. Teachers would be given a maximum number of projects to supervise.

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There may be a great deal in this. When we have organised voluntary extra classes for exam students in the Easter holidays the atmosphere of the institution has changed beyound recognition.

What however might be the social consequences of large numbers of children and parents opting not to attend school at all

In this sense you cannot allow students complete freedom. Maybe they would have to complete a certain number of major projects. I would like to see a system where students would have the freedom to select a project and a supervisor. Teachers would be given a maximum number of projects to supervise.

Beneath this discussion is rumbling the tension between the educational purpose of schools and the social control role. These are features of my professional life I find increasingly difficult to reconcile.

We all enter the profession with a determination and sometimes something as strong as a 'mission' to educate. But in truth however this accounts for probably a maximum of 40% of what we do in schools. The rest is given over to the hidden curriculum. The inculcation of obedience and quiescence through organisational structures, hierarchies, discipline policies, rituals, institutionalised bullying etc. Conditioning children to the discipline of the workplace (move when the bell goes), "work" divided up artificially into unconnected units, conditioning them to work in competition for external rewards (exams/wages).

Today I am in favour of "deschooling society"......... Maybe I have just had a bad day :(

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Beneath this discussion is rumbling the tension between the educational purpose of schools and the social control role. These are features of my professional life I find increasingly difficult to reconcile.

We all enter the profession with a determination and sometimes something as strong as a 'mission' to educate. But in truth however this accounts for probably a maximum of 40% of what we do in schools. The rest is given over to the hidden curriculum. The inculcation of obedience and quiescence through organisational structures, hierarchies, discipline policies, rituals, institutionalised bullying etc. Conditioning children to the discipline of the workplace (move when the bell goes), "work" divided up artificially into unconnected units, conditioning them to work in competition for external rewards (exams/wages).

Today I am in favour of "deschooling society"......... Maybe I have just had a bad day :(

When I first became a teacher I entered the profession with a mission to educate. For the first few years I felt I managed to do this. At this time teachers had a great deal of freedom to teach what they wanted. There was also a lot of freedom concerning our choice of exam courses.

However, all this changed in the 1980s. The National Curriculum had a major influence on what you taught. The other main problem was the introduction of league tables. Teachers became under great pressure to obtain good results. This often came at the expense of what you knew was good teaching. I found myself increasingly feeling a sense of alienation (it was similar to what I experienced working in a factory for six years). In fact, I felt like I was working on a production line.

I was quite good at it and got some satisfaction from getting above average exam results for my students. However, it was like I was cheating. I knew how to get my students good exam results but it was not really about education.

This emphasis on exam results had a major impact on pre-examination groups. They felt that if there was not an exam certificate at the end of it then there were doubts about its value. It was not such a problem for Y7 but it became a major issue with Y8 and Y9. This just reinforced my feelings of alienation and was the major factor in persuading me to leave the classroom and return to my mission to educate.

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However, all this changed in the 1980s. The National Curriculum had a major influence on what you taught. The other main problem was the introduction of league tables. Teachers became under great pressure to obtain good results. This often came at the expense of what you knew was good teaching. I found myself increasingly feeling a sense of alienation (it was similar to what I experienced working in a factory for six years). In fact, I felt like I was working on a production line.

This is very telling. The social policies John identifies have had a deeply damaging effect on teaching methods and therefore the quality of learning.

In my subject (history) just at the time there was an encouraging movement away from "the body of Knowledge" transmission model towards more child centred methods such as the source method and the SHP Project, along came these huge external pressures on teachers to get the students to jump through government defined hoops. Inevtiably schools in England now concern themselves with 'getting the best results' by hook or by crook. This invariably means cramming for mental regurgitation.

The education and needs of the child are thus sacrificed at the test and exam statistics altar. Children's imagination and desire to learn are crushed by boring repetitive revision tasks, and they leave "well qualified" but without the skills of enquiry and critical thought.

My ideal school would therefore have no external assessment regime, no National Curriculum and with teachers both educated to higher degree level and committed to the child centred approach to learning.

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I've been away for a week in the sun of Western Australia, at a national union conference, so am just catching up with the replies to my question.

Marco

Your system sounds fascinating. What happens to the students who don't want to do any of the assignments? Here, we would have at least a third who would simply never attend school if they were given the choice. I understand the argument given above about the education versus social role of school, but in practical terms right now, do most of your students attend and do most actually complete the assignments? Is this for all years or just in secondary? What sort of ässignments" are set?

In Tasmania we do not have external exams until Yr 11/12 and even those are only part of the overall assessment. We do have national standardised literacy/numeracy testing but only in Yrs 3,5,7,9 and these are generic skills tests, not regurgitation, yet we do very well in International tests such as PISA and TIMMS.

A guest at the conference I attended was Mary Crompton, President of the UK NUT. She is Welsh and was telling us how Wales has abolished all testing with no "detrimental" affects. Finland also does not "test"and is top in all International tests, so why can't Britain see the light on that one?

I agree that curriculums can be too narrow and regimented, but I also think they can be so wide and free that subjects such as languages, music, fine arts etc can become merely adjuncts to skills teaching. I can't yet decide where the happy medium is, hence this question.

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Is the Tomlinson Report going to make a difference to secondary education? It seems to be allowing a move away from the national Curriculum towards a more child centred model?

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Is the Tomlinson Report going to make a difference to secondary education? It seems to be allowing a move away from the national Curriculum towards a more child centred model?

It is highly unlikely that the Tomlinson Report will be implemented in full. Tony Blair has already made it clear that he is fully committed to the existing exam system. He will try to tag on the vocational aspects of Tomlinson’s proposals but that will not work. Blair’s educational policy is a mess and cannot address the problems faced in British schools. People like Tomlinson and Bell (see his speech on faith schools that Blair loves so much) are trying to nudge him in the right direction but they will not get very far because he has such a closed-mind on the subject.

Tomlinson’s proposals would improve the standard of education in the UK but would get nowhere near my idea of an “Ideal School”.

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