A Brighter Learning Future?

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On behalf of the Learning Futures project, I’ve been privileged this week to visit some of the schools which are applying to join this innovative teaching and learning programme. I’ve seen schools that are already high performing (according to the league tables and test score) and yet they still want to become part of an experimental journey over the next two years. Many of them have put forward quite radical change proposals for what we in England call ‘Key Stage 3’ – kids aged 11-14. Many school leaders have taken advantage of the looser curriculum restraints at this stage to introduce enquiry-led, project-based or practical learning, often bringing subjects (and teachers) together. They’ve piloted these activities and they’ve been enthusiastically received by students – mainly because that’s what life is like, and how we learn, out there, on the outside.

So now they’re ready to make them mainstream, not peripheral. And it’s our job on the project team to support them, learn from them, and try to enable others to introduce them into their schools.

And, despite their obvious success in turning their students into confident, successful learners, they’ll need our help. Because the media – and many parental memories – promote deep suspicion of learning which excites young people. It’s as if it has to be like a cold shower to be approved: if it doesn’t hurt it mustn’t work.

I’m proud to call it ‘progressive’ education (though I know the media, and some Conservative politicians, consider that an insult). As Einstein said, ‘the defintion of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the results to be different’. Much of the political posturing over education has been precisely that: exhorting teachers to do more of the same, only with more effort. If we’re ever to make real progress, we have to be willing to do something different. It’s genuinely inspiring to witness dedicated leaders, teachers and students collaborating on what new ways of learning might bring to their schools.

I’m pretty sure it won’t bring a performance dip. After all, isn’t it common sense that motivated, enthusiastic kids will usually perform better than disengaged and bored ones?

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