Andrew Hadley and his team has set up 2020 Education with support from two RSA Catalyst grants to recognise the powerful work of young people to make a difference in their future. In this guest blog Andrew sets out the thinking behind the idea and calls on Fellows to get involved:
2020 Education is a movement in the making. In a nutshell it is about showcasing what schools and community groups can do to prepare young people for the challenges facing them – and the world – in the decades ahead.
This initiative has been started by a group of Fellows and others. An RSA Catalyst grant has helped us get the programme off the ground, and we’re now starting to roll it out more widely across the UK and internationally. We hope Fellows will be instrumental in making this happen so we’re calling for the support of everyone who shares our belief that education needs to be more than simply classroom learning and exams.
- Could a school run its own fair trade coffee business?
- Could it propagate rare orchids and sell them on the commercial market?
- Could you link up students from a deprived rural area with the astronauts on the international space station?
- Could you excite young people about engineering by getting them to build and race electric cars?
We’ve already found examples of exactly these things, and more.
We’re not creating a prescriptive model and asking schools to adopt this (and we’re well aware of the pressure that teachers are under). We’re not setting fixed criteria of what a “2020 Education” project looks like. Quite the opposite: if we want to inspire more people to start something, the best thing we can do is to show them the variety of outstanding examples of innovation already happening in schools and communities, and then let them replicate these ideas or come up with their own. At the same time we will create opportunities for peer-to-peer education among young people , via social media and face to face. And we will show the teachers involved that their projects are not isolated examples but a powerful model of what education can be in the 21s Century.
Projects can be based around all sorts of themes, such as social enterprise; science, technology and engineering; environmental protection or ecology; humanitarian and social issues; intercultural understanding; and more. Broadly speaking, they:
- are school or community based
- raise awareness of global issues
- make an impact locally
- empower young people through active participation, and so develop employability skills
- are innovative and newsworthy
So how can you get involved?
First, sign up to the 2020 Education site where you will find more information, including films of individual projects. Then put us in touch with any school, youth group or other organisation you know of which is running an amazing project, or where there are inspiring adults and motivated children who would like to do so. Finally, tell us if you would like to become a mentor to a project (giving as much or as little time as you are able) – or any other way you feel able to contribute.
As Sir Ken Robinson says, don’t expect the revolution to begin from above. With your support, 2020 Education will harness the energy of the people who are already making it happen on the ground.
Andrew Hadley and his team want to hear from you, please send him an email if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the website and remember if you want to get your idea off the ground you can contact me via email or twitter @pickfordrich. I’m currently working with Fellows in Derby to develop a project that will supply Raspberry Pi’s to schools across the area. What are you doing?
Is there anything Ofsted won’t do? Fresh from Michael Wilshaw’s ‘Damascene Moment’, changing his mind to pitch for Ofsted sticking around to support school improvement (aided by their new regional directors), David Laws claimed last week that Ofsted would make sure that the Pupil Premium was well spent.
Last week’s TES leader questioned Ofsted’s mission creep. Accountable to the Queen, Ofsted has a clear role: “to inspect and regulate services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages.” The Chief Inspector’s comments should be limited to telling the world what inspection evidence, and inspection evidence alone, tells us about the English education system, and priorities for improvement. Conflicts of interests around inspecting your own school improvement programme are not insurmountable, but are probably an unnecessary risk, given the emerging market amongst teaching schools, academy chains and other schools and providers to deliver school improvement services.
This mission creep goes against the original instincts of our Chief Inspector. As a brilliant school leader, his philosophy was about focusing headship on the key role of improving the quality of teaching and learning. All other activities, if not necessarily a distraction, should be subservient to this goal. This steer, and a much more focused inspection framework, rightfully reminded those headteachers who were tempted towards excessive innovation, social entrepreneurship and peripheral issues that they should to some extent ‘stick to their knitting’.
Ofsted has enough to get right, right now. Raising the quality of its existing inspectors, strengthening their scrutiny of the FE sector, and sensitively changing its inspection framework to incorporate new priorities should be enough for any body. All public bodies occasionally feel the seduction of extending their remit. Unless it’s a clear takeover of someone else’s powers, this strategic slipperiness is often problematic. Ofsted should resist.
Building on an earlier blog about four foundations for a self-improving school system, I am currently thinking through what the idea of self-regulation might mean in a school system context. It is too early to claim any breakthrough, conceptually or recommendations-wise, but I am fairly sure that a truly self-improving system will need to develop the power to self-regulate, and therefore to write Ofsted, if not totally out of the script, into the margins of footnotes and stage directions. A decade ago, Matthew Taylor and I wrote that ‘Ofsted’s long term aim should be to render itself unnecessary.’ I remember Chris Woodhead laughing off this idea, and perhaps it is fantastical. However, the principle of “inspection in inverse proportion to success” as currently applied to outstanding schools should hold true for the system. Our school system is improving, whilst Ofsted’s role may simultaneously be growing. This makes no sense.
Anyone who advocates three hour lessons (such as the RSA Academy in Tipton) should try and teach one. Whether you are sage on a stage or guide on a side, it’s exhausting. Today I had the daunting challenge of leading three hours with sixty headteachers from South Gloucestershire’s Leadership Academy. The time enabled me to go beyond the specifics of education policy and practice towards some broader issue. In the first half of my presentation, I tried to ban the O-word (Ofsted), F-word (funding) and G-word (guess?), and just about managed it.
We did inevitably talk about the C word of curriculum, as I explored the theme of ‘leadership for changing times’ under the banner of ‘clumsy, connected, curriculum-driven’. RSA has the perfect collateral to take people out of their edu-comfort zones, RSA Animates. Using the three Animates on 21 Century Enlightenment, the power of networks and changing education paradigms as stimuli, I asked participants to reflect on each in turn, and think through the implications for learning, school and system leadership, and policy. I then added my own spin. Without realising it, I followed the classic three-part lesson so loved by the old National Strategies.
Of the three sections, to my surprise it seemed to be Matthew Taylor’s Animate which got them most, er, animated. My fear was that the speech would be too theoretical, and the term ’21 Century Enlightenment’ might be off-putting. However, the animation connected the headteachers to broader issues, especially around ‘defining the ‘x’ rather than rational unquestioning pursuit of supposedly agreed goals. Empathy resonates as a driver for learning and for school to school partnerships.
Headteachers are generally described as doer, tinkerers, pragmatists. But the power of the ideas expressed through the idea of 21st Century Enlightenment (and the power of the animations which deceive you into thinking that the ideas are being presented simply, when in fact the media allows you to pack so much more into the time) resonated throughout the day. I also linked the Animate to Matthew’s latest ideas on clumsy solutions to solve ‘wicked problems’. We’ve never considered this in a school context before, and I can only imagine what OFSTED might say if a headteacher described his or her leadership as ‘clumsy’. Although they didn’t like the term ‘clumsy’, they liked the features, as outlined here. I sidestepped cultural theory for the moment, although, this might provide a useful framework for thinking through power structures in schools and classrooms.
The power of networks Animate led to a discussion on collaboration and a self improving system (which I have blogged about here). Ken Robinson provoked thinking around the new curriculum (where I could use the RSA’s new Grand Curriculum Designs CPD programme to express our beliefs and optimism). Both issues are great examples of ‘wicked problems’ – as is RSA’s name and brand. The strapline ’21st Century Enlightenment’ might feel like a clumsy solution to this problem, but, when given a bit of life and time, it still has relevance and currency.
In the second half of my presentation, I attempted to facilitate a 90 minute version of our nine month Suffolk Inquiry for South Gloucestershire. Groups were given 30 minutes to ‘define a problem’ relating to the three Inquiry themes, then 30 more minutes to create a solution group, with clear milestones for this Summer and next, that tried to solve the problem. Their commitment and ideas were rich and rigorous, ranging from collaborative approaches to teacher recruitment, to creating ways for isolated and vulnerable schools to lead partnerships, to developing a strategic cross-county approach to linking primary schools to the world of work. Each group’s final feedback was filmed, so hopefully they will permit me to share this at some point. Ultimately, thre hours didn’t feel like long enough, but the audience should be the judge of that, not me, and I await the outcome of those evaluation forms with the usual trepidation.
I was struck by just how powerful the work of a few individuals can be to create and sustain an idea following a meeting recently with Ian Jamie, a Fellow and School Governor at Whitley Academy. Through personal experience and insight of the local situation he has begun to work with the Academy to help support Year 12 students as they begin to consider their next steps. Having experienced the power of support from a network of alumni and family friends as he developed his career he has seen the value of connectivity. Ian and the staff that are working with the 6th form are keen to take the best from their experiences to offer similar opportunities for 6th form students at Whitley Academy.
As students move into 6th forms, colleges and work the need to focus their minds is increasingly encouraged. Choices and decisions are looming and it is school, families and friends that offer support and advice. Recent work from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted that young people and families rarely suffer from a lack of aspirations but what if students families and friends have limited experiences of the wide career options available?
At Whitley Academy Ian Jamie and the Academy staff will be offering further support to Year 12 students. He has worked with the school to create a programme to help students explore where they want to go after Whitley Academy. As Temi Ogunye notes in his blog about school networks it is important to “provide opportunities for [students] by creating the conditions within which useful connections can be made and enriching experiences can be had.”
This is the overarching aim for the work in Coventry. The Academy has identified career connections for all its Year 12 students. Through personal and community networks the staff and governors have begun to draw up a list of supporters to offer advice, encouragement and links with the world of work.
On Thursday 21st of March they will be taking the next step by hosting a targeted careers session for the 6th form to help foster these connections. Ian is hoping to encourage further support from another powerful network that we all know about. I have been tasked with seeking out a number of Fellows from our 27,000 strong network to offer support and time to students, so if you see firstname.lastname@example.org or @pickfordrich in your inbox you know what might be coming next. If you have any of your own ideas for supporting students across the RSA Academies then please contact me. The RSA will be running open roadshows at each of the sponsored schools across the next two terms. The first was held yesterday on Monday, 4th of February at RSA Arrow Vale and Ipsley Academies. Watch this space for a report about this event.
When I was a primary school history coordinator (in those heady, deluded days before literacy and numeracy targets swept most other priorities away, and QCA schemes of work did the rest), I had the delightful job of planning a whole-school history scheme of work. One of the many attainment targets for history was for children to be able to ‘distinguish facts from opinions’ by the time they got to secondary school. Given their collective seniority and expertise, I am hopeful that the Education Select Committee has the same ability, even if some of their witnesses struggle with this distinction.
When asked this week by the Select Committee about the Academies Commission’s critique of some aspects of policy, former schools minister Nick Gibb claimed that the RSA had a ‘particular view’ and didn’t come from ‘neutral ground’. This contrasts to others who wondered aloud (via twitter) whether a commission led by an academy provider such as the RSA would ever be anything other than positive about academies.
These claims insult the independence of the commissioners themselves, and the process they led. The RSA’s Action and Research Centre, with the remit to act and think, show and tell, innovate and recommend, will constantly need to navigate healthy tensions between our practice and our research. In combining thought leadership and social innovation, we aim to create a virtuous circle between research and practice. The Commission’s findings will inform how we develop our family of academies model, Working directly with these academies gives us insight to which areas of policy need exploring, and provides us with both inspiration for and reality checks on ideas for practical innovations. And the practical innovations we lead with larger numbers of teachers and schools, for instance through our Opening Minds framework and our area based curriculum, also help determine our priorities for future RSA programmes of work.
At the same time, recent exchanges have caused me to reflect on that slippery word ‘evidence’. When committees or commissions ‘take evidence’, they are really collecting stories, some of which will be facts, others opinions. As Dylan William and others remind us all, evidence is not the plural of anecdotes. Stephen Gorard has distinguished between the legal use of evidence, which aims to push a single viewpoint, and the academic use, which, to quote Chomsky, aims to ‘tell the truth and expose lies’. In thinking about education, only the latter will do, alongside a recognition that most evidence is far less conclusive that we’d like (and the more rigorous the evidence, the less conclusive it will probably be, as Education Endowment Foundation-funded projects are likely to find out in the next few years).
After such a deep, rigorous progress, it’s a shame that admissions ‘gossip’ (as opposed to the carefully considered recommendations about admissions in the report) dominated media headlines. We hope that the RSA’s current project on in-year admissions, which will involve surveys and data collection, may help shed light on wider questions about the impact of academisation on admissions.
Those who still have influence over the future direction of academies have welcomed the commission’s findings and want to engage in serious discussions about next steps, Whatever people’s views on the Commission, lack of balance is not the issue. Whatever Nick Gibb said, the Commission was entirely neutral in its deliberations. Mind you, given Nick Gibb’s dislike of RSA Opening Minds, he would have said that, wouldn’t he?
Commissions can be tricky beasts. Often, in the drive to achieve consensus among all parties, they can drift towards the lowest-risk common denominator. Last minute changes and compromises can skew narratives. And, as with all policy reports, subtle sets of recommendations can be misinterpreted by the media and others. Low-lying ideas can suddenly become top-line recommendations.
After nine months of gestation, we are delighted that the Academies Commission has avoided all of these pitfalls. We congratulate Becky Francis, her team at the Pearson Think Tank, and the three Commissioners Christine Gilbert, Chris Husbands and Brett Widgortz for producing a rigorous, fascinating and highly readable report.
We welcome the Commission’s contribution to the academies debate. The recommendations should have significant implications for policy and practice. The RSA, as a partner with a family of academies and with an education programme focussed on social justice, democracy and innovation, will reflect on and respond to the recommendations in due course, and we urge others to do the same. Comment below, or use #acadcomm on Twitter.
Many academies are transforming learning and form a valuable part of the school improvement ecology. However, the Government’s frenetic drive towards a fully academised system is not yet justified by evidence, and could actually damage the potential systemic value of a better targeted, more carefully supported approach to the growth of academies. We also hope that this report helps to initiate a more intelligent discussion about autonomy, centralisation, governance and collaboration in the English school system.
Two months late, and in anticipation of tomorrow’s launch of our Academies Commission report, here are some reflections from a very valuable National College for School Leadership seminar on self-improving school systems. The college is dealing well with both reduced budgets and; the risks that come through conversion to an ‘executive agency’ of the Department of Education. In truth, even as an NDPB the relationship between Department and College was usually less arms length and more Venus De Milo. But school leaders are rightly asking the College to exploit its privileged position within government without going totally native. It’s a space that the interim Chief Executive Maggie Farrar is occupying with astuteness and panache.
At the seminar, David Hargreaves discussed his fourth thinkpiece on the development of a self-improving school system in England, and offered views on progress made since 2010. Nearly three years since the white paper on the Importance of Teaching stated that “our aim should be to create a school system which is more effectively self-improving “, my own 3-point progress report reads as follows:
1. The system as a whole is up for the self-improvement challenge.
Education leaders, whether in schools, local authorities or academy providers, largely ‘get’ that this government is serious about a self-improving system, and that self improvement will only happen through collaboration. If there is recalcitrance to collaborate, it is probably down more to the prevailing uncertainties in policy direction than to the decisions that have actually been made.
2. Converter academies, despite government hopes and the fantastic work of some headteachers and chains, are insufficiently committed to and involved in school to school support and system leadership.
Whether this is due to genuine under-commitment, or the within-school capacity issues that come with conversion, it may be too early to say. But it is clear that conversion comes with very weak collaborative strings attached. If individual academies want to go for splendid isolation, there’s not much stopping them, and too many are taking the money and freedoms and running.
3. Teaching schools and especially teaching school alliances are positioning themselves to go beyond leadership of ITT and CPD towards full system leadership.
Teaching Schools appear to have a confused, multiplying set of expectations placed upon them, for very little funding. Despite or possibly because of this predicament, many are poised to grow their remit and influence. This is less mission creep and more mission clarification.
So overall, in response to Ben Levin’s question about whether we are ‘creating an institutional context that promotes or prevents collaboration’ I am generally optimistic about our education system’s collaborative potential. New drivers are coming into play. Austerity, which has barely touched school budgets (although is deeply affecting the budgets of the families they serve) could force the pace, catalysing the creation of harder federations, especially between small, otherwise-unviable primary schools. There is also the succession planning opportunity of a large number of retiring headteachers to exploit, possibly replacing them with a smaller number of executive heads. Emerging new technologies could support progress on all four of Hargreaves’ ‘criteria for deep partnerships’[i].
However, I would also agree with Hargreaves’ prediction that the next few years will see the growth of a “scattered and weakly connected self-improving sub-systems of school….but not yet a self improving school system”. I suggest four additional foundations that need to be considered if we really are going to move towards a self-improving system.
First, sustainable self-improvement will need policies that encourage genuine self-determination, so that schools have authorship and ownership over ends as well as means. To avoid the risk expressed in the DfE White Paper that “the attempt to secure automatic compliance with central government initiatives reduces the capacity of the school system to improve itself”, schools need what one seminar participant described as ‘the authority to determine the values of an education system.’ The new curriculum is a key opportunity and battleground here.
Second (and if Gove favours it for the press, why not for schools?) schools need to move to a culture of collective self-regulation – self and peer evaluation of their own performance against nationally and locally agreed goals. Challenge Partners has led the way here. Government should commit to a declining role for external inspection, in proportion to educational success, so that OFSTED gradually becomes an external moderator of collective self-regulation.
Third, schools should have a broader conception of ‘self’, and look to other people and organisations to support system improvement. Kevan Collins talked recently about a local mosque that had been successfully commissioned by Tower Hamlets Council to help reduce truancy, especially those caused by in-term visits to Bangladesh. Schools, if delegated budgets for collective approaches to school improvement, should sometimes look beyond schools for the best solutions.
Finally, system leaders need to learn the art of self-deprecation. From various off-record conversations, there is a feeling that headteachers as a tribe are developing a reputation for being self-satisfying, self-aggrandising, and self-serving, even when in the act of system improvement. This, of course, is a caricature – headteachers are as heterogeneous as any other group of leaders. One leader of a teaching school alliance talked at the seminar about the subtle differences between leadership language and partnership language, to keep the values and egos of all participating schools on board.
At its deepest level, the transformation towards a self-improving school system is a behaviour change issue, one that requires adaptive rather than technical solutions. As part of a new project on ‘re-minding education’, we are working with the RSA’s social brain centre to understand how research from neuroscience and behavioural economics might contribute to our understanding about how schools and teachers can best collaborate for improvement. Please get in touch with your insights and ideas. The project is not even half-formed yet, so this is a perfect time to shape our thinking.
Thanks to Shipa Nessa for her support with this blog. Shipa in on a short placement at RSA through Ladies Who Learn, a project developed by RSA Fellow Asma Shah with the support of Catalyst funding.
[i] Criteria for a deep partnership (in ascending order of difficulty)
- Joint practice development is well established within and between schools in the partnership.
- Social capital is high within and between schools in the partnership.
- Collective moral purpose is a value shared and enacted by all stakeholders, including students, within the partnership.
- Evaluation and challenge are practiced at every level within and between schools.
Fresh from a family skiing holiday in Colorado, our Secretary of State for Education will hopefully, like the rest of us, have new year resolutions on his mind that have nothing to do with work. Better parallel turns? Less red meat and wine? An escape from Notting Hill?
Judging by his topping of a recent Conservative Party members’ poll as the most popular Cabinet minister, and the contrasting views of teachers in a recent poll on morale, his education resolution might just be to ‘stay resolute’. Gove is seen as a success; by party members; by some repetitive columnists who fawn on and feed off half-truths about our education system; and also by those who rightly praise his conviction and passion for the job.
In comparison to others around the cabinet table, Gove has certainly brought the Prime Minister very few problems. However, the Coalition’s education policies have thus far been judged only by a series of inputs – number of new academies, amount of pupil premium funding, number of times teaching union leaders have been irritated. The big rise in primary test scores for 2012, and good set of recent international test results are more legacies of the previous government’s reforms than the results of any new policies.
Like all policies and politicians, public attitudes to Gove have been shaped by premature evaluation. However, three years in and as the Coalition publishes its Mid-Term Review, 2013 should be the year we can finally begin to judge the effectiveness of a radical series of reforms. Never mind school structures, what has all this change meant for young people? Never mind the ebacc, is the achievement gap between our poorest children and the rest closing? Never mind morale, is the quality of teachers and teaching improving? And never mind tuition fees, how will the system work for those underachieving 16 year olds who will now be legally obliged to ‘stay on’ from September?
Rather than make early predictions, or add to the ever-increasing volume of money or time-heavy recommendations that pass through the Department’s in tray, here are eight New Year’s resolutions for Gove, and all who sail in him, that might help him to steer our education system to greater long term successes.
- Do some systems thinking.
- Slow down on academisation.
- Create an accountability system to ensure that every child matters, to every school, and that lower attaining pupils matter even more.
- Release and justify your inner control freak.
- Show your hand on the future educational role of local authorities.
- Double-check your evidence.
- Interrogate and treasure our youth services.
- Stick around to finish what you’ve started.
My own work-related new year resolution is to blog more often. So, rather than explain these now, I’ll aim to expand on most of them during January.
Why do all governments find curriculum reform so difficult? Perhaps they are powerless in the face of endless lobbying. During the attempts to ‘slim down’ the national curriculum in 2000, one government official showed me letters from the Campaign for Real Ale and the Anarchist Federation, demanding that, yes, real ale and anarchy should have a place in the national curriculum. Maybe they fall prey to a ‘tyranny of experts’, who find it impossible to make real choices that could meaningfully reduce content. Overall, the demands of civil society and its myriad of interest groups who believe that what happens to children between 9 and 3.30 weekdays might solve each of society’s problems may be as much to blame as any power-fuelled or change-obsessed politician.
After making useful initial noises about curriculum change and school freedom, guided by Tim Oates’ robust and readable paper about international approaches to curriculum reform, the coalition’s approach to rewriting the national curriculum may eventually be seen as a case study in bad policymaking: Poor use of evidence and expertise, meaningless consultation processes, slippery timetables and unnecessary creation of uncertainties that destabilise schools’ strategic planning. Above all, reform has been shaped by what the ASCL’s Brian Lightman has called ‘cart before horse’ thinking in two ways. First, announcements are being made about changes to accountability and assessment regimes in advance of curriculum decisions. The assessment tail is wagging the curriculum dog. And second, as the Institute of Education’s John White has explained, curriculum reform needs to start by agreeing about overall aims, then consider content, before finally making decisions about how to structure this content, through subjects or other models. Subjects, and subject knowledge, will undoubtedly figure in any final curriculum framework (and contrary to the views of some – see my recent twitter spat – the RSA does not wish to ‘abolish subjects’), but this should not be our starting point.
At a key moment in the current debate, with more announcements due in January, RSA is stepping into the fray in the best way it knows how: blending practice, theory, policy ideas and a hint of idealism.
The suite of reports we released last week, written by Louise Thomas, summarises findings from the RSA’s three year Area Based Curriculum project in Peterborough. It includes guides for practitioners, case studies and evaluation reports. It aims to provide an honest, practical and reflective analysis of the project’s findings, and its potential implications for policy and practice.
The curriculum has always been a political animal. As a nation, and as institutions and individuals, it defines our values and reflects our hopes for future generations. Any attempt to try and ‘depoliticise’ the curriculum is neither desirable nor realistic. Indeed, most debates about the curriculum start from the wrong place. Instead of asking ‘what should the curriculum include’, our starting question should always be ‘who should determine what the curriculum includes’? As Andreas Schleicher from the OECD has argued, curriculum design should be seen as a ‘grand social project’. This links to RSA’s own values and expertise around social productivity as the best means to improve public services, and expanding human capability as the ultimate goal of society.
If the promise of a genuinely slimmed down national curriculum is ultimately upheld, this could be a key moment for schools to reclaim a significant part of the ‘whole curriculum’ – that element (maybe 50%?) of children’s schooling which is not nationally prescribed. Curriculum innovation, as I argued at a recent Guardian conference, should not just mean creative tinkering with the national curriculum. It requires a school community to determine a set of additional aims, knowledge and skills, and innovating to make sure young people learn these in addition to the national curriculum.
Designing your own curriculum is never an easy option, especially when so many off the shelf packages exist, and ‘national curriculum overload’ can always provide a ready excuse for inaction. Our learning from Peterborough and elsewhere is that the effort is worth it. The process through which a school decides and designs its own curriculum, whilst time-consuming, forces and enables schools to think about their aims, ethos, and partnerships with the wider community – all key factors in building great schools.
However, schools that take this path need to ensure that any innovation is rigorous; the more you are breaking with conventions, the more you need to understand the conventions. They also need to ensure that the quality of the pedagogical thinking matches the quality of the curriculum thinking. Finally, design should be done through a genuine partnership with individuals and institutions in a school’s community – to create a curriculum designed by, with and for a locality. (For an example of bad practice-making in curriculum reform, read about my attempts as a naïve primary school teacher).
Will schools take the curriculum ‘road less taken’? The key factor probably won’t be the actual content of the national curriculum. It won’t be structural changes; whether you are an academy, free school or otherwise is largely irrelevant to this issue. The key factors in unleashing curriculum innovation will be other levers, especially assessment and accountability mechanisms, that all schools are subjected to. Will Ofsted ensure that both national and locally generated curricula carry equal weight? Will narrow assessment systems nudge schools to narrow their offer? Will the revised teacher and headteacher standards encourage curriculum innovation? What will government do when the media find schools that are teaching things that they don’t like?
Throughout its history the RSA has built and sustained interest in school curriculum issues. Building on this reputation, as well as our learning from the Area Based Curriculum and our Opening Minds framework, we will continue to contribute in four ways:
First, we will continue to work in Peterborough through the Peterborough Learning Partnership, and find ways to transfer our learning to other areas interested in developing local curricula.
Second, in partnership with the Institute of Education and the Curriculum Foundation, and supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, NAHT and OCR we have launched a pioneering professional development programme for teachers and other educators. Grand Curriculum Designs will foster a new generation of skilled and sensitive curriculum designers.
Third, we will continue to foster curriculum innovation in our growing family of academies.
Finally, we will continue to offer the RSA’s House and online platforms as spaces for purposeful, evidence-based debates about the curriculum to take place. This includes an event in January on the English curriculum.
Local knowledge needs local power. If this government is serious about freeing all schools from some central control, they will need to make sure that every school has the freedom, training and incentives to design their own curricula. This will need changes to accountability so that Ofsted inspect a school’s whole curriculum rather than the just the national curriculum; and so that schools have outward accountability to their communities rather than just upward accountability to Ofsted and government.
This, believe it or not, is a photograph of a year seven pupil improvising Romeo and Juliet. Even more surprising is that this pupil was one of a group that started this Shakespeare workshop only a few hours earlier professing that they either knew nothing about Shakespeare or that what they did know of him was “boring”.
This was how my day began when I visited Windsor school in Germany last week as part of a partnership project between the RSA and SCE (Service Children’s Education). The aim of the partnership is to support SCE as two of its schools in JHQ Rheindahlen are due to close along with the Garrison. The focus at Windsor school is to teach the students about Shakespeare whilst also helping them to develop competences from the RSA’s Opening Minds framework which they can call upon during this challenging time and in their future lives.
The pupils’ initial reaction to a day of Shakespeare reminded me of the way in which I and many of my peers greeted Shakespeare learning at school. However, the workshop that followed could not have been more different. After watching the Globe’s promotional video Stand Up For Shakespeare, in which celebrities, such as Judi Dench, explain that Shakespeare is to be acted and not read, we followed their cue and began improvising scenes before even glancing at a script.
Following the truly inspirational facilitation of our lead partner, SCE’s Performing Arts Consultant Joy Harris, the students were led through a number of exercises that helped them to break through Shakespeare’s intimidating language and recognise emotions and scenarios that are common to all people of all ages and times: children and adults, Tudor subjects and modern day citizens. By mid-morning the students were leaping around the room, brandishing imaginary knives and reciting lines from the play, unscripted.
With the children’s excitement and imaginations ignited, my role – to introduce competences such as ‘risk taking’ and ‘feelings and reactions’ – was made much simpler. The children were fully engaged and able to relate the discussion to a present experience. They were, for example, able to put themselves in Juliet’s shoes and explore the risks that she took in marrying Romeo and taking the poison, and to debate whether her actions were admirable or plain foolish. Through the prism of the play and an exploration of the motives and emotions of the characters, they were able to develop a deeper understanding of the competences.
All of this is even more astonishing when you consider the uncertainty that these children face. Apart from the fact that they will not be in that school next September, many do not know much else about what the next year holds. It is hard to imagine the implications this has for them personally, as well as for engagement and morale within the classroom. A number of children will not be able to see the project to completion and, for one pupil, this was their last day in the school. Despite this, every child actively participated and the staff and the school’s Head fully supported the unique experience that they were able to gain that day.
I also learned a lot from the visit – and not just that Shakespeare is not as boring as I had remembered. The whole experience was an extremely powerful demonstration of how pupils become more engaged in learning if they are doing rather than just listening. This approach may seem more easily applicable to drama than other subjects, such as Maths, but maybe it is this pigeon-holing that we need to break away from.
As I approach the end of what is sadly my last day at the RSA (as I will be moving to a new role at Cubitt), my visit to Windsor has also helped me to reflect on the amazing experiences that I have gained here and to think about how I will utilise them in my next role. Perhaps, though, it will be twenty years down the line that I will draw on something that I have learnt here, and the people that helped form that learning won’t have any idea of its application. In the face of what could easily be a sad and demoralising year, the teachers at SCE remain passionate about ensuring that their students access unique opportunities that they can reflect on and use in the year and years to come.