As we head into the new school year, two organisations, ASCL and SSAT are inviting us all to debate the purpose of education. What, as my colleague Guy Claxton has put it, is the point of school?
At the same time the Cambridge Primary Review Trust is more actively applying the excellent thinking of Robin Alexander and its team to ensure that the experiences of children are broader and deeper.
And, of course, we have launched our contribution to the debates with the publication of Expansive Education: teaching learners for the real world. Here we chart the history of thinking which has led to the expansive education movement, explore case studies of promising practices from across the world and offer some practical suggestions as to how to put expansive thinking into practice.
Out of the garden into the real world
ASCL’s Great Education debate is inviting us to mimic earlier national debates about the purposes of education. Recalling Jim Callaghan, Brian Lightman invites us address some of the deep underlying questions using evidence. What should schools teach? What should be assessed and how? What are the respective roles of pupils, parents and teachers? How should schools use research to inform their practice?
These are the right questions to be starting with and here are a few first thoughts.
1. Education must be more expansive, cultivating the capacity to learn in all pupils rather than just focusing on a narrow range of subject expertise. Deep knowledge is, of course, important and we must have passionate well-informed teachers skilled in their disciplines. But this is not enough. We need to cultivate a range of dispositions in young people which will serve young people well in their learning and social lives in uncertain times.
2. We have to expand the debate beyond school. Currently we pay lip service only when it comes to engaging parents. This has to change. We know that when we really listen to and work with families life chances are hugely enhanced. We just have to put this into practice now and there is plenty of help at hand such as that of Joyce Epstein and her team.
3. And – here’s the really hard part – we have fundamentally to change the role of teachers. They need, as John Hattie has suggested, to become much better noticers of their own actions. As learners and researchers they can do this.
Along with ASCL, SSAT has invited the profession to redesign the system. In a think piece for them which is coming out later this month, Redesigning Schooling 2, What kind of teaching for
what kind of learning?, Guy and I have focused on the fundamental rethinking which we believe is called for. We have posed four questions that every school leader needs to consider:
- What are, for your school, the desired outcomes of education (DOEs)?
- What kinds of learning, in your school, with your students, will deliver your DOEs?
- What kinds of teaching will lead to the kind of learning that is needed?
- What kind of leadership is required to create the kinds of teaching and learning which are desired, and so ensure that students leave your school with your DOEs?
Our own answers to these questions require teachers, unsurprisingly, to adopt an expansive view of their role. So, in shorthand they are:
- The DOEs are the kinds of capabilities which teachers in the expansive education network are assiduously being cultivated in schools up and down the land.
- The kinds of learning which will deliver such DOEs are those which explicitly seek to develop the kinds of capabilities which will enable young people to thrive.
- Teaching which can achieve this will necessarily encourage young people to undertake more enquiry-based exploration with the kinds of demanding roles this requires.
- And the leadership of all this will place a steely focus on pedagogy and learning in the midst of everything else.
All in all as we reach autumn and start a new school year we should collectively feel a spring in our steps and be confident that school leaders and practitioners can hold their nerve and not be swayed by the many short-term political debates swirling around them and, instead, focus on teaching and learning, on pedagogy.
A version of Bill’s blog also appears on the ASCL Great Education Debate site.