The Learning Renaissance

Three Pathways to Learning Transformation in Schools: Part 2: Change Management Solutions



In the first article in this series I outlined the key issues preventing the effective development of schools as learning organisations in the UK.

In this article we will consider ways forward at a national, or whole school level.

Essentially, there are three ways forward…

National re-design of educational process and purpose

Firstly, we could adopt the approach used by the most effective national educators as identified in the OECD PISA tables. Now the PISA tables are not infallible in themselves insofar as they have an opaque methodology at their core, but they do reveal some pathways to sustainable improvement.

Those countries which consistently appear as the top performers, regardless of national culture, always have a common strand. That strand is a robust national debate about the purpose of education in the state. The debate squares the two most difficult parameters of national education: encouraging the individual to flourish as a learner and promoting the economic competitiveness of the nation.

These two elements are not in themselves incompatible, but for the nation state that is steeped in a Victorian educational model they can appear to be. When the national educational objective is seen to be the identification and nourishing of an elite for the universities, any move towards the universal development of the learner is seen as a dilution of the pursuit of excellence.


This is why a national debate in the United Kingdom is unlikely to take place as the education system is rife with established and sectional self-interest which have no desire for fundamental changes or realignment. Despite the conservatism of education generally, countries such as Singapore and Finland have conducted such a debate, drawn up new blueprints of objectives and methodologies and then handed them to the educational experts to design and implement.

Perhaps Singapore is the most surprising example. Up until recently, the educational landscape of the country was based on a system described as ‘hot-housing’ an extensive and intensive educational experience in which great store was placed on the acquisition of literacy and numeracy.

It was like the UK system, but re-engineered for maximum efficiency. Given the cultural make-up of the country, it is unsurprising that what are characterised as ‘Chinese techniques’ for accelerating knowledge acquisition through mass and rote learning were highly developed. However, the Singapore authorities recognised that the system was operating at a cost to individual learners. Furthermore, efficient knowledge acquisition was a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, for being an effective economy in the twenty first century.

Singapore entrusted its teachers to change the learning design fundamentally to encompass creativity, problem solving and reflection. The education minister went as far as to implore parents to allow students to rest, partake in games and other creative pursuits and to spend more time at libraries and museums, and less time in front of computers.

In the UK, given the present government, such a fundamental re-evaluation of the purposes and methodology of state provided learning is unlikely to take place.

That leaves two other pathways to transformation – each with different levels of risk and reward.

Programmed change through new curriculum models

The first is the adoption of new curriculum models which force changes of direction s of re-evaluations of the purpose of learning. New curriculum models challenge the primacy of the subject departments, and demand new and more holistic models of the learner and what the individual needs to succeed.

A new curriculum model with probably the longest record of success is the International Baccalaureate. One of the most significant elements in IB programmes is the Theory of Knowledge strand.


copyright: IBO website

This element finds the critical space to focus on the HOW of learning rather than the WHAT of a knowledge acquisition model. This has a significant impact on both the learner, who is made a more independent and autonomous partner and the teachers who are challenged to provide more challenging learning experiences. A critical foundation for the successful implementation of the IB is to redress assessment systems to allow more formative and ipsative models in which the learner is an active participant in evaluating and improving their progress.

A second curriculum model which confronts and addresses transformation in learning is the Opening Minds curriculum promoted by the Royal Society for the Arts, Commerce and Manufacturing (RSA). The structure of this new curriculum model was built from discussions between the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the RSA.

The focus for addressing the curriculum was the perennial concern that young people were addressing the job market without being ‘job ready. That is, they could not demonstrate a range of attitudes, behaviours and competences which would characterise a person who could use their initiative. To further refine the term ‘initiative’, they could not operate as independent and autonomous learners when confronted with a challenge, or a problem to solve.

Once such a clear definition had been reached of the objective of the educational process, the curriculum could be re-defined to ensure the pupils could be given the opportunity to develop these characteristics. I was fortunate to be seconded to the pioneer RSA Academy as this process of developing a new and challenging curriculum was being developed.

RSA academy tipton

copyright: RSA Academies Trust website

One of the more challenging aspects was the issue of assessment. To be an ‘independent and autonomous learner’ required that the pupils could assess their own efforts, rather than depending on external validation of their work. This moved the focus of assessment away from summative and formative models and on to ipsative assessment, where the pupil assessed themselves continually against their previous best performance.

The development of such a comprehensive new learning model was very demanding of staff. They were now asked to work in cross curricular teams to develop creative learning experiences which gave pupils the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, team building, research, presentation and problem solving skills. This, by definition, meant an absolute reduction in teacher exposition and often three hour lessons in groups of 120 with teachers acting as mentors for groups and individuals.

Incrementalism: Sustaining purposeful change in the school by re-prioritising and re-purposing learning

Not all schools have the leadership drive or the conception to move so radically to new ways of learning and for them the transformational drive will be more incremental.

The key dimension in this model is ensuring that the primary focus of the learning and teaching is in continuous improvement. You may consider that this describes your secondary school already. However, if there is not a common language and opportunities to discuss effective learning across the curriculum, the progress that is made will be confined to subject siloes and your progress will be blighted by ‘in-house’ variation – the universal blight on school performance. The ironic thing is that you have the resource and experience to improve substantially, but the structures in your school prevents effective cross-fertilisation of ideas.

To redress this issue requires some clear action:

the future teacher

(c) David Hughes, Re-examining Success, Critical Publishing 2020

Firstly, you need to establish new protocols for sharing effective learning and that means reducing the significance of the department in development time. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Among the most effective I have seen have been the promotion of Reflection as a key professional development priority.

This involves radically new working relationships. Teachers need to mentor and share ideas with each other and are more explicit about learning design. In this way ineffective learning is eliminated, by being associated with practice and outcomes rather than an individual. By depersonalising the relationship between learning and individual teachers, you give all teachers a common language and techniques to improve. You will know when this approach is maturing because you will be able to introduce videoed lesson observations, not as a punitive process, but as a basis for modelling effective and ineffective approaches, and having a shared approach to identifying both elements.

If approaches which have captured pupil attention and gone on to promote more effective learning outcomes are captured and shared in an online CPD library, then common approaches and experimental learning can proceed apace. A CPD library of effective learning also means that teacher development becomes less ‘event based’ and more ‘process based’. The CPD library means the teacher can access blended learning approaches, independently, and at a time to suit them.

All that remains is that the Leadership team ensure that the results of this teacher development process are rigorous, and impact directly on standards, and that issue will be dealt with in the next article.

If you can’t wait, then you can always access my books: Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success.


About educationalist04

I'm convinced we can, as a species, do much better than this if we set our minds to being much more positive and productive towards our fellow humans. The solution is learning - creating independent and autonomous learners who can problem solve, innovate and create a better more equitable and sustainable world. My books, Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success together with this blog, explore how better learning outcomes for all can be achieved.

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