Harris Student Commission for Learning: Six Student Entitlements for Engaging Learning


I’ve written about them before, but I have to again honour the students from the Harris Federation’s Student Commission for Learning, who, in front of a packed audience at the Whole Education event in London today, presented the findings from their two year study into what great learning looks like.

I’ve been privileged to have been a small part in the commission – the Harris Federation were involved in Learning Futures last year, and I gave ‘evidence’ on a number of occasions. To hear them talk about their learning is powerful and moving.

Because this is what students having agency in their own learning looks like. This is what happens when you place great trust and responsibility in student’s capacity to be thoughtful, respectful, sensitive and creative: they never, ever let you down.

Their final report, ‘A New Design for Learning‘ can be downloaded now from the Harris website and I’d urge you to do so. It tells the full story: of the expert witness sessions; of the 24-hr ‘learnovers’; of students traversing the globe, virtually and literally, to find inspiring examples of how learning can be made more engaging, more authentic and more located, in a set of schools which have already done wonders in terms of student achievement.


Like the broader Learning Futures programme, the students have affirmed that deep and lasting motivation to learn happens when:

  • learners explore and understand the ‘how’ of learning

  • learners take responsibility for, and have ownership and control of, their own

  • learning and achievements

  • learners take on roles that involve responsibility for the learning

  • and success of others

  • learners create worthwhile products and artefacts through the learning process.

And that the role of the professional in schools needs to develop to ensure that:

  • teachers are specialist enablers of learning – experts not only in subjects but also in learning and learning design

  • teachers are orchestrators of variety in learning

  • teachers demonstrate that they are learners too

These appear to be simple conclusions but think about how rarely this understanding becomes commonly shared in schools, between teachers, students and parents, and you soon see they are quietly profound.

The commission’s recommendations preset a set of six learner entitlements which, on first reading,also appear fairly unremarkable. But, read them carefully, because, fully implemented, they are capable of transforming a previously ‘top-down’ hierarchy, into a real, democratic learning environment, and creating a genuine learning commons out of a high-performing, but ultimately disengaging, learning enclosure.

Every Harris learner will, as a result of the commission, be entitled to:

  1. Be an active leader of learning responsible for their own and others’ learning

  2. Actively reflect on and assess their own and others’ learning

  3. Become informed learners through planned learning to learn experiences and high quality feedback

  4. Regularly create artefacts from their learning that have real-world value

  5. Create exceptional work, be active entrepreneurs and gain pride from sharing their achievements publicly

  6. Build learning partnerships with teachers to improve learning through feedback, co-planning and co-design

Today, we heard student commissioners talking about how their confidence, and presentational skills, had been transformed by the experience, and that was plain, yet thrilling, to see, in the way they handled the audience. But these kids haven’t undergone this experience out of self-interest. They’ve done it because they want all their fellow students to be as engaged in the business of learning – and specifically learning about learning – as they have been. Their Chief Executive, Dan Moynihan, spoke of the transformational effect of the commission, and how pivotal it has been in determining where the Federation goes next. He, and the senior leadership team, deserve great credit for committing themselves to implementing the commission’s finding, before they knew what they were going to be.

Best of all, they have made the whole process freely available through a rich set of tools and processes which Goddard Payne (the people who facilitated the whole experience) expertly designed.

They did this. Any school can do this. They just need courage and commitment and the wherewithal, which can be found here.

And, if you could do just one thing which would fundamentally change the learning relationships in your school, do this.


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