What’s New? On 3rd May 2007 Educentre Ltd was appointed by a large, well established property development group to identify, project manage and run the first 5 Educentre Franchise Trust Schools in the UK. If you would like to know more about Educentre Franchise Schools and how your state or private school might be selected into our programme, please visit www.GreatSchoolsForEveryone.com
Since the turn of the year, those who lead the education debate in the UK, have singled out the lack of an adequate managerial cadre to oversee school transformation, as the most important factor holding back school improvement. This is THE issue for 2007. Notwithstanding this growing consensus, there remains a mission-critical split between those who want to go back to the future and those who know that the future must be radically different. In other words, it’s not just about leadership, but about leadership to where and for what purpose? Only when we know this, will we know what type of leaders we need to get us there - and keep us there in a self-sustaining manner.
The ’Back to the Future’ camp is led by Chris Woodhead, ex Chief Inspector of OFSTED, now The Sunday Times agony aunt for education. Ridiculing The Department of Education, he recently lambasted it’s identification of ‘Personalised Learning’ as the means by which educational standards will be raised in the future. His article in The Sunday Times January 14th asserted “…learning cannot be personalised…learning French
grammar is learning French grammar. Full stop. Good teachers will help individual pupils overcome their individual problems, as they have always done, but beyond this platitude the concept of ‘personalisation’ has no meaning.”
But surely “helping individual pupils overcome their individual problems” is not a platitude but the WHOLE point? Do this for every pupil all the time and we have no education problem. If it is so obvious, so easy, so platitudinous, why is it not being done everywhere, all the time by all these wonderful teachers who are evidently so plentiful? Indeed, why has it never been done systemically in the past? Did or even do grammar schools’ ‘good’ teachers really help individual students over come individual problems, all the time? Is that how they got/get their success? Was/is that their secret? Or is it that they have the brightest, most motivated pupils in the first place? They are indeed great institutions but let’s not over-egg the pudding; they are not a general panacea.
So by all means bring back the grammars, cream off the cream, but what are you going to do about the other 80% Mr Woodhead? Should they all, at the dawn of 21st first century knowledge economy, be apprenticed out as carpenters and plumbers? Or should we raise our aspirations and believe that most people have the brains to get GCSEs, A levels and yes, degrees if only they have the opportunity. They might still choose to be plumbers - it’s a satisfying profession - but they will have had that choice AND they will be armed with the intellectual and psychological tools to recognise and help mitigate internal anger when it enters their minds and thereby avoid the aggressive and ignorant tirades that we as a nation have witnessed this month in Big Brother.
So do have your grammar schools, bring back selection, hot house your early developers, go back to the future, if that really chalks your board; but if you are equally concerned that everyone else should also progress, indeed, if you are even remotely concerned that hot-housing is also an educational abuse of sorts, then we need a real transformation in what we mean by education. We need to acknowledge that learning technology can now do for education what Henry Ford did for car production with the Model T, so that everyone can live the dream; but this time the dream is not a standardised product – French grammar by rote – but a wholly personalised experience made possible by the correct alignment of technology, labour specialisation and building design in our schools.
It means a school having the time, the moral framework and operational structure to manage children’s emotional needs first so that they become independent learners who switch between formal lectures given by specialist superstar teachers and informal, same ability, personalised learning groups, who are assisted by an array of specialist subject, emotional and learning platform mentors. Of course, all this can happen whilst technology, quietly humming in the background, collects all the concrete evidence necessary so that student, teacher and school performance is assessed on a real time basis and does not need heavy handed inspection teams or corruptible and over-bearing examination systems to throw light on school performance and achievement. League tables? Don’t make me laugh. Parents will be able to log on and judge schools properly, real time. And add their own feedback – which is what they will really read and listen to in the end anyway.
All of this can be afforded within the existing state budget. Money is not the problem. The problem is leadership, accountability and sustainability. These three issues are inextricably linked. These are the problems that everyone else is focusing on Mr Woodhead because such is the scale of the transformation that we are seeking, it needs a new management cadre to see it through.
And so Price Waterhouse have recommended in their recent report, commissioned by DFES, that new school businesses be run by CEOs
And so, Stephen Crowe, CEO of BECTA and Steve Boss, Strategic Director at PFS (Partnership for Schools) are focusing on leadership and sustainability as the key issues for 2007 – and the key role of governors.
And so the press is today full of reports on the Lord Adonis Spectator interview published in tomorrow’s edition. Missing the point, The Daily Mail leads with the headline on page 4 “It was wrong to close grammars, admits Blair’s education guru.” The Sun, unusually, also misses the point but at least includes the most important sentence from the interview: “Adonis Cam Slip – Lord Adonis is sure to face the fury of Labour MPs for his comments. He said: “The issue ahead – both for Gordon when he’s PM and also because at some stage in the future there will be a conservative government – isn’t about education policy. It’s about the energy and drive of delivering it. ” ”
Yes, the whole debate now comes down to this: Leadership. But as anyone who is or has been a governor will tell you, governors don’t have the time - and frankly aren’t paid - for taking the time or taking the necessary risks, to run any modern school, let alone turn it into a local knowledge multiplex at the heart of the local knowledge community of the 21st century, which will opens its doors to the whole community: which IS what they need to do. This vision is a business, with a free state school thriving at its heart, but where all the other services enhance the attraction and appeal of the school to today’s streetwise students.
That sort of leadership, that sort of accountability, that sort of sustainable business model will only emerge when the private sector is allowed to provide additional capacity, on its own risk, to compete equally within the public sector.
That’s why the government passed the Education Act 2006. That’s why it wants school’s to convert to trust status and own their own assets. That’s how governors WILL have the time, energy and and drive to see this transformation through: because over half their governors will be selected from, and partnered with, a wider educational franchise with a broader, holistic vision to deliver knowledge based products to everyone in the local community; not just the Crème de la Crème.
I am now making good progress with a powerful consortium to realise this vision and build, initially, 10 educentres. If you would like to find out more, join the consortium, or attend one of our upcoming conferences visit the following site:
The following article on Lord Adonis’s alleged ‘U’ turn shows that this blog is spot on in its interpretation of the new Education Bill as Education’s “Big Bang”.
Please read the article and then download the PDF of this blog to understand why you should join our Ethical Private Equity State School Fund.
It’s a BIG, new opportunity. Get in touch with us now email@example.com 01825 724303 and let us help you to make it happen.
The Daily Mail (20/10/2006) page 25
By Laura Clark Education Reporter
A MINISTER performed a drastic U-turn yesterday by announcing Labour was seeking to revive direct grant schools. Schools Minister Andrew Adonis wants to create a 21st century version of the privately-run schools at which the state bought places for bright children. James Callaghan’s government abolished the direct grant system in 1976, denying poorer children entry to some of the nation’s best schools.
Lord Adonis says he is in talks with up to 20 private schools which want to switch to the direct grant system. Under the old system, the Government paid for poorer pupils to go to selective private schools such as the highly-rated Manchester Grammar.
Lord Adonis wants leading private schools to join the city academy scheme. The schools would have to abolish fees and selection tests but would be self-governing and answerable to the Department for Education rather than local councils. All places would be funded by the Government. The hope is that state pupils would enjoy the standard of education delivered by successful independent schools. Two private schools have already revealed they want to become academies – Belvedere School in Liverpool and William Hulme’s Grammar in Manchester. Both will abolish fees and selection. Lord Adonis said the 20 private schools he was talking to wanted to opt wholesale into the state sector through the academy scheme.
Others could sponsor academies or form links with state schools. ‘ We will re- establish a modern version of the direct grant schools,’ said Lord Adonis. But Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: ‘The key thing about direct grant schools was they had a guaranteed separate income stream. ‘It will be interesting to see whether the special ethos of these schools can be preserved once they become academies.’ Direct grant schools were introduced by the 1944 Education Act. They became either state grammars or private schools in 1976.
In 1980, the Tories introduced the assisted places scheme as a substitute for direct grant schools.
These gave bright pupils from modest backgrounds help with fees at public schools. Labour scrapped the scheme in 1997.
The Moral Market: If the next 5 years were going to be like the last 40, then I would say the probability of making any real improvement in education would be near zero but I feel that we are at an historic turning point and that is why politics is suddenly so interesting again. Why?
Because the experiment with hugely increased public expenditure without public sector reform is over (Gordon Brown has spent an extra £100 billion on health alone and a not dissimilar amount in education, but to no avail. Public expenditure has risen from 37% of GDP to 44%. It can’t go higher and his projections for the next 5 years show that he knows this).
But the public clamour to improve standards will only get stronger. Gordon’s boxed in. Cameron is boxed in and so we are at an historic inflection point. What on earth can they say they’re going to do about it?
The answer is management. The spotlight is going to shine on the reasons why monopoly - i.e. public sector - management always disastrously under performs compared to management where there is true competition.
Why do multi-millionaires not leave all their money to their children? Why do all the main religions stress the need for regular, daily rituals?
The answer is the same in every case: basic human instincts operate in such a way that if we are too comfortable, we sit back, become complacent, defensive, arrogant and ultimately depressed (see Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life by Abbott Christopher Jamison)
The government or its proxy, tries to cope with this by setting the public sector organisation daily rituals too: management by endless targets - which are never hit; mandating proscriptive ways of working, like compulsory curriculums, which distort and impede.
But even such rituals are too comfortable, remote and irrelevant. Public sector jobs are jobs for life. There is little or no personal risk. Targets and bureaucracy are all too easy to manipulate and always become corrupted over time. Of course there are many wonderfully altruistic public sector servants; but experience shows that, despite this, public sector monopolies don’t work.
The only ritual that works is one which exposes the individual or the organisation to the reality of competition. I think good religious ritual makes people conscious that good and bad forces are always competing for their attention. The ritual makes them conscious of this and provides a way of coping with and managing that competition.
The reason why properly competitive markets are ethical is because the organisation is made conscious of doing the good or bad thing and is directly exposed to the consequences. The judges of how they are behaving are their clients, the people, who express their judgement by staying with the organisation or switching to another which is doing more of the good things.
Society can still express its collective altruistic intentions by using the ballot box to mandate the collection of taxes to serve a purpose e.g. state education, but the mandate is executed via a moral market i.e. one that is established by a democratic mandate and is properly competitive.
At a macro level the economics are the same. The government will collect £70 billion in tax and spend it on education for everyone. At a micro level the economics are radically different.
End of Proscribed Curriculum? Is there anyone who stills thinks schools should be forced to teach every child multiple subjects when half of them have not even mastered one? Let’s put the horse before the cart and let schools teach subjects in the way and in the order that they see fit. The academies already have almost complete freedom to move away from the curriculum. The education bill will extend this right to all schools who opt into ‘trust’ status. So the required change is almost upon us and teachers, or more particularly, senior school management will no longer have the excuse that ‘it’s all the government’s fault’.
End the over-testing of our children and let’s stop distorting their education? Over-testing will also be a thing of the past if an online learning platform is properly implemented because all the stakeholders will be able to see transparently from the platform how the student is progressing. You don’t need heavy handed testing when you are delivering a truly personalised learning programme. So once again, teachers and school management will soon no longer be able to say ‘it’s all the government’s fault’
Can teachers do it all? I think the sort of change we’re talking about is a tough call to expect every teacher to invent on the fly. I think the school management need to create the conditions where the teachers can then take the lead. New ways of working enables teacher specialisation so that they do have the time they need. Recent research shows that young teachers are now adding a lot more value to student’s learning because they have just been using new technologies at university and know very well that it is going to transform aspirations via changing antiquated working practices.
The new school model
Delivering educational services via a moral market means that school organisations will have to compete for their clients, to serve their students and parents. This means that they will have to produce a business model to convince investors that they can satisfy client demand over the long term. The focus will not be so much on whether or not they make a profit – although that will be important - but whether they can keep parental allegiance over the long-term, for without it they will they will not survive.
From Chile to China, from The Netherlands to India it is now clear that private sector competition in education works; especially for the poorest people in the poorest countries. See this award-winning, ground breaking research Educating Amaretch: Private Schools for the poor and the new frontier for investors by James Tooley of Newcastle University.
Sweden introduced school vouchers 10 year ago as a means to this end and since this time there has been an explosion in the provision of modernised school capacity, real competition between schools and consequently a rise in educational standards. The parents there now have an effective choice. “The main lesson to be learned from the Swedish reforms is that school choice works,” concluded Swedish economists and researchers Mikael Sandström and Fredrik Bergström in a January 2003 study for the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.
But the Educentre model shows that all this can be done in the UK - including building the educentre - for the same total price that the government is spending now per pupil per annum i.e. £5800.
It could well be that we have to build a private school first and then wait for the government to get to where they need to by the back door of ‘outsourcing’ to us; as they are doing all over the place in the NHS.
But I live in hope that it might just be quicker than that because politicians have no place to go now. Could the slogan The Moral Market for Education be Gordon’s Big Idea?
We live in real hope: that’s why politics is suddenly so exciting. The Moral Market is the way to reform public services; and there’s no getting away from this conclusion, there’s no room for manouevre and there is a now global body of evidence to prove it.
Three crucial articles on the future not only of the UK education industry but also for the UK investment industry were published in the Sunday papers on October 1st 2006. Links to them are copied below and the full text has been added to this blog’s October PDF for reference purposes.
- Labour has a new agenda for the Tories
- Sell off the three Rs to really deliver education
- Sorry, you can’t have a new school, it might be popular
The articles explain why in Britain the private sector and investment industry are about to transform the public sector in education and health, just as has already been achieved in a wide range of sectors going back to 1979. Education and health will soon no longer be out of bounds to market based reform because in countries like Sweden, who introduced school vouchers for parents 10 years ago, there has been an explosion in choice for parents and in rising school standards. The fact is competition between schools works from Chile to China, from India to The Netherlands and, as these articles make clear, it must now come to Britain.
The only question is who is going to be given the priviledge to make this life-enhancing choice: Gordon Brown, John Reid or David Cameron? The Education Bill has put that choice onto the statute books, now the only important remaining obstacle is how the national adjudicator at DFES interprets the new statutory obligation on local authorities to ‘promote choice’.
The media is currently full of questions like: “Why are our twentysomethings so depressed when they have more materially than any other generation?”; “Why do opinion polls show that more than a third of muslims in the UK feel alienated from mainstream British society?”; “Why is the youth culture of ‘happy slapping’ growing?”; “Why do our politicians command so little respect?”; and yesterday in the Trevor Kavanagh blog at The Sun, Trevor asked how anyone could believe in crazy conspiracy theories such as ‘9/11 was an inside job’: “It is appalling that educated young men and women born and bred in Britain believe and spout this claptrap.”
Of course, the reason is that most of our young men and women are not educated. Not properly. They don’t understand what constitutes knowledge or what constitutes belief. They cannot distinguish fact from fiction.
Apart from the appalling statistic - according to the latest government report – that nearly 15m people in the UK are “barely literate or numerate” (and nearly half our children still leave school in a similar condition every year) the sad truth is that 2400 years after Socrates and Plato, most people have no theory of knowledge to guide them throughout their lives. No wonder they’re confused and gullible.
It doesn’t have to be like this
This lack of education has the power to corrode every aspect of an individual’s life and, we can now see, every aspect of a nation’s life. The problem is not so much what we do teach our children but what we don’t teach them. Our education system has created a mental vacuum in children which not only deprives them of any intellectual rigor but also leads to their emotional incontinence: unfettered anger, envy, pride, gluttony, extravagance, greed, and sloth all jostle for supremacy in empty minds uneducated in how these instincts can eat away at the human spirit. Don’t believe me? Then read Toxic Childhood published recently by Sue Palmer.
If you teach children nothing, then nothing is what you will get: and that nothing will be filled with whatever they happen to bump into: sometimes good; but sometimes bad.
Today we stand at a cross-roads
We’ve traveled 150 years along the path of ideology and rhetoric. We’ve failed. We’re still failing at least half our children. Now the combination of new technologies and long overdue deregulation mean that we have a new chance to fill the mental vacuum for all our children, so that they are equipped not just to find a job but to contemplate intellectually the significance of everything that they and those around them say and do.
Of course there will be those who would scoff at such a Utopian goal but what is the alternative: an ever growing mental vacuum at the heart of our society which presents ever greater dangers until either our society disintegrates or an authoritarian regime rises to control the vacuum?
Societies are always evolving
Once upon a time our society was regulated by warlords and religious creeds; often both at the same time. We moved on and society became regulated by a mixture of the rule of law, customs, habits and competing ideologies. Now we are evolving again. The sign that this is happening is the mental vacuum that we have created in the schools of the modern, westernised societies.
Presently this mental vacuum is being filled by marketeers or extremists who stimulate one or other of the above instincts. How conscious are we of how those instincts are being targeted? We have free will but how free is free if it is uninformed? What are our intellectual defenses against being manipulated in this way? What psychological damage is done to us over the years by such manipulation?
Karl Marx famously said “Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” Now we know that there are other chains to lose: the chains of ignorance, the chains of an absolute educational poverty which renders our children incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction, incapable of regulating and managing their instincts, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation by those who do understand these forces. For good or ill: others will decide for them because their faculty to discriminate lies dormant.
This might be hilariously entertaining as we watch our society decline into ever greater levels of debauchery and superficiality, if it were not at the same time so dangerous, with the rise of random violence, envy, anger and the dark shadow of fundamentalism which would return all of us – and particularly our women - to The Dark Ages.
All this is our own fault
We have created this mental vacuum and we continue to nurture it inadvertently. It doesn’t matter whether we are discussing ‘bog standard’ comprehensives, new specialist schools and ‘Academies’, the Building Schools for the Future programme, or even the privileged fee paying school network; it doesn’t matter whether we are discussing Britain, France or the USA: this mental vacuum in children exists everywhere in the westernised world.
The anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that we have made no progress since that disaster; indeed, the increasing prevalence of conspiracy theories as discussed in yesterday’s Sun newspaper indicates that we are getting even deeper into the quagmire of ignorance. Our governments seem powerless to reverse the trend: fighting a war in Iraq or Afganhistan might or might not be a necessary expedient but at best it could only ever kill the problem temporarily; it will never cure it; only education will do that.
And so the time has come for us all to fill the mental vacuum. But what exactly are we going to fill it with and who can guide us?
In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Dogberry asks of the watch: “Are you good men and true? The play descends into chaos but ultimately Dogberry’s comic ineptitude is made to serve the sense of a providential force overseeing the fortunate restoration of social and emotional order.
The phrase was adapted later to ‘twelve good men and true’, indicating the twelve (originally men, now both sexes) of a criminal jury: twelve dependable men or women overseeing the justice upon which our social and emotional order ultimately depends.
Today we can see that it is no longer sufficient to rely upon twelve good men and true restoring order because the horse has already bolted. Today we need to ask our Twelve Good Men and True to address the root of the problem by establishing a new social and emotional order in our schools so that the mental vacuum there is filled with something which enables all our children to distinguish fact from fiction and to understand and manage their instincts and emotions.
For too many years this challenge has been beyond us: lack of resources, competing ideologies, conflicting political priorities have all worked against real reform; but today is different. New technologies, overdue deregulation and the dawning era of Practical Politics mean that the time for change is upon us and what we need now are Twelve Good Men - and True to steer a path towards a new social and emotional order in our schools which ensures not only that all our children fulfill their educational potential but that they have the mental skills not only to resist manipulation by extremists but to rise above a life dedicated to the mindless consumption of superficial fixes.
So who might these Twelve Good Men and True be and what would they say?
We are looking for a new solution; a “best of all worlds” education environment which embraces all the seemingly incompatible theories of education and learning of the past 50 years; a new synthesis which forges them into a single cohesive – and above all practical - solution which actually gets the job, of educating ALL our children, done. We are not looking to return to a ‘Golden Era’ because we don’t believe that there ever was one. We want to treat people, our children, as they are today; not as we would like to think they once were years ago. Above all, we want to embrace positively the new ways that they communicate and interact with one another and all the new technologies that will define the 21st Knowledge Century.
Our Twelve Men - and True therefore need to be an eclectic group, who understand the old and the new and are united in their core desire to design a new education system which finally eradicates absolute education poverty and helps all children to achieve their education potential. Who might these twelve people be and what sort of conversation may they have?
The Anthropologist: will tell us how people actually live today.
The Psychiatrist: will help us to understand why people are living the way do, today.
The Teacher: will help us to understand what it is like to teach in a classroom today.
The Philosopher: will help us to categorise all of this information and view it in perspective.
The Consultant: will be chairman of this conversation and introduce new speakers
The Technologist: will describe new ways of doing old things
The Lawyer: will describe the new responsibilities that the new ways of doing things imposes
The Economist: will describe the advantages of doing old things in a new way
The Politician: will describe why deregulation will help the new things to happen
The Architect: will design a building which allows the new things to happen
The Business Man: will underwrite the risk of doing the new things so that our bankers provide all the necessary funding
The Operator: will run the new facility in the new way
Act I: The Anthropologist, The Psychiatrist, The Teacher and The Consultant:
An internet chat room…
The Anthropologist: “I spoke to a girl recently who claimed she was addicted to shopping. She said no one believed her. It doesn’t really matter what she buys, she says, she just needs to go shopping. Gets a kick out of it.”
The Psychiatrist: Yeah, speaking of teenage addiction, did you know that 61% of UK kids between 13 and 17 belong to social networking sites like BEBO, or MySpaces? It’s like a 24/7 cocktail party. Connecting through talking online activates the pleasure centres in the brain especially for girls. We’re not talking a small amount of pleasure either, we talking a huge dopamine and oxytocin rush, the biggest fattest neurological reward you can get outside of an orgasm”
The Anthropologist: Crikey, no wonder sites like secondlife are taking-off. They combine shopping and social networking. Of course shopping is probably more about social networking than what they actually buy but at secondlife they get to do both in a virtual 3D world, when they want, 24/7, without having to leave the house. A 24/7 pleasure binge.
The Teacher: God, so they’re actually on a ‘high’ when they’re doing this stuff and my class is their bloody low! Cold turkey!
The Psychiatrist: Ummm, more of this sort of stuff is flagged-up in Sue Palmer’s book ‘Toxic Childhood’ which leads to the increasing phenomenon of teenage and twentysomething depression. Their lives have been a roller-coaster of shopping and social networking highs. They’ve probably had more dopamine, oxytocin and carbohydrate rushes than any generation in history. Come to think of it, they’ve probably had more orgasms than any generation in history! And more alcohol. No wonder they get cold turkey from time to time, they need ever higher highs to keep getting high: “Happiness isn’t good enough for me, I demand euphoria.”
The Anthropologist: And when the euphoria goes, they feel depressed?
The Psychiatrist: And they feel that they’re a failure. Their self confidence falls because everywhere they look, everyone else seems to be having a great time.
The Teacher: And anger. Anger is another symptom; and frustration, cynicism, boredom. This is the sort of low-level disruption I have to deal with in every class:
“Miss, I need to go toilet”
“But we’ve just come in from the lunch break Cloe, you had loads of time.”
“Oh miss, miss I gotta go, I’m gonna go now miss aren’t I, Hanna!!!!!!!!!!”
The Psychiatrist: Ummm, emotionally incontinent or entertainingly inventive depending upon your point of view.
The Teacher: And they’ve come to expect regular emotional highs as their right, their mental modus operandi in everything they do.
The Anthropologist: That’s right, whether it’s TV, their iPod, social networking sites, or shopping we’re talking about a sort of developing natural right to 24/7 personal entertainment.
The Teacher: And if we can’t entertain them then they see us as irrelevant or even incompetent. Hence the switch-off, even in the relatively able kids.
The Consultant: So why don’t you switch them on? Or switch-off the artificial highs?
The Teacher: Hello! What world do you live in? Have you any idea how hard the average teacher works? How can we compete with the sort of highs we been talking about here let alone switch them off? Have you seen the average school? Have you seen the average home? Do you know how the mind of the average teenager works?
“Ooh, I have a choice: do I wanna spend the day at my antiquated old school – there’s one in every town - or go to the glitsy new Trafford centre down the road? Ummm, that’s a difficult one: I’ll need to think it over for a nano-second or two. Ahh, I see, you’re gonna force me to go to that school. No sure that’s fine. It’s cool. Yeah, that’s a great way to start any relationship: Respect. You don’t respect me and I, err, will respect you. Sure, and Watford will win the Premiership this year”
The Consultant: True. There’s no contest. But is there not some way this energy can be embraced? These kids are showing an extraordinary degree of motivation and tenacity in using all these gadgets, social networking sites and shopping facilities. Does the contrast between their actual world and their school world have to be so great? Is there not a way that schools can be modernised not just in the way they look but in how they operate so that they compete on more equal terms; so that the kids at school get a different and more profound sort of high?
The Teacher: How do you mean, modernised? What sort of high could you ever get at school?
The Consultant: Well, for the sake of argument let’s imagine that resources were unlimited and you had all the money in the world to build a new school centre whose facilities, for example, looked as new and exciting as the Trafford shopping centre. What would you do at the new centre to make sure that kids really wanted to come there? Imagine you’re at the beginning, back to the basics, to the first question: what would you ideally like to provide for the kids and how would you tempt them to want it and to come to get it, voluntarily, at the school centre?
The Teacher: Well, I want to educate them of course. All of them. No. Actually, I want them to educate themselves; but helped by us. No, sorry….actually I want them to respect themselves; to love themselves; because if they have that, anything is possible. Of course I want all of them to stand on their own two feet and I want them to want to learn and go on learning throughout their lives. But knowing that we care about them, knowing that we are going to take the time to be there for them, always. Ideally, that’s what I would want. A forlorn wish of course but you asked me to ask the first question; because if we really care for them and have the time to care for them, that will give them a genuine feeling of self-worth, and that will give them the confidence to progress from there; helped by us.
The Psychiatrist: Sounds a lot like The Kids Company, where is it..yes, let me read from their website: “Kids Company was established in December 1996 to provide emotional, practical and educational support to profoundly vulnerable young people.
The organisation is based upon psychotherapeutic principles and seeks to provide an environment where relationships of empathy and attachment can be fostered between young people and trusted adults.
The organisation is inclusive, child focused and views behavioural difficulties in the context of emotional hurt”
The Anthropologist: Yes I’ve heard of them; that place really works. But the problem is the kids who go there are generally desperate, alone, abused: it’s their last refuge. Most of the kids we’re talking about don’t even recognise they have a problem and nor do their parents. They’re quite happy getting all their dopamine highs from shopping, social networking, whatever; until it’s too late.
The Psychiatrist: We even have a problem with the supposedly successful kids. Have you read The Price of Privilege, just published by the psychiatrist Dr Madeline Levine? She says that many of the apparent high achievers – well mannered, picked for the right sports teams, straight As – inside are seething with rage and self-loathing because they dread falling short of their ‘helicopter’ parents’ expectations as they hover over and control everything that they do. Children from affluent homes are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than the average teenager. Since the 50s, the number of adolescent suicides has quadrupled. “People who have too much done for them suffer a kind of theft and have low self-esteem and lack inner confidence.”
The Teacher: OK, so what we’re saying is that all kids are profoundly vulnerable: poor kids; rich kids; average kids; whether we’re talking about desperately abused kids, or kids who have been loved too much, or average kids who seek out as many highs as they can get, we’re talking about applying psychotherapeutic principles for all these kids, right?
The Psychiatrist: In it’s broadest sense, yes. I mean if you want to help someone or to change anyone’s behaviour in today’s world you have to recognise that you can’t do it by coercion or discipline or pressure…sorry, let me make that clearer: you don’t want to do it by coercion or discipline or pressure because you want them to recognise the better choice for themselves. You want them to develop those higher mental skills themselves because those skills will prepare them better for life. You want the school system to recognise that children always have a choice – especially when they are not at school or have left school - and you want the kids to be able to make better choices for themselves because they understand themselves why that choice is better - not because they will be punished if they don’t make that choice; or because you have quietly manipulated their vulnerable minds into making the choice that you want them to make; or because you have created an artificial world in your school where various real life choices don’t exist because they are proscribed or banned.
The Consultant: What do you mean by higher mental skills exactly?
The Psychiatrist: You’re changing a mindset right? Doesn’t matter whether you want an abused kid to forgive the past and move on, or you want the average kid to do more work and less play, or you want the rich kid to see through their parent’s agenda, you’re asking them all to rise above their present situation and see ‘the big picture’.
The Teacher: Yeah, and that’s a big ask for a kid! They’re hurt because they’re abused. They’re hurt because they don’t want to disappoint the parents that they love. They’re hurt because it’s painful coming down from yet another high. Hurt! Hurt! Hurt! You can’t just teach the big picture – whatever that is - Dr Spock fashion because they just ain’t listening. We’re back again to competing with the highs they get in their normal life outside school. If they were receptive to this sort of teaching, and you could keep their attention long enough to get the big picture across then frankly you’d be able to teach them anything, not just higher mental skills.
The Anthropologist: You have an agenda which is, how do you put it, to encourage the development of higher mental skills. This is your agenda, not theirs, right? But you can’t, by definition, impose your agenda because you’re talking about the working of someone else’s mind: either they internalise, understand and practice what you mean by higher mental skills, or they don’t: you can’t force them to it, no more than you can force someone to be happy. In fact what you’re really looking for is to build trust between you and them. Trust that you won’t abuse them. Trust that you won’t force your agenda on them. Trust that you won’t be disappointed for yourself or your institution, if they ‘fail’. Trust, in other words, that you truly care for them.
The Psychiatrist: You could argue that what we mean by higher mental skills is simply having self-respect and loving yourself properly: i.e. not assuming that because you were abused at home that you should take it personally or as a guide to your future relationships; not blaming yourself if your parents live their life through you and you don’t or can’t live up to their dearest hopes; understanding that you are only making a rod for your own back if you continually shower yourself with the temporary highs of shopping, social networking or some other form of transitory consumption instead of trying, at least some of the time, to give yourself the security of the deeper and more durable satisfaction that comes from a more profound understanding of yourself, your friends and family, your community, the wider world;
The Teacher: OK, so….to summarise: these are the psychotherapeutic principles we should apply to encourage the development of the higher mental skills; so that they can see the big picture; and therefore start to work better. Is that it?
The Psychiatrist: Sounds a bit trite I grant you, but it is true to say that if you start to understand that the reason for your particular hurt – and indeed other people’s hurt – is, despite appearances, a general condition of most people, most of the time, and that understanding and managing these different types of ‘hurt’ is part of what we are beginning to call emotional intelligence, then some of your frustrations, anger and hurt will begin to dissipate. If, in addition, you appreciate that developing your emotional intelligence first and foremost is the modus operandi of your school and that it’s avowed constancy in this regard is something that, above all else, you can trust over the long haul - come what may - then you will begin to have a higher opinion of yourself because you will know that there is someone somewhere who wants to understand you emotionally first, rather than requiring you to fit, rather like an automaton, into a neat curriculum box that they have, Blue Peter like, made earlier; before they even knew you.
And in asking these questions to gain this depth of understanding, the kid will have taken the crucial first step to becoming intellectual: perhaps not academically intellectual, but certainly emotionally intellectual; which is half the battle on the road to enabling all our children to fulfill their educational potential. And they will have got there, not because they’ve been forced to go to school, or forced to do their homework or pressurised to do this or that, but simply because they have understood it for themselves, once they have come to trust that the emotional support which has been given to them by the new type of school is not a gimmick, or a ship that passes in the night, but the fundamental operating ethos of the institution.
Easier said than done I guess: over to you!
The Teacher: So achieving an appropriate level of emotional intelligence is ‘The Eureka Moment’ we are seeking for all our children?
The Anthropologist: Sounds good folks but remember these kids are not on the psychiatrist’s couch. Nor are they likely to put themselves there. They have free will and they do not have the self-awareness that this analysis implies. I mean they don’t have the time to be self aware or to see the big picture! They are just living their life, going through the motions at school and hanging out like the rest of their peer group. They’re coping with their lot using the instinctive survival mechanisms that they see all around them in their own cultures.
The Teacher: Sure, but right now, in our culture, we’re not teaching them any emotional survival mechanisms; we haven’t got the time to allow higher mental skills to develop; there’s no big picture; That’s why they’re either confused, angry and hurt or trying ad hoc to fill in the mental vacuum by getting on some sort of high to dull the pain, relieve the boredom and make some sense of their lives. Whatever. This is where we came in to this discussion isn’t it?
The Consultant: OK, so they’re not going to get on the psychiatrist’s couch voluntarily and they haven’t got the time to be self-aware or to develop the higher mental skills, but that doesn’t mean that the analysis is wrong. We’re just not finished in our discussion yet.
The Teacher: Exactly. You said earlier that we should assume in this new type of school that resources were no problem? Correct?
The Consultant: Yes.
The Teacher: Well I have to believe that if resources are truly not a problem in this imaginary new school, then we can make it sufficiently attractive and do whatever it takes to make sure that students want to go there and we can help them all to get to and experience their ‘Eureka’ moment.
The Consultant: Good, so we’ve got some kids who are abused and hurt, others who are rich and hurt, others who are bored and hurt and others who are just about OK. How are you going to get the hurt ones to their eureka moment and how are you going get the OK ones to fulfill their potential? What resources would you need and how would you deploy them in the school?
Next article: Act II
Enter The Philosopher, The Technologist, The Architect, The Economist and The Lawyer
Amid the annual witch-hunt in the press on whether A level and GCSE standards have fallen or not, it easy to forget that according to the latest government report, nearly half of our children leave school every year barely numerate or literate: today there are 15 million adults in the UK who are in this condition of absolute educational poverty (see also Sunday Times 20/8/2006 “Half 16-Year-Olds Flop in Core Subjects”).
Our children and our teachers can only play the system that we have created for them; they can only play the team on the pitch. This annual ritual of public chastisement where we undermine all their collective hard work is demoralising and counter-productive: it is time we stopped this national habit of self-flagellation; it’s time we all got more positive; indeed it’s time for everyone to understand that actually, for the first time in history, we now have the wherewithal to eradicate educational poverty in the UK and to raise everyone’s educational achievement; not just at school, but throughout their lives. But to do this we have to drop our ideologies, change our outdated mind-set and make sweeping practical changes to how we design and operate our schools.
The best of all worlds is now possible
What if a solution existed to create the “best of all worlds” education environment which embraced all the seemingly incompatible theories of education and learning of the past 50 years and forged them into a single cohesive – and above all practical - solution which actually got the job, of educating ALL our children, done?
What if this solution, rather then being a new, untried, untested education theory imposed by the establishment on yet another generation of school children to see if it worked, was instead simply the final, missing piece of the jig-saw puzzle which completed the picture and showed us how all the other theories could be made to work properly in the right setting and at the appropriate time?
What if this solution unified the teaching profession, raised its morale and restored its status in every community?
Some what if!
Who would not embrace such an important ‘what if’ for society? A ‘what if’ that promised to eradicate absolute educational poverty for the benefit of the whole of society and raise everyone’s educational achievement throughout their lives.
Boring but important…
The solution to this ‘what if’ is so obvious that it has been staring us in the face for years and years. The reason that we keep missing it is because we actually think it is being done already; sort of. We think that it couldn’t possibly make that much difference if we did it a bit better; more frequently; more positively; more openly; and more constructively.
One of the big reasons we keep missing it is because an important part of doing it is actually very boring and we can’t quite see the point of doing anymore more of it. So we moan about it. How often do we hear teachers and administrators complaining “More bureaucracy! Who reads it anyway? It’s for the bean counters and the target setters and checkers: it’s not what education is about!”
We couldn’t be more wrong:
Doing it properly makes all the difference to every child’s education;
Doing it regularly empowers all the different learning theories to fulfill their potential in facilitating different types of learning styles, in different learning settings, at the appropriate time for every child;
Doing it positively and constructively gives every child belief. Belief that someone cares about them; that they are getting the right learning diagnosis both at the right time and all the time; that with such a profound level of support, they are special, everything is possible and the world really is their oyster;
Doing it consistently and transparently for everyone in the community builds the group ethos and cohesion of the school community: “the community truly respects and cares for me; I truly respect and care for the community; all of us is dependent upon each other in this community”
And finally, we don’t need to do it, at all: or more accurately, we can let machines do the boring and repetitive bit for us, so that we can contemplate the significance of the story that it tells us: a story about where we’ve been and where we are today: both as individuals and as a community. We can then reinterpret the story continually, discussing where we could go tomorrow and the various options to help us get there;
Teachers already do it already…always have; always will
The fact is teachers do it already, every day, in every class: but – no matter how good they are - they can’t do enough of it, and even when they’ve done it, they can’t always follow it through; until now.
What is it ?
‘It’ is knowing a student: What makes them tick? Their strengths; their weaknesses. What they think of your subject? Or the topic you’re covering in your subject? How they learn best? How they work best? Where they work best? What kind of support or obstacles they get at home? What they have learned so far in your subject? What they should do next? How they should do it? How they are progressing in all their other subjects? What other interests they have? What the strategy is for that student to turn them onto learning; and ideally, turn them into an independent learner? In short, how to tailor a plan so that that student fulfills their potential.
Collectively the answers to all these questions are held in the teacher’s head as ‘data’. The results of doing it, of getting to know a student, is data which is stored in the teacher’s head. Sometimes parts of this data are written down in feedback on student’s work or school reports or other forms of administrative bureaucracy; bureaucracy which has been designed on the highly inefficient ‘input once, use once’ basis and is therefore incapable of assisting teachers as part of their daily class routine.
Of course wherever and however this mission critical data is stored, it is clear that doing it is all about the collection, storage, dissemination, access to and analysis of student data.
Of course no teacher ever has the time to do enough of it: to find out all the answers to all these questions, for all their students, all of the time; and then hold all this data mentally in their head so that they can bring it to bear if and when they actually have the time and space to talk to their students one-to-one. And yet, the teacher is the only one who knows anything in the school in any detail about that student, in that subject, at that time.
And even if this remarkable feat of utter dedication and mental agility in data collection and memory were possible, no teacher would be able to create the requisite subject resources ad hoc to fit each student’s particular circumstances, and deliver those resources to the student in a tailored manner and then support each student differently in actually using those resources.
This critical follow-up process therefore, once we have all the data so that we know all there is to know about each and every student, is also all about the collection, memory, storage and distribution of another type of data; in this case learning content data.
So we can now see that doing it is all about collecting, storing and disseminating data; and that the instant availability of the various different kinds of data is the essential catalyst allowing all the stakeholders in a student’s learning journey to have a profound understanding of that student and to offer and access a profound level of support and learning resources, at every point in that learning journey.
But what does a profound understanding of the student and a profound level of learning support actually mean?
The profound importance of doing ‘it’ and of what ‘it’ allows us all to achieve
Today we have new technologies to do it effortlessly; to do it and make use of it as a normal part of every working day. Data collection, storage and dissemination will allow school managers to re-engineer how a school is designed and operates so that teachers in particular and school communities in general have the time to provide all their students with a profound level of support; where profound means ‘doing whatever it takes’ to enable each student to reach his or her potential.
Henceforth the new technologies will enable us to do it properly, regularly, constructively, positively, consistently, transparently and easily: and taken together, this will make a profound difference to the achievement of all our children.
It will also make a profound difference to the lives of the professionals who run our schools, so that these institutions, at the very heart of all our communities, can be organised into places of real stability and personal refuge for the whole local community, in an otherwise ever changing and uncertain world.
However doing whatever it takes: offering a profound level of support: means a total redesign
Whilst we have the technology, being able to ‘do whatever it takes’ is going to take a total redesign of the physical spaces in a school and a total redesign of the day-to-day operation of the school so that the benefits of the technology can be extracted and optimised.
Self-financing, provided we change our collective mind-sets
But such are the benefits to be reaped from this realignment of building design, learning technology and learning styles that these changes can all be financed within the existing state school budget; furthermore, they can be undertaken at the risk and expense of the private sector, so that the public sector is given not only much better value for money, not only much more capacity, but much more importantly, a real and permanent competition amongst multiple suppliers, to provide ALL our children with a proper education, not just half of them: this new private sector bargain, operating within the state sector, is one that no state, political party or ideology will be able to resist in the coming 21st century era of Practical Politics.
But some will try! So let’s look in more detail at why these changes are necessary and indeed, inevitable, and how they may arrive sooner than most people think possible.
Doing ‘whatever it takes’ means having the requisite resources to hand, all the time
Here’s a salutary lesson about how nearly all schools currently operate, or more accurately, don’t operate: my sister has a severely dyslexic son which means that he is unable to take effective notes in class. Now 18 he has been to four secondary schools, two in the UK and two in the USA. Each school was asked to provide her son with the relevant data on the resources that would be used in the forthcoming two weeks of his lessons so that her son would be able to pre-learn and revise the relevant topic so as not to fall behind his pier group. No school has ever cooperated with this common sense request. Why?
Why is it impossible to do ‘whatever it takes’?
Of course, each of these schools would have provided this data if they had it; but clearly they were not managed to be able to fulfill even this basic request. It follows that if the school is unable to provide data on the general resources to be used in each class over just the following two weeks, how much less could they provide data on the particular resources that an individual student might require to precisely fit that individual’s learning stage, at different times in that individual’s entire learning journey?
Why is this so? The answer is that heretofore schools have found little incentive to prepare data on learning resources in advance because at the end of the day the only option they have to deliver those resources is in one classroom, in one space, at one time, by the teacher directly: so why bother to prepare data for any other delivery scenario? Why bother to prepare a differentiated learning plan for every child when there is no practical way for the school or the teacher to implement a system of such complexity on such a large scale?
Just in time class preparation for one time only delivery to every child in a group is therefore the modus operandi of nearly all teachers, in all schools and it means that some children get left behind whilst others get bored, and still others fail to realise their full potential. Anything else is simply not possible or practicable. Until now. But a key question remains: are we prepared to change our outdated mind-set and put practicality before ideology?
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?”
So said the famous economist John Maynard Keynes. History shows us how circumstances and our environment are constantly changing and that occasionally when they do, whole industries and sometimes societies are turned upside down; sometimes over night. Expectations change; aspirations change; the consensus changes; priorities change; responsibilities change; laws change; markets change; politicians change.
All this is about to happen in education because soon it will no longer be acceptable to allow any child to fail at any school. The catalyst may be technology but change has been a long time coming: the writing is on the wall in an industry which has remained largely unreformed for 150 years and where there is still a catastrophic failure rate which leaves nearly 50% of our children barely numerate – year in and year out - after 11 years at school!
Experience shows that when an industry successfully resists change for so long, when pressure for change is so overwhelming, when there is so much pent-up energy waiting to be released, that is where, when change finally arrives, it is dramatic, intense and irresistible.
So today all over the world the belief that technology can bring an end to absolute education poverty and help everyone to achieve their potential is rising inexorably and eventually this will register in rising consumer’s expectations of the minimum acceptable school standards. As it does so, the responsibility of schools to achieve ever-higher minimum standards will ratchet higher year-on-year, as will the legal and market penalties for failing to do so.
This global awakening is not merely because new technologies allow us to deliver the necessary educational data instantly, anywhere; nor is it even because the new technologies enables us to redesign the entire educational infrastructure and redeploy all our teaching resources so that they work much better in supporting every child in such a profound manner that we really can make a difference; it is that all this can be done relatively inexpensively, and, at least within first world economies, within existing expenditure budgets.
Dramatic change for the better is therefore a practical possibility because, for the first time in history, lack of money – at least within first world economies - is not the issue.
Money is not the issue hindering education reform in first world economies
In first world economies lack of money is therefore not the issue hindering the advent of a dramatic change for the better in education: not only is the state’s funding already adequate for the task but the private sector can assume all the risk, not only of getting the redesign right, but also of operating the new system and actually delivering this new level of profound student support. In short, the entire risk of ‘doing whatever it takes’.
If the private sector will do all this, at its own risk, and at no additional cost to the taxpayer, then it follows that the principal issue holding back a dramatic change for the better in education is not lack of money; still less is it about what is or is not practical for schools to offer - because as we have discussed above, technology is changing that equation - the issue is simply one of our collective, outdated mind-set.
Times, as they say, are a-changing and if the public twig that the issues holding back education are not lack of money, but a lack of operational and ideological flexibility, a lack of management expertise, or lack of political will: then the long awaited change will hit us like an avalanche.
The last decade of ideological rhetoric and operational complacency
Politicians, local authority administrators and school governors are already in the last decade where the consensus accepts the educational under-achievement of nearly half of the population. We’re already in a new era where the electorate has rumbled the dangers of ideology but is still listening with one ear to the death rattle of empty political rhetoric. Soon they will rumble this too, and then we will truly enter the 21st century where the electorate will let no mantra get in the way of practical policies enabling practical solutions.
Our understanding of what is practically possible will soon change every day as consumers on global interactive websites record what works and what doesn’t work amid the myriad practical experiments, the trials and errors of our collective, global efforts.
No single institution, no single company, no single government, no single ideology will have a right to a monopoly over what should or should not be tried; of what might or might not work. Flexibility in all things will be the key to finding what works and what does not work: and eventually of course something will work and it will be copied and improved by the global community.
3Es = 3 Cs
“Education. Education. Education” means Capacity, Competition and Choice.
Apart from ensuring that a profound level of learning support is a practical possibility in our schools for the first time in history, new technologies also mean that we can redesign our schools and how they operate so fundamentally that we can also increase capacity dramatically in every locality without any additional cost to the taxpayer.
If we then allow the private sector to do this at its own expense, operating within the state sector, then we will truly have created the conditions for a rapid change for the better. These companies will therefore be operating in a properly competitive environment where educational consumers have a real choice and these companies will need to look after their staff and provide a quality of service to the clients, as never before.
In such circumstances, there will be no reason on earth why the state should have a monopoly of supply within the state school system. In other industries we know monopolies are dangerous and damage the interests of consumers and workers alike; so we break them up and create excess capacity, competition, and thereby an effective choice. This is how we drive standards up and get value for money in all areas of human endeavour.
Why should education be immune to these beneficial forces? Why should nearly half our educational consumers continue to receive virtually no education year in year out? Why should our teachers be subject to ritual abuse every year? Only a monopoly supplier can get away with such poor performance and expose their staff to such vilification, year in year out.
By all means let us continue to mandate the state to collect taxes on our behalf to finance a state education system; but on no account should the state any longer set itself up as the monopoly supplier. Times are a-changing.
Times are a-changing: towards The Tipping Point in education
Which force will prove to be the strongest driver of this inevitable change in mind-set, this new flexibility in all things?
A conscientious awareness that a truly profound level of student support is now a practical possibility combined with a new-found moral obligation to ‘do what it takes’? Or perhaps an awareness of an increasingly litigious ‘consumer’ society where schools might in future be held to account legally for relative failure? Or perhaps, just for once, a heart-lifting embracing of change simply because there is an honest recognition that nothing could be worse than the present situation in education and that the possibility of educational success for everyone is such a wonderful prospect for the whole of our society, that we simply have to give the new mind-set, the new flexibility, a chance to succeed.
The answer is that change will probably come as a result of all these forces acting together: in the discussion above, we have already indicated how new technologies mean that our collective expectations and aspirations are set to rise dramatically with respect to educational attainment across the entire population; now let’s look in more detail about our changing responsibility to deliver these changes and how avoidance of negligence law suits might contribute to accelerated change once the tipping point in consensus expectations has been reached.
Circumstances are changing: school governors beware
In the private sector we have already seen a few sporadic lawsuits brought successfully by parents in the private sector against schools, for example, for teaching the wrong curriculum or for providing a teacher of insufficient quality. Why and how might such actions increase and spread in the private sector and into the state sector? How and why might class actions against schools and authorities, indeed government, emerge?
The generic answer is that if the industry consensus as to what is or is not reasonable or practicable changes, or what is or is not a basic human right, then the legal practice and precedents with respect to those minimum standards or rights will also change.
Specifically, if the consensus expectation as to the minimum acceptable standard that a school should attain rises with respect to how it caters for an individual’s particular learning requirement in each subject, then irrespective of the average performance of that school, parents will hold that school to account for that child, for that subject, and for each topic of that subject; and for the learning styles available to the child to access and master each of those topics.
Such a consensus might build quickly because modern technology means that schools can and should now micro-manage the delivery of multiple learning paths to each of their students individually. This new practical reality means that schools will be held to account – both legally and as consumers - by parents who will judge schools for their competence at this micro-management level; not at the meaningless macro, school exam league table level.
Schools should therefore already be taking legal advice on how to protect themselves e.g. by being very precise about what they are and what they are not offering. It is essential that they introduce a specialised contract between school and parents which defines what amounts to their particular ‘terms of trade’.
If they do not intend to offer micro-management of every student’s learning journey then they should make this explicit to parents from the outset and point out what that means on average in the UK i.e. that nearly 50% of students will leave the school ‘barley numerate or literate’ and that their child could be one of them. There was much philosophical argument before the government insisted that health warnings should be printed on cigarette packets; what will be the arguments for and against educational health warnings where a school does not offer effective micro-management of every student’s learning journey?
School marketing will change and detailed school parent contracts will be essential
It is customary today for schools to claim in their marketing spiel that they treat every student as an individual because to do otherwise is to assume that all children learn at the same pace, in the same way, which is demonstrably absurd.
But does any school today truly live up to this consumer speak? Treating students individually means micro-managing their learning journeys or it means nothing.
The next time you hear a school head selling this ‘we treat everyone as an individual’ consumer mantra, ask him or her to prove it there and then by giving them the following micro-management challenge: assume in maths that a child has reached level 4 in algebra and level 6 in trigonometry; assume in English that the child has reached level 2 in writing skills and in history level 7 in analysis. Now ask how the school would have arrived at this knowledge? How often they would reassess it? What safeguards they had in place to check that the assessment was correct? How they would present the required resources to the child in each subject level? How they would support the child in each case? How they would track the child’s progress and monitor it when the time came to set new goals? In short, how they would manage and deliver a variegated curriculum which is differentiated for every student according to their particular needs?
No head in any school today would be able to answer this basic test satisfactorily. At best they would point to streaming of subjects in year groups, a system of personal general tutors, a ‘community spirit’ and the school’s league table position but, as described above, they would not be able to demonstrate the micro-management process i.e. the actual resources that a student would access at any stage in their learning journey, at any time, and critically how the student is wholly supported at every stage in using these varying resources correctly, at each stage in their learning journey, in every subject.
If the head can’t show you these resources or how the support would be delivered in his marketing meeting with you, then it follows that no one else in the school could because they simply would not have the time to conjure them ad hoc for every child in the school, at any instant, as and when they were needed: not the personal tutor, not the parent, not the teacher, and most important of all, not the student. And if the resources for each learning stage or learning style can’t be readily identified, let alone accessed, by anyone in or out of the school, in what sense is the school truly treating all students as individuals by micro-managing their learning journey?
It is clear therefore that the implicit operational assumption of nearly all of today’s schools is that it is simply not practicable for any school to provide the necessary and sufficient level of individual learning support to all of its students, so that some of their students – and across the country on average nearly 50% - will fall by the wayside and leave school every year ‘barely numerate or literate’.
So if schools are not designed to micro-manage a student’s learning journey then they cannot advertise that they treat every student individually.
This is entirely acceptable when the consensus – as it is today - also agrees that such a goal is not practicable on a large scale; but it is not acceptable when circumstances and the environment change so that it is possible to deliver on this promise. Clearly at this tipping point, when the consensus changes about what is and is not practical, then institutions who promise but do not deliver could be in breach the Trades Descriptions Act and could be deemed to be negligent into the bargain.
Increasing fear of litigation therefore is likely to become an important force which brings about change and reinforces the new consensus.
How long before the Tipping Point is upon us?
So far we have seen that the educational environment can now be changed dramatically for the better: specifically, we have suggested that technology – i.e. real time access to all the relevant student data, by all the relevant stakeholders in a student’s learning journey - will be the catalyst and the missing piece of the jig-saw puzzle which suddenly makes everything fit into place so that students’ learning can be micro-managed by schools to ensure that they do all fulfill their potential.
We have also acknowledged that for this to happen, a complete realignment of school design and operational practice is required; but we have also suggested that such a realignment is inevitable because it can be now be completed at the expense and risk of the private sector, at no additional cost to the taxpayer; and we have noted elsewhere in this blog, that the door to such private sector involvement is currently being opened in the UK via The Education Bill now going through its final stages in parliament.
So make no mistake: this change, it is a-coming and the consensus on what is or is not practical and what is or is not reasonable is going to change as consumer expectations - that all children should be properly educated - rise.
By what mechanism will such a consensus build so that the tipping point is reached and by what benchmarks will our politicians, local authority administrators and school governors then be held to account and - possibly - judged?
Interactive community ‘Rating’ websites will gradually build a new consensus
Forget the blunt tool that is the school league table: soon they will be sooo yesterday, replaced by the fastest growing phenomena on the internet: interactive consumer communities where consumers rate ’suppliers’ across a range of criteria and thereby help other consumers to make the right choices: amazon, eBay, travel, music, software, internet dating: name an industry, and the internet has a site where consumers go to rate their suppliers and read what other consumers think about the product.
How long will it be therefore before a company with a reputation for serious research establishes an interactive website where parents and students can log on and rate their schools and teachers by a whole range of research metrics which prospective new parents and students will read online e.g. An Interactive ‘Which’ Guide to School Micro-Management Performance?
The answer is as soon as parents and students can be bothered to visit the site and make the effort to rate their schools.
When will they be bothered?
As soon as they believe that so doing will make a difference: which means as soon as they have an effective choice of school; for why bother rating a product if there will only ever be one product on offer? Of course – if they sniff that change is a-coming and they believe that rating schools now will accelerate the rate of change in their local community so that they do have an effective choice, then such websites will take-off when such belief takes root.
The Tipping Point will be reached when parents believe they can help to create real choice
Consumers rate products online not just to inform other consumers but to inform suppliers so that there is continual pressure on them - and a continual supply of ideas – to ensure they improve their products and services.
If parents believe that by contributing to such sites on their local schools they will improve the choice and standard of school services in their area, then such ‘consumer’ sites will appear sooner rather than later in the school industry.
The key therefore is give parents the belief that new educational capacity in their locality is a real possibility.
In the whole Brighton area in July 2006 for example, there was only one free school place. No spare capacity; no competition; no choice. What would be the point of a school consumer website in such circumstances where the local authority has a monopoly of supply and manages that supply so that there is no spare capacity?
But if parents in Brighton knew that a brand new school was about to be built which added 2500 new places in the area, and they also knew that the private sector was prepared not only to build and operate that school within the state sector at its own risk but also to partner with other schools in the area to add even more new and effective capacity, and that all these new schools would be designed around the ability to micro-manage every student’s learning journey so that no student could get left behind, how would that change the local dynamic?
If parents new that excess school capacity could be financed by the private sector in every area permanently because new technologies make it practical and affordable to carry this spare capacity over the long term, then they would be sure sure that - as in every other area where they are consumers - a real choice and real competition between these private companies will drive standards up over time.
Over night, interactive, parental websites would take-off, expectations and aspirations would rise, the whole area would be reinvigorated; challenged yes, but reinvigorated.
Parents who believe their children are gifted in one area or another will want to know independently from current and past parents and children how a new or existing school will nourish that gift. Parents of children with learning difficulties will want to know independently from current and past parents and children how a new or existing school will help their children to overcome those difficulties. Parents with little idea of their children’s talents will want to know independently from current and past parents and children how successful a new or existing school is in discovering what gifts they have. The children themselves will want to compare their a new or existing school and their teachers, with other schools; and with the opinions of students and parents at those schools.
The online research company hosting the interactive service will include a range of best practice micro-management metrics in their rating questionnaire of all schools: in short, pier-to-pier online communities will soon provide infinitely more detail on a school’s micro-management performance than any league table ever could.
Once it is clear to all that the creation of spare capacity, competition and real choice is THE policy driver, it is only a matter of time before websites appear where the consumers of the school ‘product’ rate their school against various performance metrics establishing benchmarks for what is considered to be acceptable and unacceptable performance. A school that consistently falls short of the average on one metric or another – irrespective of whether they are an old or new school - will have to organise its defense carefully to avoid negligent class lawsuits from disgruntled parents and students. It goes without saying that a school will have to craft its marketing terminology and contracts carefully to ensure that it describes its actual product.
Do not doubt that school consumers will use these sites heavily when they believe that finally they are to have an effective local choice, and do not doubt that they will use them in a sophisticated manner: because all consumers become sophisticated in the end, provided there is spare capacity, there is no monopoly and they therefore have an effective choice.
All consumers become ’sophisticated’ in the end
One of the enduring challenges in education has always been how to raise low aspirations wherever and whenever they are found: amongst students, teachers, families, schools; indeed in whole regions.
Consumer websites which benchmark the performance of schools across a range of performance metrics will gradually raise the aspirations of all school ‘consumers’ as they educate the public on what is possible and what represents not just value for money but value for time spent/effort made in attending one school or another.
Consumers will become sophisticated; they always do. Britain’s supermarket buyers will testify that the nation has moved from a nation of blended ‘Blue Nun’ or Hirondelle wine drinkers – when there was no effective choice in the supermarkets - to a nation of generic grape variety drinkers: cabernet sauvignon; shiraz; pino grigio; a new sophistication which is reflected globally and is now threatening the whole French wine industry, ensuring that it is now reforming very quickly.
So school-consumers will not judge schools merely by the blunt instrument of their exam results. They will want to know what value has been added to the school’s entry level students. They will want to know who gets left by the wayside and why; and in what subjects.
In short, they will want to know who’s doing it and who’s doing it well; where it is benchmarked at increasingly higher levels of sophistication and profundity, until collectively we really are doing ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure that all our children fulfill their educational potential.
Next article: Twelve Good Men and True
Before discussing an Educentre’s risk and reward profile for investors, I want to summarise why governments WILL NOW ENCOURAGE private companies to make a profit in the public sector; for not to do so will be to invite political oblivion.
The Era of Ideological Politics is over: Practical Politics will get the job done:
Governments are voted into power to do jobs that the electorate decides are important, and governments have three choices on how to get these jobs done:
a) it can do the job itself;
b) it can ask private sector companies to the job (i.e. no monopoly)
c) it can ask both the public sector and private sector companies to do the job (i.e. no monopoly)
In most circumstances option (a) should never be chosen: Why?
1) because option (a) promotes an ideological core value – public sector ownership - ahead of the core goal of getting whatever the job is, done. This, by definition, will distort the public sector organisation and require an army of target setters and checkers to direct and police the staff of the public sector enterprise: which will eventually demoralise them;
2) because option (a) creates a monopoly supplier market so that when the monopoly supplier fails to get the job done, there is no one else to step in: and as any engineer knows, a system should never be designed with a theoretical single point of failure: these must all be designed out of the system.
So option (a) is likely to mean that the job will not get done, the industry will be inefficient in achieving its core goals, clients are likely to be dissatisfied and staff demoralised. All of which fits most commentator’s description of the state of the health and education systems in the UK today.
Multiple suppliers ensure no single point of failure
Practical politics tells us that the more suppliers there are in an industry, the more likely that the job will get done; especially if those suppliers have invested their own money, at their own risk, in trying to get the job done and they are not the only suppliers to have done so. In other words, spare private capacity has been engineered into the system and all of it is capable of getting the job done. There is no single institutional point of failure.
This is not to say that the public sector cannot get the job done: it simple cannot be allowed a monopoly.
Why is the BBC so good?
Why is the BBC a world beater? The answer is that fierce media competition from the private sector in the UK means that the BBC needs to provide a service that clients judge to be good to survive: and so it provides a spectacularly good service.
So here is an excellent example of a public good, a democratically mandated job being done, and funded by the electorate because there is excess media capacity in the industry.
It is irrelevant from a practical standpoint that a profit is being made by the private companies who create the spare capacity because the public good is being done. This is practical politics and it would be ideologically arrogant, not to mention anachronistic, to ban private companies from operating in the sector: so it is clear that private companies will be allowed to create new capacity to get the publicly mandated jobs, in education and health, done.
The current Education Bill opens the door for the private sector to create new capacity in the state school sector, at its own risk: so why should investors knock on that door? What are the risks and potential returns?
What are the risks and potential returns for the private sector?
The principal risk is enrollment risk:
An educentre requires circa 490 students to enroll to breakeven on the cost of financing the construction and operational establishment of the centre. This represents 20% of the total school student capacity of the centre of 2400 and 0% of the adult student capacity of the centre of 1200. The business model allows 3 years for the student roll to build up, at any pace, to 490 students.
Underwriters become liable to cover the shortfall in the breakeven enrollment target of 490 students when shareholder funds become negative. Initial equity of £3m is sufficient to cover a shortfall of a total of 1300 students, after which underwriters become liable unless shareholder funds have been supplemented by adult revenues; these revenues have been set to zero in the above base case scenario.
Principal Rewards for Underwriters and Investors
The base case financial scenario shows the student roll building up very slowly to the breakeven level over 4 years: 150;275;385;490. These figures generate a return for investors and underwriters in the first 4 years as follows: - 3.75%;-2.06%;-0.57%; + 0.87%; The base case capacity scenario where the student school is operating at its capacity of 2400 revenues generates an annual return or 26.69% on the total equity and underwriting commitment of £17m. Educentres will be SIPP compliant investments and this will raise the return significantly for private individuals who put the investment into their pension fund.
The first educentre pilot will ask investors to underwrite on a ratio of 3:1 i.e. Every £1 invested requires £3 of underwriting commitment from the same investor.
Shares in the first educentre pilot will treat equity and underwriting commitment equally. Once the first pilot has proven the business case, equity and underwriting commitments will be treated differently with respect to share allocation.
Core Business Model Risk
The core business model risk is the standard risk of running a school and attracting students to the school. New investment on the scale of an educentre in any location is likely to become a magnet for parents in any locality however Educentre’s management team has a proven track record of running successful schools in the most difficult of urban environments.
This track record will be welded onto an enhanced school design which will optimise the use of new learning technologies to deliver a much more personalised learning service for all students, enabling much more flexibility in delivering both formal and informal learning.
An educentre in any location is likely to become a huge draw to parents and management are confident of achieving capacity enrollment levels at a faster rate than outlined in the base case projections above.
Tangential Business Revenues
Educentre’s unique design will facilitate seamless addition of corporate training for local companies in the region and the addition of The Adult Lecture and Learning Business. These services will be ‘produced’ and marketed in an exciting manner which will enhance the attractiveness of an educentre for students of all ages to enroll.
Capacity for these services adds an additional 42000 learning ’seats’ per week. Revenues from these businesses are not included in the Base Case Scenario described in the above table.
Intangible Rewards for Investors and Underwriters
As founders of the first Educentre, a significant but intangible reward for underwriters and investors is the satisfaction of knowing that one has helped to trigger a revolution in education which will ultimately mean that the UK educates all its children, not just half of them as the latest government survey reports.
To enquire about how you may be able to invest in an educentre, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Next article: The Profound Importance of Doing It for Every Child, All the Time
How efficient is the UK education system in meeting its core goals and values? Indeed, what are they?
In The Times July 5th Daniel Finkelstein discusses the book ‘Built to Last’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (Random House) and how David Cameron is following the guidance in the book to find the core values of the Tory party.
So how do we find the core values of UK education? The book suggests that “when you want to do something like run a school, you ask “Why”. Five or six iterations of “Why?” and you might begin to hit your core.”
So what are the core values of education?
1) A core value of state education in the UK seems to be that schools and universities should not make a profit and in this regard the sector is probably 100% efficient;
2) Another core value of state education seems to be that schools should be public sector monopolies with, therefore, no real competition or choice. In this regard the sector is also roughly 100% efficient; in Brighton this month for example, there is only one unfilled place at any secondary school. Local parents therefore have no real choice and local schools need not worry about parents moving their children to a competing school;
3) Of course, the most important core value is that of educating our children. In this regard it is clear that the sector is 53% efficient, according to the latest government survey which reported that there are 15m barely numerate adults in the UK; and nearly 47% of children leave school every year adding to this number. This inefficiency blights the lives of generations of Britons, so what are its causes?
The 10 Greatest Inefficiencies in UK Education
For the past 200 years education in the UK has displayed the following inefficiencies. If ever there was a sector waiting for modernity to revolutionise it, it is education:
1) MEMORY RETENTION
Symptom: The Sunday Times reported that comparative studies show that formal learning has an efficiency rate of 5% - 10%. Pupils taught through conversation and discussion remember up to 40% more;
Solution: Aligning building design, learning platform technology, teaching styles and commercial model will provide the time and financial incentive to provide more informal learning opportunities whilst making formal learning more interesting, accessible and effective;
2) WAITING FOR SOMETHING TO HAPPEN
Symptom:“Life in Classrooms” the classic 1968 study by anthropologist Philip Jackson showed that children in school spent up to 50% of their time waiting. Roland Meighan, formerly a special professor of education at Nottingham University measured children in a primary school spending 60% of their time “waiting for something to happen”;
Solution: Effective use of a learning platform, aligned with appropriate building design, learning styles and better teacher support and preparation, means that students would never have to wait;
3) PREPARATION and MARKING
Symptom: Teachers spend as much time preparing for classes and marking work, as they do talking to and engaging students.
Solution: Effective use of learning platforms by the faculty management teams, some of whom may never teach, will allow teachers to get their teaching time back.
Symptom: Bureaucracy has increased to the point where it is breaking the back of teachers, and crowding out teaching time. Bureaucracy is a symptom that the organisation’s operations and core values are not aligned; thereby requiring an independent army of target setters and checkers to direct and police the performance of the organisation. Bureaucracy is a name and shame exercise: no wonder teachers are demoralised: it’s a witch hunt.
Solution: Define the core value as educating children and then deregulate the sector so that it can operate as it sees fit to fulfill those core values. There will be no need for bureaucracy because competition and choice will raise standards, just as it does in every other sector of the economy from books and newspapers, to cars, phones and holidays.
5) DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR
Symptom: Lack of control in classrooms disrupts lessons and wastes teaching time. In failing schools it is endemic.
Solution: The Education Bill brings forward new powers for schools and teachers to handle disruptive behavior effectively. New building design and learning platform technology, including surveillance camera integration, will collect evidence effortlessly and efficiently and enable management teams to manage the problem effectively. Excess private capacity and, therefore, real competition between school management teams will ensure that every school manages this problem effectively.
6) CURRICULUM RIGIDITY
Symptom: Why run before you can walk? Why teach the whole curriculum before students show mastery of at least one part of the curriculum? Why teach anything until students have appreciated why they need to learn at all? Why waste so much time and so many years effectively teaching nothing, according to government reports, to 47% of the school population?
Solution: Align school design, learning technology, teaching philosophy and commercial interest so that ALL students, of EVERY ability range, are personally looked after by a STABLE management team throughout their school career; a management team with the common objective of sparking a thirst for independent learning in every student, according to their personal preferences.
Symptom: 15m barely numerate adults, according to the government’s latest report and 47% of the school population leaving school in a similar condition every year, points to a lack of motivation at every level: parent, student, teacher, head, managers and government. It’s hard to feel motivated when failure is so routine and so endemic.
Solution: Today is different. We have the technology to end the scarcity of educational resources, to manage all students individually, including the disruptive ones, and help them. We have the political will to allow the wind of entrepreneurial flair to blow into the sails of the public sector because the age of ideological and now rhetorical politics is drawing to an end.
Today we have all the tools to get the job done: soon the motivation and aspirations of parents, teachers, heads, managers, shareholders and government will rise to the challenge: to educate all our people, not just half of them.
8) QUALITY OF TEACHING
Symptom: Good teachers leave the profession every year in droves: the job is tough; the paperwork is oppressive; the behavior is frightening; progress is slow and depressing; In the wider economy, the pay is much better, careers move faster and jobs are more flexible; .
Solution: Deregulate education: allow the wind of entrepreneurial flair to blow into the sails of the public sector. Encourage excess private capacity, paid for by the private sector. Encourage real competition. Encourage real choice: not just for parents and students, but for teachers too. Allow new products to be developed. New revenues streams to be invented. New career paths to be offered. Today is the Knowledge economy and high quality teachers will be the superstars of the economy: provided the knowledge economy is deregulated
Symptom: Millions spent on technology but still we have 15m barely numerate adults, according to the government’s latest report and 47% of the school population leaving school in a similar condition every year.
Solution: Deploy the new technologies specifically to remove the inefficiencies highlighted above. Align building design of new schools with the new teaching styles and management techniques that the new technology facilitates and which will more efficient and effective in educating the whole population.
Symptom: Schools facilities are old and antiquated; schools themselves are continually cash-strapped and cannot pay teachers a salary which is commensurate with what they will earn for their technical and managerial skill-set in the broader economy. Schools cannot borrow to invest in their facilities. In short, schools are not dynamic, entrepreneurial businesses operating in the economy’s fastest growing sector: they should be.
Solution: The new Education Bill creates a statutory obligation for local authorities to promote choice. At the same time the bill deregulates the sector and allows schools to manage their own businesses and partner with the private sector. Government and local authorities should encourage the private sector to create not just new capacity, but excess capacity, so that there is real choice and real competition in the sector. This new private sector investment will drive improvements far more quickly and far more profoundly than the too slow, 15 year Building School for the Future government programme, which it would replace and make redundant within just a few years.
Next article: An Educentre’s Risk Reward Profile for Investors
Educentres will revolutionise state education in the UK:
Educentres will provide a new type of school for the 21st century which creates a holistic learning environment where building, technology and learning philosophy are perfectly aligned so that every aspect of every student’s progress can be managed and cared for by the student’s management team: hour by hour, day by day, week by week.
Educentres will offer a unique combination of learning styles in both formal and informal settings, which research has shown can increase learning retention to 40% from the standard formal/school figure of just 10%
Educentres will offer an education culture which is designed for the 21st century students, not as they were 20, 50 or even 150 years ago. Today children are treated as adults; as equals in their families; and as consumers with personal preferences by society at large. It is high time our system of education reflected these facts and responded appropriately.
Educentres will provide the physical environment, the operational philosophy and the educational wherewithal by which we, as a society, can start to educate the whole population properly, not just half of it.
Educentres will teach students of all ages 24/7. The first Educentre will teach from age 11 onwards
Educentres will offer a mixture of learning, leisure and retail experiences under one roof.
SuperStar lecturers and local and national celebrities will regularly ‘perform’ at an Educentre for the entertainment and education of the whole community.
Our aim is to operate in the new independent state school system currently being established in The Education Bill and:
a) to double and in some cases, quadruple, the supervised teaching hours per subject per week, that each student currently receives in the state sector;
b) to increase current teacher total remuneration levels by at least 50%;
c) to have an average student teacher ratio of 1:20;
Beyond literacy and numeracy, there will be no unbending rules for what subjects student’s study, what order they study them in, what exams they may or may not take, or when they may take them, or even how they study: for these are all the variables which, by definition, must remain flexible if we are to deliver a learning programme which is personalised for each student.
What is non-negotiable however is that educentre’s students will be educated for the 21st century: they will be demonstrably independent-minded, self-reliant adults with personal online portfolios which demonstrate to anyone who is interested, that they are literate, numerate and capable in their chosen field or fields. Furthermore these portfolios will be permanent, ever-growing and life long; continually nourished by life long attendence in some form or other, at a local educentre, or equivalent.
Next article: ‘Recent studies showing where the inefficiencies in student learning arise’