Edfest: debate – the future for schools

This promises to be interesting. Claxton on skills vs Christodoulou on knowledge vs Jan Hodges, CEO of a vocational education foundation.

Where are schools going to be in 15-20 years time, asks Ian Fordham, chairing.

Daisy starts by being optimistic. There have been a lot of innovations which have had a positive impact. She’d like to see teacher training reformed to included cognitive psychology and the difference between working memory and long term memory. Secondly classroom practice should be at the heart of what education is about. There should be a greater recognition of the importance of knowledge for all cognition, and practice for mastery. She also hopes to see more research based practice with empirical support.

Jan now talks about the importance of a strong education core to vocational courses… She’s speaking the language of my accompanying colleague, Louise. It’s not just for the thick kids! Employers who help devise the curriculum give students valuable life and employment skills.

Guy agrees with a lot of this. He says the “valued residues” of curricula in other countries are life skills and that we are behind because we have no clear sense of educational goal. He quotes Ken Robinson (and I imagine half the room mentally wincing). We are still captured, he says, by the idea that education is prep for university. What about the 50% who don’t go? Discourse on content and assessment is a mischievous irrelevance. Brightness is measured by a narrow set of criteria.

Questions now. How can we change things if education continues to be politicised? Who should be responsible for changing things? And Sir Cyril Taylor, again, making a self-promoting statement, again (3rd time today, I think). I didn’t follow it his question, which was apparently in there somewhere.

Jan says there is a link between better vocational education (Cyril insists “technological” is better) and high youth employment. Guy says some of his most successful schools have fomented a conversation about the purpose of the school with all stake-holders. That culture provides a nutrient for improving progress. Flexibility in time periods is also vital – 3 day lessons, 10 minute lessons etc

Daisy picks up Annie’s question about politics and indicates academies as a place free of central government intervention, allowing schools to do really innovative things.

More questions: how do we develop skills? How do young teachers promote it against middle leader resistance? What is the place of higher education?

Daisy agrees that we need a clear vision, but we need a route map to get there. Knowledge is really important. Schools can be resistant to change but leading by example is good. Reminded of what Martin Bean said earlier: enthusiastic teachers lead, become the rock stars; fence sitters want a piece of it and follow; the curmudgeons? Forget about them.

Claxton tries to answer the higher ed Q but doesn’t have a prepared answer and is ribbed for it by Ian following his earlier comments about BLP preparing students for unexpected questions, which he doesn’t seem to take well.

Hodges says she is surprised that the higher education system has lasted in its current incarnation as long as it has, and talks about the Edge Hotel, a hotel that students run as their course. She also says that the rate of funding for 16-18yos is a scandal and holding them back.

Another question about preparing students for jobs we are unaware of allows Jan to say that vocational skills are transferable and provides a variety of examples. It is for everyone and can bring enormous benefits to the students and the country. Louise wants to hug her, and Louise is not a hugger.

Daisy is a bit more sceptical about the unknown future jobs. Letters and numbers are ancient, but vital tools. Good general knowledge is useful for all jobs. Look anew at knowledge and remember that it makes up a lot of what we think is valuable.

Guy would rather be a grass roots activist than haunt the corridors of power.

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