Flogging Dead Horses

Flogging Dead Horses

The system needs new school models.

Those who have now seen “Most Likely to Succeed”, or read the blog post about it here, will understand the dramatic tone of the title to this post.

The bottom line is THIS:

Our model of schooling is more than 100 years old and has barely changed in that time…

The rest of society – our industrial practices, technology, the media we use, our leisure activities, the global scope of our world, communication systems – has undergone a revolution…

There has been a similar revolution of opportunities for and modalities of adult education.  Since the 1960s, the Open University has demonstrated that virtually every adult is capable of degree level study, given the right modalities of learning and modes of assessment.  More than 3 million people, most failed by their schooling have passed OU degrees…

The original purpose of school – designed to sort and sift; to separate sheep and goats – is now redundant.  We need 100% of students to be skilled and capable citizens able to contribute positive agency to both their economic and social world…

Our UK government (and others around the world) are flogging the dead horse of the out of date school model, when it is patently incapable of responding to the challenges set out above.

So what is wrong with this particular dead horse? 

How much space do you have?

The worst of it is that there are some arguably redundant, or even debilitating features that just don’t get questioned. So let’s ask just 10 of those questions.

  1. Why, for example, do we still have age-cohorting?  It certainly isn’t because we believe that all students mature and progress at the same rates.  Watch rehearsals for a school production or a concert if you wonder about mixed-age learning
  2. Why have we retained so exclusively the subject-based curriculum, when no tasks in the real world segregate knowledge or its applications in that way?
  3. Why are schools designed into corridors and classroom spaces – such that it makes teaching the most isolated and un-stimulating professional practice?
  4. Why do we assess all students at the same time, rather when they are ready to demonstrate mastery (think music grades, or driving test, or sports coaching awards, or Open University modules, or PhD dissertations)?
  5. Why do schools set homework, when they already have students in school for 35 hours a week – and when the world outside school is rich in opportunities for self-initiated learning?
  6. Why do most schools have 25 one-hour lessons – when nobody believes that it is a unit that is enabling of deep or applied learning?
  7. Why is the assessment outcome that matters still an exam written on pen and paper and marked by anonymous paid markers – when teachers know students and their capabilities from five years of engagement with them?
  8. Does speaking matter?  Do so-called hard skills matter? Do so-called soft skills? Does making and doing matter?  If so, why are none of these things given high currency?
  9. Why do we persist with the corrosive language and practice of ‘ability’ groupings.  Schools are the only places where it is deemed appropriate to name people ‘low ability or ‘less able’.
  10. A contentious one.  Given that schools are centres of learning, why are the adult learning norms  and practices in most of our school so abysmally poor?

You don’t have to agree with everything

Of course, a few of these questions may confront expectations.  There may be some that seem outrageous – although they don’t, of course, to me!  However, there is a simple truth.  We know that capability is multi-faceted and that human potential is such that virtually all adults are capable of high-level learning and complex task accomplishment.  We also know that the existing model of school has consistently failed to enable all students to be successful, or to close the equity gap between those from advantaged backgrounds and those who are not.

And it isn’t the fault of the students (many of whom go on in adulthood to achieve remarkably beyond their schools’ predictions).  It is the fault of the model of schooling – and no amount of Ofsted inspection, or examination rigour, or teacher performance management, or academisation can make a model that is out-of-date fit for our times.

It is flogging a dead horse.

So, what seems to be desperately needed in our system is an innovation strategy that will encourage the design and establishment of some new school models.  They have had this in the States since the New American Schools initiative in the early 1990s, as described here (and as represented in Grant Lichtman and Jolina Clément’s graphic that heads up this post).  Where is the UK’s new school model innovation strategy?