With the General Election just around the corner I thought this would be a good time to remind the future Education Secretary (Ed Sec) about what is important in education up to the age of 16. More importantly the type of curriculum that I believe would lead to academically and vocationally skilled learners for the 21st Century.
THIS particular journey will start in KS2 with project style learning which will engage and promote enquiry in learners. KS2 will be joined up with KS3 as a transitional stage which will develop the young person for their choices at KS4.
The diagram (above) shows what a learner focused learning environment would look like. This would be followed throughout KS2 and into KS3 to further develop skills and allow a smoother transition from primary to secondary education. This will develop the learner to become more effective as an independent learner, in making choices and in their personal development. They would become better at academic learning i.e. knowledge, vocational learning and for their future workplace through skills learning being started at a much earlier stage in their development. Ultimately this would mean that a young person would be a better learner and so, long term, would gain better grades in their academic or vocational subjects at KS4.
I know that this works with young people. I have developed project learning through KS2 to KS3 transition programmes and also into KS4. I have done this throughout 11 years while working as an Assistant Headteacher and then National Development Co-ordinator (ASDAN) creating curriculum programmes across a very wide ability range. The key focus is that a leader of learning (teacher) sets the scene for young people which encourages engagement and personal enquiry through the project they are working on. It is important that the leader of learning facilitates the project and allows the young person to make their own decisions about learning which would engage them in the project. It is also about making learning fun and active for the young person, while relating it to a real world context. To enhance this real world context, I would encourage schools to create lasting partnerships with local communities and employers to encourage entrepreneurship and life skills development.
A few quotes which may show that this method of learning works;
“The most important thing about education is appetite” Winston S Churchill
“I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like being taught” Winston S Churchill
“The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives” Robert Maynard Hutchins
If I were the Ed Sec I would create educational policy around project and skills development learning in KS2 and KS3. This would be about having cross-curricular projects where the young person has the opportunity to take more responsibility for decision making and their own learning.
In KS4 students would be given optional pathways that they could pursue. This would allow them to access an academic ‘EBacc’ type pathway, a more vocational ‘Tech Bacc’ type pathway or even a mixture of the two. We must not forget a small cohort who may not be able to access either type of pathway. This could be due to other specific needs that they may have. For these students ‘Life skills’ would be a focus for their learning (if appropriate). I would seriously consider the benefits of having a mandatory Extended Project (EPQ) for ALL young people within KS4 education. This would be designed, and be flexible enough, to be adapted for different learner abilities. Personal Development learning would also be featured as an integral part of the KS4 curriculum whichever pathway is chosen.
School leadership and teachers would be trusted to make these decisions for the benefit of their own schools, community and cohort of learners that they serve. The decision for which type of pathway a specific student should follow would be decided through a collaborative decision made by teachers, parents and most importantly the child. Thorough guidance must be sought from outside bodies to ensure that these decisions would be made in the best interest of each individual young person. The funding that is made available to schools should be used to ensure that the curriculum could be tailored to the varying needs of students. After all every child has different needs and interests, and a ‘one size fits all curriculum’ is a recipe for disaster.
As an ED Sec I would listen to what the professionals are telling me. I would enforce OFSTED to become an organisation that truly supports, rather than judges, schools with a new value that they are a ‘critical friend’. This would be a shift away from being the ‘all high and mighty’ they are perceived as now. OFSTED would work in true collaboration with the government and schools to aid self-improvement of each school.
As an ED Sec I would also take the focus away from data and exceeding expected target grades which has turned our education system into a test and exam driven factory. I would use the data that is collected on each child to guide leadership thinking for curriculum planning for each child. I would not share this data with children, as this in many cases will lower expectations. For example; The target grade for a young person is X, they then achieve this in a test and take their foot of the pedal. In effect lowering expectation as they will have achieved what they should have done.
Why not have the starting point as the top grade achievable for EVERY learner in the APPROPRIATE courses they have chosen? That is truly aspirational! Then if they fall shorter then so be it… the chances are that they will have over achieved anyway on their target.
As an Ed Sec, and using the formula that I outlined, I would certainly be ‘Aiming for the stars‘. Every young person would be ‘aiming for the stars‘ and so what, one or two may not make it to a truly aspirational outcome but I bet you one thing, that they ‘land on the moon‘! Now that would be a truly great aspirational outcome wouldn’t it?