Revealed! Secrets of school collaboration

March 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

Last week I attended an excellent Westminster Education Forum Seminar on school-to-school improvement partnerships, which managed to squeeze 17 speakers into a single morning.  In the same spirit of brevity I am sharing my top tips from the morning in tweet-sized chunks.  They are:

Collaborations don’t have to do everything – be clear about their purpose – this from David Crossley, Executive Director of Whole Education (an organisation that has its roots in the RSA).  It is all too easy to see partnership or collaboration as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end.  Within RSA Academies one of our four strategic priorities is, “to improve teaching and learning through purposeful partnership”.  As schools within the Family work increasingly collaboratively we will need to ensure that the focus on improving teaching and learning remains central.

Professor Merryn Hutchings from the Institute for Policy Studies in Education had directed the evaluation of the City Challenge programme in London, Greater Manchester and the Black Country.  A key message from that review was that Weaker schools benefit from a single partnership; stronger schools benefit from multiple partnerships.  This too is very relevant for the RSA Family of Academies, which includes both highly performing schools and those in need of support.  Schools within the Family should have the opportunity to benefit from all aspects of the relationship with other schools and with the RSA.  Nevertheless, there is a growing understanding that the focus of this is likely to be different for a struggling school which is looking principally for school improvement support, than for a good or outstanding school with more capacity to engage in a wider range of developmental activities.

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of ASCL, argued that Partnership works best when it is based on a relationship of equals.  RSA Academies certainly would not disagree with this as a principle.  Indeed our school improvement model explicitly recognises that “all schools, irrespective of Ofsted category, have both strengths and areas for development and will therefore be both offering and receiving support and advice from other schools.”

There are, however, aspects of the current Academies set-up nationally that mitigate against this equal partnership in practice, most notably that multi-academy trusts (MATs) are required to have a single accounting officer with ultimate responsibility for key issues across all schools in the group.  This probably isn’t a problem where a strongly performing school partners a weaker school, and where the head of the stronger school will take on this role.  Nor is it an issue for medium to large MATs, which can afford to take on a Chief Executive.  But, as Anne Jackson, Director of System Reform at DFE pointed out, for all the publicity around the big Academy chains, a typical Academy chains now comprises 4 or 5 schools.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, DFE are keen to encourage more of these small chains, particularly in the primary sector.  Schools coming together to form a MAT as equals will either need to choose one of the Headteachers as the accounting officer, and therefore the person with ultimate responsibility for the group, or commit resource to creating a new post of Chief Executive.  In many cases neither option will be attractive, and this may be one reason why the significant financial incentives to primary schools to form academy chains have so far had a limited effect.

Howard Lay, Executive Principal of the Samuel Ward Academy began his slot by talking very positively about the RSA’s work in Suffolk which resulted in the No School an Island report.  His analysis of the last few years, in Suffolk and nationally, was that Schools have been on a journey from dependence to independence, and are now moving to the next stage: interdependence.  This chimed very closely with the feedback I am getting from conversations with schools and local authorities about the possibility of new schools joining the RSA Family.  The first tranche of Academy convertors generally did so alone, and in the early years the new independence (as well as the financial incentives) was a big part of the attraction of Academy status.  More recently there has been a change in tack, with some of the schools that originally converted independently now looking to form partnerships and allegiances with other schools, and those that are considering Academy status for the first time more interested in converting in partnership with other schools.  The RSA’s Academies Commission stressed that in an increasingly academised system it would be particularly important for schools to be connected to one another to accelerate school improvement.  Mr Lay’s upbeat analysis, which reflected the mood of the morning , is that more and more schools are looking to offer and receive school improvement support from other schools, and school interdependence is becoming an increasing feature of our education system.

Alison Critchley is Chief Executive of RSA Academies, a charitable company that currently works with four schools in the West Midlands.  Follow me @Ali_Critchley

Thinking beyond the classroom

Some good news for a Friday morning: Despite our Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the Pupil Design Awards pilot falling just short of target (we had £8,000+ pledged), our Academies have agreed to support this pilot project using their own resources, meaning we are able to go ahead! We have begun working with teachers to transform three RSA Student Design Award briefs, and work with pupils will begin in April.

Mollie Courtenay, who was shortlisted for the RSA Student Design Awards in 2013, is one of our alumni who is keen to get involved. Mollie studied graphic design at Kingston University and graduated with a first in 2013. She has recently taken the new position of Junior Designer in the Design Council Challenges team who use design to tackle big social issues, working on a variety of projects including the Knee High Design Challenge. Here she reflects on her own experience of the RSA Student Design Awards, and why introducing social design thinking into schools will inspire pupils to think beyond the classroom…

EXIF_IMGMollie carrying out testing and reseach for her RSA Student Design Award ‘Social Insurance’ shortlisted entry

“Yes Miss! I believe introducing the RSA Pupil Design Awards to schools would offer a practical method of inspiring pupils to think beyond the classroom. How incredible would it be if young people began to build and use their skills and imagination to tackle real social issues?

My personal reflection of school, is that it could often make me feel like one of many others; year by year I was in the same class, in the same uniform, answering the same exam questions. Even when it came to Design and Technology, the end product was always prescribed; each of us designing perfume packaging or a place mat.

The Pupil Design Award project briefs would offer an opportunity for pupils to embark on an individual journey, to create a project that provides unique insight, and to design an innovative solution to a challenging question. There is no single correct answer with these briefs, which is often why they exist and why they are so exciting.

I took on a RSA Student Design Awards brief at University, as I was motivated by the realness of the issue I was designing for (encouraging safer driving among young drivers). At one point I remember I had covered a whole wall in my flat with my research. When my flatmate got home, he looked at me as if to say- ‘er, are you alright..?’ I was great – I had found something that I was interested in, and discovered the issue I wanted to solve through design.

I am currently working on a project that focuses on the development of children in their early years, up to the age of five. When working in this environment you can’t think about design in a way that produces shiny, perfect and one off things.

One of the most important factors when designing for society is to really understand the issue or problem you are trying to solve, whilst building empathy for people and situations you are working with. It is unlikely that this can be done without spending time with people where they are. This means getting out and about, learning from many sources, observing, monitoring, questioning, recording and interpreting. Having an agenda and going out to fulfill it.

Giving pupils an opportunity to take responsibility for their own project is a fantastic way of encouraging individuality and creativity. Unlike some school subjects, these design projects allow for mistakes; and that’s where the really interesting learning happens. It’s so important to continually look back and challenge your own thinking and not rely on your own assumptions.

I am super excited for the launch of this project and hope that schools can see the value in adding it to their existing curriculum.”

If, like Mollie, you want to get involved in the Pupil Design Awards, there are plenty of ways to do so!

  • Become a mentor or judge   We are looking for a handful of designers to help mentor the pupils through the briefs. 
  • Donate a prize  This could be an industry placement or some design-related goodies – we’re open to suggestions! 
  • Help take the project UK-wide    We are already looking for other schools and especially sponsors to take this project beyond our Academies.

If you would like to get involved, or receive project updates, please get in touch –

Licenced to create: five thoughts on a teacher licence scheme

January 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

Despite no formal announcement of Tristram Hunt’s ‘licenced to teach’ idea, the concept has already been constructed and deconstructed by the edurati, with especially useful contributions from David Weston, our own Louise Bamfield, and Charlotte Leslie MP, who argues with the easy conviction of a backbencher  that:

“Any relicencing scheme that is the brainchild of a politician and born out of Whitehall is doomed to fail, and become just another stick with which to beat a demoralised, worn-out workforce.”

Given that almost everyone who has commented on licencing has used the ‘devil in the detail’ cliché, I’ll say that the angel could be in the bigger picture. Although I blogged in this week’s New Statesman that our school system should in 2015 have a ‘gap year’ from any new policies, I still believe that the licencing idea deserves air, time and hopefully support from the wide range of people who could together guarantee success. Here are five thoughts that might help.


1) Licencing is an ineffective way to remove bad teachers

If my child is being taught by anybody who is not up to it, I want him or her given immediate support to improve, with rapid removal if this fails to happen. Waiting five or even seven years is too long, and may create a further disincentive to do the right thing at the right time. Putting teachers into Capability, and finally removing them, is difficult, and always will be, but brave, assertive school leaders are finding ways through, and recent chagnes to regulations have made the process easier. This may be one area where academies and chains have been more effective and ruthless than local authorities, often if not always with positive outcomes. Setting up licencing as the magic bullet to remove poor teachers is setting it up for failure.


2) Licencing could reduce teacher bureaucracy

Of course, the process to gain and regain a licence is just that, a process,  so will therefore come with some bureaucratic burdens. However, any licence worth the paper its written on should be a licence to be trusted – that your professional judgement is valued, and professional autonomy revered. Armed with a licence, most teachers should be able to resist some of the more mindless soul-numbing paperwork that senior management teams, often falsely in the name of Ofsted, request of their teachers: The over-detailed lesson and termly planning documents; the written justification for every individual assessment decision; the word-hungry performance management papers. “Back off and trust me, my licence is up to date’ could be a useful bulwark against the creeping growth of petty paperwork demands.


3) A licencing system should be carefully created by a new Royal College of Teaching

Tristram Hunt has suggested that the College enforces and administers the licence. I think that the College needs to design and create the thing. This means that we would need to create a college in advance of the introduction of any licencing scheme. If this slows down progress, then that might be beneficial. Despite Hunt’s rush to announce the idea, any follow-through should be slow and cautious, understanding the impact on teacher retention and the teacher labour market.

I’ll declare a potential interest here in that, although the Prince’s Teaching Institute and others have done some fantastic development of the idea over the past few months, I think that RSA could be perfectly placed to make the College happen. We have a good history of incubating new ideas and institutions, are prepared to bash the heads that need bashing, and would also work to learn from the mistakes of the General Teaching Council of England. The GTCE was an example of New Labour policy implementation at its worst – a kind of half-hearted, ADHD-riven dirigisme which built the weakest of institutions. I am sure that the RSA could build an alliance that could do this better, and not just because we have a ‘Royal’ in our name too. Pitch over.


4) Licencing should be built around the concept of ‘clinical practice’

This builds usefully on the BERA/RSA Inquiry into teacher education and research. We launched our interim report this week. Here, we defined clinical practice in education as  

 “the need to bring together knowledge and evidence from different sources through a carefully sequenced programme which is deliberately designed to integrate teachers’ experiential learning at the ‘chalk face’ with research-based knowledge and insights from academic study and scholarship. Inspired by the medical model, the goal is to refine particular skills and deepen practitioners’ knowledge and understanding, by integrating practical and academic (or research-based) knowledge, and to interrogate each in light of the other.”

 This is more complex, nuanced and developmental than any crude aim to ensure that teachers’ practices more ‘evidence-based’. But the idea of clinical practice, also powerfully articulated by the US National Council for Accreditation in Education’s  ‘ten design principles for clinically-based preparation’  could  provide a powerful foundation from which to build a licencing scheme which would improve, engage and motivate teachers.


5) Licencing should offer teachers the ‘power to create’

I haven’t  joined the fray of my colleagues’ blogs about creativity, although I love RSA’s confidence to have these discussions in the open. I’m not yet ready to give my view on RSA’s possible overall approach to creativity in education – my five years of leading Creative Partnerships has rendered me cautious, if far from speechless. However, there is a genuine linkage between the philosophy emerging from the non-ivory second floor of John Adam Street and the teacher licensing scheme. David Weston’s blog neatly sums up teacher effectiveness as a combination of “subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, behavioural knowledge and interpersonal skills”. This isn’t enough. Teachers need the motivation, skills, and sense of self-efficacy to develop their own pedagogies and practices that can lead to the best possible outcomes for their pupils. Of course, innovation should be built on evidence, and all teachers need to adopt and adapt existing successful practices as well as develop their own. Although only a few teachers may ever create genuinely new knowledge, ‘little C’ creativity, the ability to generate and develop ideas that are original to you, and valuable in your context, should be at the heart of any licence – not just a right but a duty for all teachers.

Joe Hallgarten    Director of Education  @joehallg

Planning Educational Spaces

December 17, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The South Central Region of the RSA has recently concluded its series of events aimed at sharing ideas about education. These events were run by and for RSA Fellows with the aims of:

  • Sharing knowledge and ideas about education
  • Meeting and networking with other Fellows
  • Clarifying existing, and provoking new, ideas for potential projects
  • Sharing information on Catalyst funding which could potentially support the growth of the ideas.

On Thursday 14 November Rupert Cook and Nick Mirchandani of ArchitecturePLB in Winchester gave a presentation and led a discussion exploring divergent trends in the briefing of educational buildings. This is a guest blog from Nick Mirchandani FRSA.

Nick Mirchandani

As a practice that has specialised in education design for over 30 years, ArchitecturePLB is well placed to identify trends in the educational rationale behind the briefing of new learning environments. As part of the RSA’s South Central Region’s Ideas in Education Series we wished to offer our own observations and explore the possible implications of a growing divergence in the way in which educational buildings are briefed.

With a portfolio that spans the age range from early years to higher education, we had noticed over the last 10 years that schools, colleges and universities were increasingly concerned with some of the same issues, in particular:

  • The individualization and ‘personalisation’ of learning, based on a recognition that different students learn in different ways and that flexible buildings offering a range of spaces are needed to support varied learning activities and group sizes.
  • ‘Student experience’, in particular a new emphasis on the importance and quality of social spaces as well as teaching and learning spaces.
  • A recognition that learning and socializing are not distinct and separate activities but that learning can and should occur in a variety of settings including spaces for ‘social learning’ as well those for traditional didactic teaching and private study.
  • A changing relationship between ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ (due primarily to the speed of technological change and the need for all members of society to be continual learners) to one of ‘experienced and inexperienced learners’.
  • A blurring of the boundaries between traditional subjects and a wish for the physical environment to facilitate and encourage inter-departmental activity.
  • The wish to create or develop an institution’s individual identity and character as an important differentiator in an increasingly competitive market for education.

Since 2011 the briefing of school buildings has become increasingly centralized and standardised, with a presumption in favour of traditional, cellular classrooms.

Since the abolition of the Building Schools for the Future programme and the publication of the James Review in 2011 however, the briefing of schools has changed dramatically.  While colleges and universities continue to explore and respond to the issues described above, the briefing of school buildings has become increasingly centralized and standardised, with a presumption in favour of traditional, cellular classrooms.

Representing a wide range of interests in education, we invited our guests to form smaller groups in order to debate three specific questions:

  1. Are our observations borne out by your own experience?
  2. What, if any, are the likely implications?
  3. What of the future?

While the debate was wide-ranging, there was general consensus amongst all groups that these changes are indeed evident and that the implications are potentially significant. Much of the debate focused on the risk of a gap between the learning skills expected by further and higher education providers (particularly in self-directed learning) and those with which schools equip their leavers. There was agreement that if ‘learning to learn’ becomes a lesser priority for schools then further and higher education providers may need to fill the gap themselves, possibly as a kind of ‘foundation course’ similar to Art schools.

Of even greater concern were the implications for those students who do not go on to further and/or higher education. If they are to leave school with knowledge but without core learning skills then there is a serious risk that they may be ill-equipped to continually develop themselves as required in today’s workplaces.

With regard to the future, there were both optimistic and pessimistic voices.  Some felt that recent changes in school briefing reflected the state of the economy rather than a more fundamental diversion from a wider trend. It was also noted that school age students are becoming more demanding consumers of education and would themselves apply pressure to maintain and improve the delivery of learning skills.

The more pessimistic noted that the UK is now in a global market for education and that if further and higher education providers fail to find the learning skills they require from ‘home grown’ students then they would be increasingly likely to seek higher caliber candidates abroad. Alternatively some guests felt that further and higher education providers would seek to extend their provision to younger students. ArchitecturePLB’s own experience supports this suggestion, including a further education college sponsoring academies, a free school and a ‘studio school’ as part of a federation and university involvement in schools through UTC’s.

With both positive and negative possibilities, the greatest concern appears to be a risk of increasing inequality in school-age provision. This of course would be entirely contrary to the intentions behind a more standardized approach.


If you’d like to find out more about Fellowship activities in the South Central region please email

Student Leadership Conference: tips from the top

December 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

20. group shot outside JAS jumping_2 blog

The end of November saw RSA Academies hosting the Student Leadership Conference for Year 12 and 13 student leaders from Arrow Vale RSA Academy, Whitley Academy and RSA Academy, Tipton.

Here are some of the TOP 5 TIPS from the students and the RSA Fellows who joined in for a day of inspiration and conversation.

Marie Nixon, Chief Executive at Sunderland University’s Students Union starts us off.

1. You’re a leader all the time. You don’t have to wait for the ‘big’ job or opportunity to start being a leader. You can be a leader in your community, in your area of interest, in anything. Get on with leading and the big leadership opportunities are more likely to come your way.

2. Don’t be scared of ‘don’t know’. One person can never know everything. Surround yourself with brilliant people and together you can know all sorts – and work out the answers to what you don’t.

3. The power of the unthinkable. Don’t be afraid of ‘mad’ ideas that might seem beyond the realms of possibility. It’s a great spark for exciting conversations which help you decide on ambitions and exciting things you want to change and do.

4. The boldest measures are the safest – changing something a tiny bit usually requires exactly the same effort as changing something radically. Be bold, be brave, attempt to do what you really want to do rather than what you might get away with. It’ll take the same effort and you might as well go for what you want.

5. Telling it like it is. Feedback is super powerful and it takes a bold soul to give it. Feedback is essential to make sure you’re getting to where you want to be. When you’re giving feedback make sure you do it with accuracy and kindness and that you’re doing it for the good of the person affected or the project. It’s NEVER a chance to be mean.


Followed by Prince Chivaka and Cynthia Ariana, Head Boy and Head Girl at Whitley Academy in Coventry.

• Communication is key

• Develop confidence in the role

• Be very firm, but friendly and be assertive and considerate in a team

• Plan an agenda for each half term and  meet with Student Leadership Group and the Principal

• Encourage others to become leaders, be a role model


And Rick Hall from Ignite’s 5 Rs: the characteristics of creativity… and leadership

1. Resilience – be determined and learn from your mistakes, this is part of the process of getting towards the solution

2. Resourcefulness – working out what to do when you don’t know what to do

3. Referencing – see something is like something else and make the connection, learn from this

4. Reflection – step aside and observe, use mind mapping as a technique to help

5. Risk taking – pushing the boundaries, going outside your comfort zone


And lastly from Andrew Watts, Head Boy at RSA Academy in Tipton

• Plan, plan, plan – set goals, what do you want to achieve?

• It’s crucial to talk to people – what do students want from you? Expect the unexpected.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you don’t have all the answers and learn from the example of others

• You have to make big decisions – consider everything, sometimes what you want isn’t best

• Be willing to get involved – you have to be in it to win it


Duncan Piper at the Young Leaders Consultancy has the parting shot.  He encouraged us to think about self-less leadership: how can I help you get to where you need to be?

35. workshop Becca action planning_2blog


Supporting Social Mobility

October 7, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

The South Central Region of the RSA are holding a series of events aimed at sharing ideas about education. These events are run by and for RSA Fellows with the aims of:

  • Sharing knowledge and ideas about education
  • Meeting and networking with other Fellows
  • Clarifying existing, and provoking new, ideas for potential projects
  • Sharing information on Catalyst funding which could potentially support the growth of the ideas.

On Thursday 12 September, at the Leadership and Training Centre at Shenley Brook End School, Tom Welch and Lesley King gave a presentation and led a discussion on the idea: Supporting Social Mobility.  This is a guest blog from Tom Welch.

Tom WelchOur talk for the RSA South Central Region’s Ideas in Education Series started from the premise that exam results are necessary, but not sufficient, to ensure social mobility.

The forty or so people who took part in the evening needed no encouragement to engage. So free-flowing was the conversation before the presentation proper, that we were considerably late starting, but all knew each other much better for it.

Only 23% of white boys on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 55% of all pupils.

We began with an examination of some previous research that we had carried out called Bucking the Trend – a study of white boys of British origin, eligible for free school meals who had gained 5 A* to C at GCSE or equivalent. This study aimed to give these academically successful students, a huge minority in their demographic, a voice that could be heard by educators – why did they think they had managed to buck the trend? How could schools learn from their experience of their nascent upwardly mobile journey?

The most pertinent finding for the purposes of the evening’s discussion, however, was that over 45 of the boys we interviewed had spoken, without prompting, of the social and psychological challenges of their social mobility. Their descriptions reminded us of Richard Hoggart’s ‘Uprooted and Anxious’ in The Uses of Literacy written some 50 years prior to the boys’ experiences.

The room entered into a lively discussion about how the challenges associated with social mobility, for the individual students themselves, could be ameliorated, while ensuring that the benefits of the rich experiences that are part of their journey could be accentuated and brought to the fore. 

How can we ensure that upwardly mobile students are not left floundering between two worlds, feeling uprooted and anxious?

There was a broad consensus that, while helping the most disadvantaged students academically is important, and can facilitate mobility after compulsory education ends, broader societal changes - particularly in terms of what we, as a society, value and aspire to - are necessary if we are ever to ease the passage of social mobility and move toward social justice.

I would be interested in discussing further, with attendees and Fellows, the challenges of social mobility – both facilitating it and the psychological challenges faced by the upwardly mobile students. How can we ensure that they are not left floundering between two worlds, feeling uprooted and anxious?

Tom Welch is Co-Director at EdYou.  You can contact him via email at or on Twitter at @tom_w_welch.

You can book now for upcoming events in the Ideas Education series:

17 October 2013: Ideas in Education: Conserving Creativity in Early Years, Reading

30 October 2013: Ideas in Education: Building Learning Power, Winchester

6 November 2013: Ideas in Education: Revolutionising access to science and research through technology, Portsmouth

14 November 2013: Ideas in Education: Planning Educational Spaces, Winchester

5 December 2013: Ideas in Education: DIY higher education in the global swamp? Oxford

To find out more contact Fellowship Councillor for South Central Bethan Michael.

‘Making sense of school league tables’: A new OPSN report

September 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters, Social Economy 

The RSA is delighted to support today’s launch of a new Open Public Services Network (OPSN) report on ‘Making sense of school league tables’, which uses publicly available data to assess the quality of teaching in UK schools. A roundtable event to mark the report launch is taking place on Monday 9th September at the Guardian.

OPSN grew out of work by the 2020 Public Services Commission, which looked at the long-term pressures and opportunities facing public services in an era of austerity and social and demographic change. Some of what we found was daunting. The challenges facing public services are stark, not just because there will be less money but also because of the pressure of rising demand. By 2030, an additional six per cent of GDP will have to be spent on public services simply to meet the social costs of an ageing society and maintain existing cross-party social commitments.

But there also grounds for optimism. Citizens have a growing expectation of control over their lives and the services they use. Through our Commission and our subsequent work on RSA 2020 Public Services, we have been developing an approach to public service reform based on what we call social productivity. The focus is on unlocking the potential of citizen and social resource through improving the quality of the relationship between people and their services. In an environment in which money is short and demands are growing, mobilising a wider range of social capacity to create more productive individual and community relationships will be critically important.

For that potential to be fulfilled, we need to see a change process with at least two distinct steps. Step one is the provision of better data, which can empower citizens through greater accountability, a clearer voice and more informed choice. Online technologies and open data are key facilitators for this.

Encouragingly, change on this front is happening at an impressive pace. Already, the public can see in more detail than ever before where its money is going, what is being done with it and – though this is considerably more difficult – what is being achieved with it. Information from good data enables the public, individually and collectively, to scrutinise provision, challenging it to be more efficient, effective and responsive.

In some cases, open data will not only amplify citizens’ voices, but drive their choices. Where they can do so, they will access or exit services partly on the basis of the information they receive.

Schools, more than most public services, have been at the frontline of publicly accessible performance information for many years, and are acutely aware of its benefits and pitfalls. Some of these pitfalls have related to the crudity of the data set before the public. Schools are complex institutions, charged with achieving a myriad of social and educational aims in dramatically different contexts.

OPSN’s new report on school league tables, its first major publication, includes new analysis using information sourced from the Department of Education to make it accessible to parents, carers, teachers and school governors. The report offers a way of re-configuring complex data so that it can be genuinely useful to parents and other community members in terms of accountability, voice and choice. It describes a fresh approach to data presentation that draws on a large number of data sources to produce an accessible, rigorous and meaningful picture of school performance.

OPSN has demonstrated that the first step in transforming public services through better data is well under way. It is a necessary preparation for an even more fundamental second step. We need to move from information for accountability to information for social collaboration. This is something the Commission, and now its legacy body in RSA’s Action and Research Centre, terms information for social productivity.

The challenge for the future is to use data from services in a way that engages the public in a process of shared design and delivery, creating better outcomes not just for themselves, but for the wider public good. How could individuals respond to data on school exclusions in order to co-design more effective behaviour management policies? How could information on performance be shared regularly with the local businesses and cultural institutions capable of enriching the curriculum? How could parents use real-time pupil progress data to become more involved in their children’s education?

This report is a welcome step towards answering these questions. We look forward to the next steps for OPSN.

Ben Lucas is Chair of Public Services at the RSA and Principal Partner of RSA 2020 Public Services. Joe Hallgarten is Director of Education at the RSA.

Click here to read the report.

A launch event held in partnership with the Guardian will take place on Monday 9th September. Click here for additional information.  


Guest Blog: Why we must have a better bacc and why we need the understanding, imagination and common sense of the RSA

July 22, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

This guest blog from RSA Fellow Mark Hewlett reflects on recent changes to the national curriculum and last week’s launch of RSA’s Grand Curriculum Designs. It builds on my recent RSA Journal article about the Modern Baccalaureate.

Educational change continues; two weeks ago, proposals for the national curriculum. Last week, changes to primary accountability. We can all support initiatives to raise standards in basic skills of literacy, numeracy and ICT: the basic “languages”. But despite grand rhetoric there is a sense of disappointment, reflected in observations in The Times the following day, by Alice Thomson, who, being a self-avowed traditionalist, should be an ally of the Secretary of State. She sought, but failed to find, the imaginative vision to spark the originality, innovation, and inventiveness we really need for our national success. Equalling Hong Kong and Singapore in maths and literacy is fine but if that is the limit of the Government’s aspirations then we are being sold short. The Department’s sights are too low, its vision too narrow. We can do better.

These views were strongly re-enforced at last week’s launch of Grand Curriculum Designs, a new CPD programme led by the RSA and the Institute for Education. Teachers, dissatisfied with the current curriculum, were reporting on initiatives which focused not on the relatively superficial regime of the National Curriculum, but on outcomes in terms of general skills (intellectual/practical), competences (the ability to apply ideas to a range of specific issues) and positive attitudes to learning: the fundamentally important elements of learning.

Alice Thomson’s reaction to the modest proposals for the national curriculum reflects the views of those of us engaged in the arguably more significant task of designing a “better bacc” (shorthand for a curriculum and assessment framework) to meet our national interest, and the interests of all young people.

Our current curricular model (described misleadingly, as “academic”) is ill-designed to achieve the aims we all want, as stated by business leaders (the CBI is dismissive of the current E Bacc), by those responsible for the public services, the arts and sport even academics, and not least, politicians, whose statements of aims and aspirations are fine but bear only a weak relationship to the National Curriculum whose assessment system deflects energies from the essential and the important to activities of marginal relevance to the aims they espouse.

Questioning the relevance of our current curriculum, whose structure made sense in the thought world of 18th century Dissenters, whence it originated, Professor John White, in a seminal RSA paper, “How special are subjects?” recommends that we must ask fundamental questions about the purposes of education, for example as considered in “The Point of Education” (Matthew Taylor’s article in the RSA Journal Winter 2008) or the central question posed in The Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education, “What counts as an educated 19 year old in this day and age?” These questions are not being effectively addressed by Government at this time.

If we agree that we want our education system to develop the whole range of young people’s talents to equip them with the skills (intellectual and practical) knowledge and understanding to achieve our national economic, social and cultural aspirations, what responsible person would produce an end-of-course assessment system which ignores or at best sidelines, Engineering, Design, Technology, Health Education in all its facets,  Social Education, Citizenship, the Arts, and relegates to inferior status, those social sciences of Economics and Business Studies, Government and Constitution, Sociology, Psychology more relevant to understanding the world they will live in than History, that finds itself promoted with Geography, to pre-eminence, quite arbitrarily and with no coherent rationale. Let it be noted that all these subjects are as “academic” as those currently required in the E Bacc.

This is why we need the support of the RSA, to challenge ill-considered conservatism and inject some realism, common-sense and clear thought into debate about curriculum. The RSA carries weight as a society of thoughtful enlightened people who represent the interests of all educational stakeholders – in academe, business, the public services, design, technology and the arts, promoting intellectual thought and research and their translation into practical reality, a society characterised by its constant, restless drive to look forward and outward, to produce better solutions and characterised by its awareness of the multi-dimensional nature of learning. And all with no spurious distinction of status based on pseudo-academic prejudice -which infects thinking at the DfE, and results in a curriculum narrow, shallow and unfit for purpose.

This blog aims to generate support for those working for a better curriculum: broader, deeper and more imaginative. Visit the web sites of the RSA, Whole Education and HTRT or contact Joe Hallgarten for further information.

RSA FutureMakers

June 23, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Design and Society, Enterprise 

We at the RSA believe in the power of making, especially when it involves newly emerging approaches; our intention is to help grow the infrastructure and opportunities for designing and making at a local level, both in London and around the country.

Our first venture into this arena was held at Somerset House last Wednesday, and was a resounding success. We introduced and connected the varied and rather fragmented groups interested in this agenda and showcased some of the great work already happening. 300 people came to this inaugural event and the basement of Somerset House’s west wing was filled with professional makers and designers, hobbyists, 3D printing companies, technologists, schools, educators and many more groups that defy easy categorisation. You can see the full list and links here.

Girls from the Ideas Foundation show their collaborative work

Girls from the Ideas Foundation show their collaborative work

One of the surprising and heartening things about this emerging area is that in terms of age it’s a level playing field: age is no barrier to entry at either end of the spectrum. The Ideas Foundation brought several groups of children from schools in the north west,  all of whom were collaborating across various subject areas: English, Art, DT, and ICT students had been working together to create award winning projects that they brought to the event. Many of these teenagers had never been on a train before, let alone to London, yet clearly had huge talent, and were more switched on to the possiblities of emerging technologies than some of the adults in the room.

Amy Mathers teaches conductive thread circuits

Amy Mathers teaches conductive thread circuits

For many, the most surprising speaker and workshop leader was 14 year old Amy Mather, a remarkable girl who held a workshop for 15 adults making conductive thread circuits after speaking about her adventures with Raspberry Pi.

1970s children play with Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms floor turtle

The confidence of all these young people around technology reminded me of Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms work at MIT which I first discovered when studying Human Computer Interface Psychology in the eighties. One of his theories about the power of computers which really struck me and has stayed with me throughout the years is that computers are non-judgemental; you program something and it either works or it doesn’t. If you’re struggling at school and feel misunderstood, technology can be your saviour. The picture above doesn’t look that different from what we saw this week – kids playing with robots. The difference is that with the invention of Arduino and Raspberry Pi, combined with the knowledge transfer powers of the internet, the technology is now available to many more of us.

Sophie Thomas at the Great Recovery stand

Sophie Thomas at the Great Recovery stand

However, the event wasn’t all about robots and new technology, exciting though both areas are. Sophie Thomas ran a Great Recovery teardown workshop taking apart electronic products, exposing the elements that we throw away so casually and looking at ways we could re-design them from scratch to re-use our valuable resources. The Restart Project showed us how to fix and repair products that we might previously have thought were destined for the dustbin. Technological innovation is always exciting: developing ways to deliver consumer electronics in a sustainable way is just as important and this conversation was at the heart of the event.

What I found most exciting about the event was the amount of cross cultural connections that were being made as the day went on. On the face of it, we followed a standard trade show format of stands, talks and workshops, but what was different about this event was that everyone was meeting people from beyond their usual networks who were interested in the same subject as they were, but from a different angle. We had educationalists connecting with design innovators to inject a new way of thinking into schools, product designers hatching plans for research papers with RSA Fellows, RSA Student Design Awards winners (see video above) talking to chemists and finding out that there were less harmful chemicals that they could be using, and many more people connecting over their passion for this area. The excitement in the room was palpable all day long and everyone left having had their brains “rewired” in an unexpected and powerful way.

We are currently developing plans for an ambitious and innovative project in the areas of making and education, which will be rolled out both in London and around the country. Also look out for the RSA FutureMaker Premium; a prize for innovation in this area.

Thank you to all stallholders, speakers and workshop hosts for your fantastic contributions, to the Comino Foundation who initiated and funded the event, to everyone who attended the event and to Somerset House for kindly letting us use the recently vacated HMRC mailroom to host the event.

The event was a collaboration between the Design and Enterprise strands of the Action and Research Centre at the RSA.

Nat Hunter is Co-Director of Design at the RSA

You can follow her @redfish66

The Big Idea: making the most of RSA Animates in school

June 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Ewan MacintoshThe Big Idea: making the most of RSA Animates in school using a new collaborative website,, by Ewan McIntosh FRSA, Founder of

RSA Animates have proven irresistible intellectual nuggets for many “grown ups”, and evidence suggests they help us learn about topics better. But what about their potential for little ‘uns and teens at school?

RSA Animates can undoubtedly provide rich stimulus for learning, and the visual representation of abstract or complex ideas has become increasingly admired by educators all over the world. However, harnessing these clips successfully is not necessarily obvious or easy for educators who’ve not tried before.

RSA Animates have proven irresistible intellectual nuggets for many “grown ups”. But what about their potential for little ‘uns and teens at school?

What’s WatchDrawThink?
WatchDrawThink is a new RSA Catalyst-supported project launched by Ewan McIntosh FRSA and colleagues Peter Ford and Tom Barrett FRSA at education firm NoTosh. The collaborative site aims to provide a space for teachers to share ideas, example lessons or projects where students use RSA Animates for their learning. The idea is that teachers will get inspiration on how they might use a whole or part of an RSA Animate video as an initial stimulus or part of an immersive discovery session on a given topic.

Why use RSA Animates in school?
RSA Animates have tended not to be used widely in school, perhaps because they handle genuinely complex cross-curricular knowledge. But it’s the very visualisation that is so tantalising, that also makes the comprehension of these complex areas of knowledge easier, and the viewer’s chances of retaining the message so much better. Professor Richard Wiseman’s own research study of RSA Animates showed that the visualisation used could help viewers retain up to 22% more information than had they just listened to the audio alone.  You can watch Richard Wiseman and Andrew Park, the illustrator, talk about this at an RSA Event.

Support from Catalyst helped deliver an initial session with RSA Academies teachers in March, where the potential for their use within the English curriculum was confirmed. Teachers spotted relevance to the curriculum in areas as diverse as physical education (Dan Pink: The SurprisingTruth of What Motivates Us) and mathematics (Renata Saleci on The Paradox of Choice), as well as a blanket appreciation of their potential use in language arts, design and primary education.

WatchDrawThink’s first prototype

Launching as a prototype platform in time for teachers to get engaged in the last term of this school session, WatchDrawThink is crowdsourcing as many light-touch – or involved – ways as possible to harness three particularly rich RSA Animate clips in the classroom. Anyone, student, teacher or parent, can jump onto the site and add their innovative, short, sharp idea for handling a segment or whole clip to achieve a specific curricular goal or to create an engaging task with the clip.

Over time, based on how people use the site in the first couple of months, the website will also provide support from the NoTosh Team and RSA Academies with specific ideas and advice on:

  • How to plan a competence-based unit of work or set of lessons that encourages student-led research on the back of an RSA Animate stimulus
  • Different ways to use visualisation to express knowledge and understanding on a topic, à la RSA Animate.

How you can get involved

Teachers and students can get involved this term and see which of the RSA Animates might help you explain a new, complex topic in a simple way. Use the WatchDrawThink website, Twitter hashtag #watchdrawthink or Facebook page to share your own lesson outcomes (videos, images, texts, comments, blog posts) and share further ideas.

If you’re a parent or Governor, share the site with your child’s teacher.

You can visit the WatchDrawThink website, follow Ewan on Twitter @ewanmcintosh or email him at

To get help from RSA Catalyst for your social venture visit

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