Holte School in Lozells was one of a number of English schools caught ‘off-rolling’ students who might detract from their performance figures. The practice is particularly acute for SEND students. A symptom of a dysfunctional education system and a morally bankrupt educational leadership?
In this article, I address the limitations of the current education system in developing independent and autonomous learners and what can be done about it.
In my new book, Re-Examining Success, I explore the redundant nature of the educational model which drives many learning establishments in the UK, but also in much of the western world.
The school model is built around industrial antecedents from the 19th century and is essentially a quality control model, which is designed to fail significant numbers of students from the outset in the quest to identify those students capable of accessing a university level education. The methodologies in place to achieve this quest are also self limiting.
The hegemony of knowledge in an age when knowledge is ubiquitous, means that whatever is taught, is redundant for the world in which the students will need to perform. The use of subject departments to deliver that segmented knowledge means that for the student, the knowledge is fragmentary and dissipated, rather than unified by learning theme. Learning techniques that are required beyond school, such as discussion skills, independent research, working as an effective group to problem solve and effective communication of complex issues are patchily developed as a sub-set of knowledge acquisition, not as key competences in themselves.
Most damaging, is the recognition that when teaching is devolved to subject departments, there is no holistic view of learning in the school, as every department has their own and particular view of learning, ‘that is a great idea, but it wouldn’t work in the science department because of…’ being the regular and ‘exceptionalist’ refrain.
New initiatives, such as the application of educational technologies, are likewise diluted and flounder because they are introduced, not as a new and universal approach to learning, but as nine different approaches to the existing perceived needs of individual departments. Too often, they are rejected without trial as being of low priority for the individual department, given the myriad other administrative tasks and curriculum content piling up.
Apart from the slice and dice nature of learning that is the inevitable outcome of the departmental system, there is also the dichotomous nature of the academic and pastoral functions of the school. This further prevents a clear picture of the individual learner from developing, and encourages remediation, rather than a focus on quality assured progression in the learning development of the child. The pastoral system too often kicks in when the academic system fails. It provides emotional support for failing learners, rather than universal support for promoting learning success.
Taken together, no matter how hard schools, and the individual teachers within them work, they are in large part, fighting against the systemic failings within the system. Pupils do not fail because they are learning failures. They fail because they cannot thrive within the school culture.
The school culture cannot tolerate variation or anomalous pupils, and deals with perceived pupil failure by behavioural, disciplinary or exclusion channels. How else can we explain the use of social isolation in disciplinary carrels and ‘off-rolling’ of students and the populist clamour for more grammar schools as the best way to encourage young learners. All these have Victorian antecedents, two of them reflect aspects of the Victorian penal system in social isolation and transportation.
If this is the current state of the educational nation, and we recognise that it is completely out of step with the twenty first century world, what is to be done to transform learning? This will be addressed in Part 2.