Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Future of Education - what could it look like?



As I sit on the train heading towards the Alternative Educational Futures Conference in Birmingham,  I really don’t know what to expect.  It’s at Birmingham City University. Will they deliver it in a Futures way or how will it be realised?  .  I am a bit of a learning junkie but after studying Shakespeare as an actress I can sometimes be a bit dismissal of academic work.  After all a lot of Shakespeare scholars didn’t help solve practical solutions on the stage. Yet I did study science before drama and I do love some good facts to back up experiential learning. The jury is out if today will be for me.

I am a newbee to all these terms and this world so apologies if some of the content is wrong.  This document is to help me remember how I saw the day and to share with those of you interested. I may have written down names wrong as  I’ve not had time to research all the details yet.  If you want absolute truth I suggest you approach the speakers.  I've been careful about the spelling of the speakers names from the programme!   

The conference is run by the Centre for Personalised Education.

In the pre-email I discovered this first conference was to honour Prof Meighan and Philip Toogood.

Prof Meighan died in 2014.  He specialised in home education, personalised education and educational futures. It’s the next sentence that excites me.  He spent 10 years looking at the perspectives of pupils and THEIR judgement of teaching performance.  This is brilliant.  As a trainer and coach I’m evaluated after every session.  Surely children should give feedback to their teachers? Just like in the modern world employees give feedback to their managers – even if it’s a 360 survey. The bit that doesn’t interest me as much is his exploration of parental learning of parents who home educate.  It’s his third strand of research that brings me to Birmingham today; his research into democratic learning practises in teacher training over 15 years.  I’m not a teacher but I’m an educator delivering training in the political, corporate and small business sector. I am curious to learn more about self managed learning and democratic learning and see if there is anything I can assimilate into my work.

The main challenge in my world is to encourage behavioural change after learning something new.

Philip Toogood was not a professor but a teacher  He explored small schools, mini schools (both seem to be about making human connections but I may be wrong) and flexi schooling which links schools to home learning.

Now this is interesting having been told by my daughter’s Primary School headmistress “You do the parenting, we’ll do the educating” and “leave your daughter at the gates and we’ll do the teaching”.  I cried for a week after that meeting when all I wanted to know was what subjects they were teaching so I could support the learning at home.  If we can find a way to engage parents rather than push them away then I’m in.

As ever,  the more I research, the more I learn and the more my cynicism dissolves.

I always find going to any conference exciting – the learning junky in me but also with some concern – that I will have wasted a valuable day of work.  My juxta position returns.

So before I get there I’m going to do myself a glossary:
·       Pedagogy – the theory and practise of education
·       Heutagogy – self determined learning
·       Democratic Learning – learning through democratic decisions of equals built of justice, respect and trust.
·       Self Determined Learning – teaches students to be self regulated and self directed in their learning 

Well what a day.  So many people doing very different exciting learning with a very unique approach.  We had to self-manage our day too which was rather lovely. So here are the ones I chose:

1. Anna Webster Rogozinska talking about a community garden they run in Caldmore.
Anna runs a community garden, out of which developed an out of school club.  Unlike the CCC Club (Children’s Creative Community Club which I set up with other local parents) their club is run by volunteers.  It reminded me of the discussion I had with Philippe Granger last week who runs a timebank and also a community Garden in Rushy Green, Catford.  Community Gardens can be powerful places of learning and growth.  A place to help build relationships and share time and skills.

I also realised that great ideas spawn out of organic growth (pardon the garden pun). A garden can really bring a community together.  She has had a number of initiatives: outside and inside cinema and lots of events.

      2. Mark Webster was next up – who is husband to the previous speaker. An ex front man for a band he now uses art in self managed learning.

He argues the importance of using art to bring people together and explore ideas. He showed us pictures of community performances and art they had done together.  Similar to the work we do in Telegraph Hill, SE4.  They however rely on grants while The Community Show in Telegraph Hill gets local support and as a result can be sustainable year on year.  It made me really appreciate the financial structure that has grown in our community and the marvellous group of people that have made it so sustainable.  Also very aware of the community of local people who can, pay with their skills, their time and sometimes their money so everyone can benefit.

We had a wee discussion about the importance of everyone experiencing art at different levels of expertise.  Sometimes people don’t want to be experts, they just want to explore through their creativity.

       3.  Peter Humphrys introduces Dr Bernard Trafford. Peter Humphrys is Chair, trustee and a director of the Centre for Personalised Education. Both are mentees of the late Prof Roland Meighan.

He talked about the importance of openness, curiosity, zest of experience, adaptability, optimism and self awareness.  He confirmed my belief that a happy confident child learns and grows and he had lots of research to back it up (on his slides).  Also that kindness, gratitude and empathy were key life skills to learn in the learning environment.

He talked about the old school method of filling the vessel with knowledge was out-moded and out-of-date and a new view of letting children be in control of their learning was key to future success in the world today.

I found Dr Bernard Trafford’s talk conflicting.  He is the head teacher of a school, but he homeschools.  He does seem to do interesting work at his school and builds in ideas of self-managed learning.  He gets the students to take control of their learning.  It made me think about the needs of all children.  His children may benefit from homeschooling which others may thrive in a more social environment.

       4. Fred Garnett has no such conflict.  He lives and breathes his work with no conflict.  He gives so much information.  All of which could be a story or conversation in itself.

An interesting concept from Fred was the importance of Trusted intermediaries in a learning environment and those people aren’t necessarily teachers.  Children learn from those they trust.  He also talked of the importance of creative, interactive and participative learning.  Something I whole-heartedly want every person on my courses to experience, time permitting.

In the past Fred says the challenge for people was about access to information, then in the recent present the quality of content of information but now we have moved to the importance of contextualising information.  This may be why more and more universities like Massachussets State university are giving their content away – it’s the interpretation that is essential now.

Taking that idea on Fred, along with others set up WikiQuals. Which are ways to get learning qualifications that are peer reviewed. He referenced Philippa Young’s TEDx talk which was part of her Wiki Qual(ification) (note to self look her up and watch that) and how we need to empower learning.  Fred did this through a Learning Commons and theuniversityproject.co.uk (I might need to do more research on this too).

I love the words Fred introduces you to that have so much depth and research behind them.  One concept he mentioned was Reizomatic learning.  I just looked it up – it says in Wikipedia that a Rhizonme is an “image of thought” based on a botanical rhizome.  As I understand it  represents an idea where everyone can get in and they can then choose to leave whenever they want compared to the tree like structure, which is more linear.

He talks of the PAH continuum where there is the teacher who then is the teacher/learning and the learner.  As I understand it these build to the place of true learning which is cyclical between ignorance to curiosity to understanding.  As someone who teaches presenting, communicating, strategic direction and business writing I know I learn as much from my clients as they from me.

One huge curiosity point for me, which I hope to explore with Fred is the idea of a Community Curriculum.  Some of you many know Cher Walker Moore and I will shortly be setting up a Learning Centre above the Hillstation on Telegraph Hill.  It is a commercial model and we also hope we can explore the idea of a Lewisham Community Curriculum.  So we will be coming out to the community later this year to find out what you want to learn!

        5. Derry Hannam told us all about the setting up and running of the Sudbury school.  He explained its successes and how it’s model is growing across Europe but has no more schools in England.  He talked of a very successful Sudbury model school in Hanburg, Germany.  There seems to be a challenge to open one here but perhaps a political reluctance.
His curiosity seems to be around how to engage everyone.  He mentioned a Spiral Curriculum that is open and creative.  He asked the question of one class what a school would look like if it followed the UN rights for a child to the letter.

I need to do a bit more research about the Sudbury School system and the UN rights for a child.

One key thing that seemed to build success in these schools was the use of Judiciary Committees (JC) where the children and staff have equal responsibility and that often challenges have to go to the JC to be resolved.  He mentioned Ramine Faringe Tedx talk which I’ll have to look up.  It made me realise there is a difference between rules and responsibilities. I’m curious to explore this idea of a meeting group that happens regularly to deal with challenges in a learning environment.

Derry explained a beautiful story of a student who broke things in a local petrol station.  He went to the Judiciary Committee (made up of everyone in the school) who banned him from the school for 2 weeks.  He was told that he could come back on the condition that he would be expelled if he did anything similar.  They then went on to explain the importance of relationships between the school and local businesses and how a good relationship with neighbours was essential.

6. David Gribble talks about 6 continuums in Democratic schools:

a.      Curriculum
b.      Rules
c.      Punishments
d.      Self Government
e.      Clientele
f.       Freedom
It seems that Democratic schools work in various ways – with a structured curriculum or no curriculum at all; with or without rules and punishments.  Sometimes the children run their own school or the staff self govern.  The clientele can either be available to all or fee payers.  Most have a variety of forms.


A few schools he mentions as successes were: MooBaanDek in Thailand, Butterflies in New Delhi, Guy Thorpe School and Sands School where he worked. He also mentioned Cool Primary School in Fort William (I may have got the name wrong) where the Art Room is run by children.  You can go to Room 13 (The Art Room) when you’ve finished your work.  The children own the account, do the banking, publicity, exhibitions and pay for an artist in residence with their budget.

When asked what they liked about Room 13 they said:
1.      they get to talk to staff as equals
2.      they can choose what they want
3.      it belongs to them
4.      they are respected there
5.      it’s real work not school work

and the thing that was considered the most important out of all those was the fact that the work they were doing was REAL.

David explored the Rules and responsibilities a bit more stating that some schools don’t have rules as such but if you go across a hall with muddy boots you’d have to clean it.  This is not a rule necessarily but a responsibility.  I liked the difference.

        7.  Sally Alexander set up the Kimichi School which is a school that uses music to teach the curriculum.  She’s been running it for 2 years now and seems to have a good success rate for engagement.
The challenges seem to get through the norm barriers eg Ofsted and Department of Education. I believe that some benchmarking is essential.  I’m sure Sally would agree. 

Im a huge believer in evaluating your success and looking at ways of improving your offering.  Sally embodies this curiosity.

 8. Dr Ian Cunningham.  One of the reasons I wanted to come to this conference was to meet Dr Cunningham.  He has a very scientific brain and explained a few facts:

The present curriculum is completely subjective not objective.  I can’t remember the exact number he quoted but they were something like this: English curriculum has a booklet which is about 40 pages, IT 2 pages, arts and design 2 pages. So the level of detail the curriculum goes into is arbitrary not objective.

His main point was that the evidence clearly suggests that employers want more lateral creative thinkers and school doesn’t deliver that.  Students at university seem to ask “what do I need to do to get a 2:1” rather than ask learning questions about things to explore.

He also mentioned how we as a society really let down summer babies.  He says they are less likely to go to University and staff and sometimes parents can underestimate their abilities. 

His school in Brighton uses the Arts Award Portfolio Qualification which means that his students can take exams when they want.  He argues that schoosl are bound by an artificial ruling. 

        9.  Lynne O’Sullivan and Janette Mountford talked about their experience of Flexi Schooling at Hollinsclough Primary.
I so want to go and see it.  They have 3 core days they deliver the curriculum and on those three days home schooled children can come to the school.  Those children can then be at home the other 4 days. 

The Cohort is small.  They are the smallest school in England with 50 children 25 of which go 3 days a week.

        10. Alison Sauer is a font of knowledge. She is dyslexic, which is exciting for me as I”ve just found out my daughter is dyslexic. She helps with legal advice to groups of home educators. 

She explained the challenges many people perceive as barriers to home learning      
a)     finances
b)     socialisation of your children
c)      curriculum choices
d)     where learning happens
e)     methods to use

There are lot of choices online eg Massechusetts institute of Technology gives a lot of their course content free online, you only have to pay for accreditation. 

A huge block for me was “ it’s a myth that you need to be taught in order to learn”

One home learner mother says she gives her children objectives at the beginning of the week and discusses the outcomes on the Friday.  The children have to self manage their learning.  There seems to be a variety of ways to home school from the structured schooling end to the unschooling end – where children do their own learning.

Today has been a fascinating insight into different ways to teach and different ways to learn.  I feel at the beginning of my journey of learning about it.  Yet so many things are practises I use in my own learning and the way I try to inspire my daughter to learn, even though she goes to a mainstream school. 

I’ve found a lot of information today to go and self explore.  I may have got names and company names incorrect but that will be part of my learning process.   Please feel free to correct my mistakes ! 

So in conclusion I loved today. It challenged some pre-held untrue beliefs about home schooling, explored the idea of learning without teaching and gave me loads of resources to explore over the next coming months. I also met some amazing people who have gone out on a limb to do something different which challenges the status quo.  Some children love the present school system, others don’t.  These groups of pioneers are showing there are other ways to help children thrive, learn and realise their potential.

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