Authors: Guy Claxton
Two teacher bodies are currently asking and answering the kinds of questions which we have been posing. In the UK, the Association of School and College Leaders and its ‘Great Education Debate’ have stimulated useful thinking. The debate takes as its starting point this statement:
We believe that it is time for everyone with a stake in education to have a say about the future of our schools and colleges policy – employers, parents, young people, academics, politicians, teachers, school and college leaders. We want to create a vision and a plan that everyone can sign up to.
The Great Education Debate recently published a summary of its conclusions.
These centre on the idea of a school-led, self-improving system. Now, this may sound like jargon to some readers, but read on a little more in this document and you will find many recommendations that mirror those we
have been suggesting. Here is a flavour, some echoing the CBI suggestions we have been exploring:
In an ideal world we would debate these issues and reach a shared view on the purpose of education. We would determine the relative weight to be accorded to the differing drivers. That would then inform the framing and the content of the curriculum … This is not as farfetched as it sounds: other countries such as Singapore do precisely this.
We need to facilitate systematically the professional development and lifelong learning of existing teachers.
Any definition of the purpose of education would surely include maximising the life chances of all young people by making them work-ready, life-ready and ready for further learning.
The unique challenges of the world in the 21st century require a better understanding of the underpinning personal capacities that are the difference between the success and failure of otherwise identical young people.
The last of these opinions speaks poignantly to the comments of many of the young people we have quoted in the book.
A second initiative called ‘Redesigning Schooling’ has been stimulated by a professional body called The Schools
At the heart of Redesigning Schooling is a plea for the teaching profession, especially school principals, to take charge of the debate about the future of education. They say:
These are tough times for school leaders but we know as a profession we have to change. Surely we have to have the courage of our convictions and put in place those opportunities that we feel equip our students most appropriately for life in the digital age and for taking their place in the global workspace?
Do we always have to follow the Government line, or can we as a profession take more control of the future of education and the steering of our young people towards global citizenship? Redesigning Schooling is a campaign lead by SSAT and its member schools, leading thinkers and academics to shape the teaching profession’s own vision for schooling.
Precisely because it is seeking to develop debate and innovation within the teaching profession itself, Redesigning Schooling is necessarily taking time to build its point of view. But, through its events and publications, it is encouraging school leaders to articulate with greater confidence their
own vision of education. In the
we will look at ways in which we can all accelerate the changes we want to see.
We’ve also referred to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (see
). The OECD is the organisation which runs the Programme for International Student Assessment, home of the infamous PISA tests which all education ministries are keen to do so well on. (How educators love their acronyms!) The man who runs PISA is a German statistician called Andreas Schleicher. Many countries (including the UK) have become so mesmerised by the international league tables to which the PISA data gives rise that they can think of nothing more inspiring, as a goal for education, than to beat Finland or Shanghai in these tables. Many have argued that the very existence of these tables has driven education systems around the world in a regressive direction. Some countries – Wales is cited as being one – have even started to tailor their education systems specifically to improve their PISA rankings.
It’s not that it’s a bad idea for countries to know how they are doing in teaching maths, English and science; it’s just that, if these paper and pencil tests are given undue weight, they start to eclipse other good educational goals – like the habits of mind – that can’t be so easily measured.
Schleicher himself is all too aware of this danger. In fact, his own model of education is a well-balanced one (see the figure opposite). It is easy to see how the things we have been arguing for in
can be fitted into his four rectangles. He is trying to broaden out the PISA tests so they do actually assess things like students’ capacity for collaborative
problem-solving or creativity. This is not easy to do, but the OECD is leading the research in this area.
Balance conceptual and practical and connect the content to real-world relevance
Developing higher-order skills such as the 4Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration
Nurturing behaviours and values for a changing and challenging world: adaptability, persistence, resilience and moral-related traits (integrity, justice, empathy)
Learning how to learn, interdisciplinary, systems thinking
: Andreas Schleicher (ed.),
Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century: Lessons from around the World
(Paris: OECD Publishing, 2012).
Two examination boards have also been actively seeking to broaden what it is that schools do; they are City & Guilds and Pearson. City & Guilds have been promoting research into the practical learning and apprenticeships which so
many young people want, in order to help schools and colleges provide more effectively for the many students who do not choose an academic route. As contributors to this research, we have been vocal in suggesting that, as with schools more generally, we need to think about what else, other than routine skills, young people should be learning. In particular, we have suggested that they need to learn to be resourceful (able to deal with the non-routine), to develop pride in their work (thinking like a craftsman, never accepting the slapdash and always striving to do their very best) and build a set of wider skills beyond the particular vocational pathway on which they are embarked.
Pearson has contributed to the debate by commissioning research into young people’s views of school.
The central conclusion of this study was that it was “difficult for them to understand the relevance of school learning to their future work aims”.
There appeared to be three causes of this disconnection:
1. Little association between lesson content and career preferences.
2. Teachers not knowing their pupils’ hopes and dreams.
3. Inadequate opportunities to gain foundation ‘life skills’.
Students also express the need for learning that relates to their goals. They are hungry for that connection, and speak
easily and specifically about what they want to do with their lives.
Here are some of the points the student interviewees made:
Once we leave school we’ll need to be much more independent, so we should learn things that will help us later on.
Teachers shouldn’t just be at the front – they should interact in the classroom.
Schools need to let us know more about the future, jobs and help us to know more about careers, relating learning and work …
I have never been asked about my hopes and dreams.
Teachers could make their classes more relevant to my future goals by asking what I wanted to do in the future and help me try to achieve those targets by helping me in the areas I need help in.
Whatever these students’ schools, backgrounds and ambitions, their voice is not one of hostile disaffection. They are thoughtful and articulate, and the points they make are important and thought-provoking. If the groundswell for change is to gather momentum, students themselves will be powerful participants in the process.
Finally in this chapter we shouldn’t forget the role that is being played by charitable bodies. Of course, some of them are quite capable of campaigning for versions of education which are narrow and backwards-looking. But most are motivated by big moral ideas – social justice, increased well-being, cohesion, better care of our planet and lifelong learning. Some undertake research. Others produce resources. Some are funding bodies. Others lobby for the changes they desire. Although it is somewhat invidious to mention just a few examples, nevertheless we are going to do just that!
The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (or the RSA as it is more widely known) has a long history of educational innovation. In 1980 it published a manifesto called
Education for Capability
which made many of the same points we are highlighting in this book.
More than a decade ago, the RSA suggested that we could organise what teachers teach not into subjects but into ‘themes’ and ‘competencies’. They called it Opening Minds.
Some 200 schools have now adopted its principles.
When Opening Minds was first introduced most schools organised what they taught according to subjects. So your child might have a lesson of English, then one of geography or science and so on. Look at a typical secondary school timetable and, odds-on, it will still be organised in this way, with five or six different subjects in roughly hour-long blocks each day. The RSA turned this on its head and asked a
different question. What would school look like if we organised it in terms of the competences we wanted students to develop rather than by subject area? They came up with five such competences: citizenship, learning, managing information, relating to people and managing situations. These kinds of things are much closer to what we called utilities in
. Here’s an example of what they thought might go into managing situations:
Time management – students understand the importance of managing their own time, and develop preferred techniques for doing so.
Coping with change – students understand what is meant by managing change, and develop a range of techniques for use in varying situations.
Feelings and reactions – students understand the importance of both celebrating success and managing disappointment, and ways of handling these.
Creative thinking – students understand what is meant by being entrepreneurial and initiative-taking, and how to develop their capacities in these areas.
Risk-taking – students understand how to manage risk and uncertainty, including the wide range of contexts in which these will be encountered and techniques for managing them.
You could theoretically just replace subjects with competences and end up designing a curriculum of one-hour blocks looking at time management or risk-taking. But such an approach would clearly be (a) silly and (b) entirely against the spirit of what Opening Minds is proposing. These competences need to be developed through rigorous projects and
enquiries of the kind that we were suggesting would feature in a Key Stage 3 curriculum.
Think of one of your pupils (if you are a teacher) or your children (if you are a parent) and the situations they encounter, or think about yourself and the kinds of things you need to manage in your own life. Whether it’s the weekly shop, homework, getting ready for a holiday or football practice, we all need to be able to manage time. Similarly, in a fast-moving world, we all need to be able to deal with change. Do we embrace it? Do we get grumpy and resist it? Do we ask for help? Do we find out more? Do we think of different ways in which we could react and select the most appropriate one? We think it is clear that these examples of managing situations are manifestly things that help life go more smoothly and effectively and, therefore, qualities you’d want the next generation to have.
This highlighting of useful habits of mind, and weaving them more systematically into lessons, is no great revolution. Both New Zealand and Australia, for example, have chosen to organise their schools by foregrounding the capabilities they want students to acquire in the course of studying important things. You cannot teach competences in isolation; they have to have content too. Opening Minds schools tend to assume that the organisation of the school day may, in part at least, be about creating chunks of time where pupils can work with teachers, employers and others on rigorous, challenging enquiries or projects. By doing this, pupils learn ‘how to’ at the same time as they think about the whys and whats of any discipline.
Here’s one more example of a charitable body creating optimism on the ground. The Sutton Trust describes itself as a ‘do tank’ (as opposed to a ‘think tank’). We think it has a place in this chapter because of its close links to the real
world of schools. It is trying explicitly to use research to change policy and practice. Above all, the Sutton Trust is trying to help children who are less well-off do better at school and then in life – what’s often referred to as improving social mobility.
A practical example of what they produce, in collaboration with the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), is the Teaching and Learning Toolkit for teachers.
The toolkit takes a number of different teaching methods and then distils the research on its effectiveness into a really clear ‘dashboard’ that signals its degree of impact, cost to implement, the strength of the evidence in its favour (the icon that looks like a weight or possibly a fashionable handbag!) and then gives it an overall score in terms of the number of months by which it might accelerate pupils’ progress. Not all the teaching methods they have evaluated are directed at building up students’ habits of mind – some are only assessed in terms of their effect on traditional examination grades – but some of them are.