As children pass through, and then exit, the education system, they enter our shared society, which
perforce, is the society of the future. And it does not take that many years before the cumulative total
of those leaving the education system from the present onwards to has a major, if not dominant,
influence on the nature of that shared society.
By the same token, the active adult population of today has already passed through our education
system. A system which despite all the tweaks and government edicts that ‘this is the way to do it’ has
changed remarkedly little over the decades if not centuries. Now since the purpose of education is to
prepare children for an independent adult life, and today’s society is fractured and fractious, and many
other things too, it is reasonable to ask whether the current/existing/past system is actually doing a
very good job, despite all the measures of performance (exams, league tables etc) imposed upon
schools. Can we honestly claim that our educational ‘product’ is ‘world class’ or fit for our future?
And anyway, world class at what? Some parts might be considered ‘world class’ but the evidence of
our eyes (when we open them and look properly at the reality around us) suggests many parts are
Of course, there are other influences and events that impact us all, but surely a ‘world class’ system
would be building in resilience and would be capable of weathering the rough times.
Now, rather than hand wringing and ‘blaming someone else’, it might be more sensible to ask, and
answer(!) the following questions:
Is the current model (curriculum, school structure and operation etc.):-
• The right model for the future, despite being built in a very different past, but not
working very well.
• The right model but delivering the wrong thing or having the wrong focus (regardless
of doing them well or badly)?
Do we need:-
• To give the current model a new focus.
• A new model with a new focus, better suited to today and the future.
A focus on the child. A focus on producing children with the right attributes in a timely manner. A focus on developing the skills to use knowledge wisely. A focus on the flow of education, not the ‘silos’ of the current school system.
A process where each child is allowed to develop skills appropriate to each attribute (physical, social,
analytical, communication ….) based on their ability, and not the predefined, inflexible age-based class
and age group school system, where ‘ahead’ pupils have to wait – and get bored, and ‘behind’ pupils
get left further behind and disenfranchised.
A process where rather than the class / subject teacher, head teachers or a school as a whole being
measured against, and striving to perform better than, others; where teachers take ownership of the
flow of the individual child through the education pipeline and performance is measured by the
collective success of cohorts of children with each child discovering how much they are capable of
achieving or want to achieve.
A process where rather than each school trying (and failing) to provide adequate resources (which are
then not always used to capacity), groups of schools work together and agree, for example, that all
science lessons for all students in the group are delivered in one high quality facility at one location,
with another school / location hosting, say, sports. With the facilities leveraged, and with many pupils
on-site doing the same subject- proper ability-based groups can be created – impossible when there
is only 1 flute player and a guitarist in a school, or just 3 bright scientists.
A process where staff costs, resourcing and career development are managed across a group of
schools rather than the silo of an individual school, thereby making collaboration easier, and reducing
the need for a teacher to have to relocate (and uprooting their family) to get promotion. And so on.
A process that is based on ‘what can we do together to help achieve……’, ‘what can we do to enable
you….’, ‘how can we achieve collective or mutual benefit’. And not ‘this is my school…’, ‘you can
achieve anything (except I am going to put innumerable obstacles in your way) or ‘I am better than
you’ or ‘I came first, thus everybody else is a failure).
A process in which influences or constraints, underlying philosophies, or just simple old-fashioned outof-date technology from the very different past are quietly and gracefully retired, to be replaced by
ideas, underlying principles, technology advances and social norms appropriate not for today, but
appropriate for the future. A future norm disruptively different after the Covid pandemic.
Now there are many examples where the system is being significantly changed and challenged. It is
clear that formal groups like Multi Academy Trusts, or less formal but just as effective collaborations
like the Dorchester Schools Network (amongst many other examples) can offer the opportunity for
the existing schools to do things better, and begin to go to a flow model as much as possible (a silo
model with some flow elements). There is a need, perhaps an imperative, to go even further and make
radical changes that would create a flow model, (with inevitably some silo elements) properly fit for
the future – the future in which todays 10-year olds will be celebrating the year 2100.
The flow model, and to a certain extent the silo model too, could perhaps take an even more
fundamental re-examination of the process of education.
Schools have developed over the decades and centuries largely based on contemporaneous
conventions and the past experiences of the those then in charge, Governments through the ages
have sought to put their stamp on the education system (No, this is the right way……., No that is the
right way). The reasons for making these claims? Could it be because those making them did well 40
years earlier in the system in vogue at the time they were being educated? (‘Well it worked for me,
ergo it must work for everyone else’).
With the advent and very fast developing remote learning (individual) and remote teaching (virtual
classes), what if we began to separate the form of education (how it is delivered) from the function –
learning academic, physical and social skills etc.
What if the physical school was the place the children met to play, gain social skills, sports, certain
resource intensive subjects. More individual e-learning could be done remotely from home, or virtual
serviced classrooms – (on the line of serviced offices) in the high street, or even at the physical school
if needed. It worth pointing out that many parents are reluctant to let children ‘go out to play’ when
at home. Well, let them play with their friends in the safe environment of the school, and do the
individual learning in the safety of their home!
Or if that is a step too far – children still go the ‘school’ and meet as now, but during the maths class
(all held at the same time amongst the group of schools), for example, one teacher in one school can
run the advanced e-maths lesson, another in another location run the intermediate level and so on.
What if, with so much homeworking now taking place (a significant proportion of the workforce) and
therefore no need to commute and therefore more time at home (by the way – this means they are
less likely to have to move home to get a better job or promotion, meaning more stable communities)
could these very same people become engaged more in the education process – even if it as assistants
to qualified teachers.
What if we all embraced diversity in every form by doing away with the enforced segregation of silo
schools wanting to protect their heritage (not, you note, protecting their fundamental role in
preparing current and future children for the different future). What if children were taught (or saw
from role model exemplars) that it is possible disagree with, or have a different view point to
somebody, without saying ’you are wrong, I am right, and I am going to berate you, disparage you,
disrespect you (or even beat you up) for disagreeing with me.’
What if the new process cemented in place the critical importance of giving children the best start at
junior school –setting them in the right direction – rather than having hero (or stressed out) teachers
at senior schools spending most of their time correcting earlier mistakes, or ‘bringing everyone up to
the same speed’.
What if every child were truly empowered – with the help of teachers – to reach a level they felt
comfortable with. What if we did away with the notion that more money, more senior job (but longer
hours, less family time) was the normal – almost forced down the throat – expectation or pressure.
And that we recognised that wanting (no, the right to have) a good work/home balance is not just OK
but the right thing. The aspirational thing. Believe you me, it can be challenging – but so much more
Just imagine these two scenarios. In 2030 nothing has changed from today – except its much worse in
the new norm after Covid. Are we going to be still wringing our hands, complaining that ‘it’ssomebody
else’s fault’ and producing a bad product that has meant the UK is way behind the game globally? And
will the rest of the world be falling over with laughter and saying: ‘look at little old UK, a quaint living
museum… haven’t they noticed the world has changed since the supposed glories of the British
Empire?’ Wouldn’t it be better, much, much better to be thinking ‘I am so glad they (well we, as we
were the ones making the change) got their act together and brought education into the 21st century’
After all, leaders do things first. Followers are behind, usually further and further.
I know which scenario I prefer!
Dr Oliver Bangham