The sad death of Sir Ken Robinson brings the end to the good-natured and robust thinking about how the future of education might be built.
Sir Ken not only defined a better way of building the educational experience for learners which was inclusive and built on their innate creativity and ability to collaborate, but he also demonstrated why that was economically, politically and socially more effective at addressing the challenges we face today, and in the future.
I know his work, like millions of others from his online TED and RSA Animate talks. These were models of well-organised and humorous briefings of how much better education could be for those within it and for society at large. His tone and optimism reminded me of the sixties when there was a belief that anything was possible with the application of passion and human ingenuity.
Where do we go from here?
His message was part of the inspiration for my books, Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success.
In Future Proof Your School (which should perhaps, on reflection, be titled Future Address Your School) and Re-Examining Success I looked to show some of the most wasteful attitudes and processes in schools committed to the current quality control model of learning. Within this model, young people are moulded into a restrictive and industrial model of learning in which their innate abilities are sacrificed to an external model of redundant and arcane content knowledge.
I showed how a more reflective model within both the teaching staff and the pupil body could produce more rounded and effective learners defined by two vital properties. Firstly the ability to apply what they had learnt into new and challenging contexts to evaluate, assess, collaborate, problem-solve and present solutions to real-world issues. Secondly that they could operate as independent and autonomous learners in any learning context because they had an appropriate set of attitudes, behaviours and competencies.
I was able to demonstrate case studies from my classroom career, my project management and consultancy work and my collaborations in the Building Schools for the Future and wider consultancy.
I believe I demonstrated that there are practical ways forward in developing Sir Ken’s philosophical model of a better educational experience for all. Much depends on promoting discussion amongst the educational community and parents.
For example, the English fiasco over this year’s examination results should not focus on the malign algorithm anomaly of this year, which has educationally disenfranchised a large number of young people but on the wider issue of continuing to support a model which judges success on the relative failure of the many. The term ‘grade inflation’ is as redundant a discussion point as the medieval preoccupation with how many angels could stand on top of a needlepoint! The whole examination system is redundant, arguing about where the grade boundaries lie has something, to mix metaphors, of devoting energy to questioning the deck seating arrangements on the Titanic after it has struck the iceberg.
I don’t believe progress will be defined by pedagogy, simply concentrating on making the teacher more effective at imparting knowledge, but by heutagogy – giving learners more influence and control of the how, when and where they learn and making them more intimately involved in self-evaluation of their efforts. That requires that the curriculum is redesigned as a quality assured rather than the current quality controlled model and that attitudes, behaviours and competencies rather than content define the building blocks of the curriculum.