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Grades, bureaucracy and students and a vision of the future

May 30, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized


In his paper on education, Paul Hillsdon, who was a 16 year old student when he wrote it, provides a powerful critique of education based on his experience of schooling.

He is particularly critical of these three elements: grades, bureaucracy and students.

Paul argues that grades are where we go wrong. The moment students start to focus on getting grades that’s it, the grades become the focus rather than teaching and raising of a capable child.

As schools have grown as organisations so has the bureaucracy that surrounds them. By looking inwards at the way the schools are run and organized, so focus has shifted away from the needs of the student.

Children now have grown up with technology. They are not the children the education system has been designed for.

So what’s the solution?

  • To rebuild the way our education system works from the ground up.
  • For teachers to become the facilitators of learning
  • For schools to provide experiential, project-based learning
  • To develop these six skills proposed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills: critical thinking and problem solving, communication, creativity and innovation, collaboration, information and media literacy and contextual learning.


These are just some of the areas Paul covers in his paper, which is available to download here.

[Photo credit: evmaiden]

The national curriculum: Jim Callaghan's legacy on English education

May 28, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

In this third interview on the development of the school system in England over the last 100 years, John Abbott takes a look at the role of Jim Callaghan, who was born 100 years ago this year.

Callaghan was born in 1912, became a Labour MP in 1945 and prime minister in 1976. His experience of education as a school boy, his part in rebuilding post-war Britain as an MP and his rather jaundiced view of education as prime minister played a major part in some of the woes now facing 21st century education in the UK.

Callaghan was a bright boy who, as John Abbott puts it, was not served well by the education system. He may well have gone to a grammar school but they had been abolished in the 1902 Education Act.

He was clever, ambitious and an ardent Labour Party supporter. He became an MP who came into parliament post World War Two. That government was responsible for putting in to place the post-war settlement – new schools, new health service, infrastructure and so on. A brave new world for Britons.

By the 1960s, however, he and other MPs felt that the education system had created people who were soft, who hadn’t had to work hard for their achievements. He felt people were just taking advantage of the system which he and others had worked so hard for. This jaundiced view shaped his approach to education when he became prime minister in 1976.

He was in power for only three years but in that time had floated the idea of a national curriculum. Although he had no time to put this idea into action, it was an idea that was taken up by Margaret Thatcher’s government. Her education secretary Kenneth Baker introduced the national curriculum.

John concludes this interview by reminding us that Callaghan’s influence has resulted in many of the problems we now see in education.

Also in this series:

  • A short history of school boards in English education
  • The journey from school boards to education authorities

'Quitting high school was one of the best decisions of my life'

May 25, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

The title of this post is taken from one of the first 15 ‘stories’ we have loaded on to the site. And don’t be misled by that line – James, the author, has quite a story to tell about his education. Read the stories here.

We have accumulated many, many stories and responses to the animations and will publish them on the site over the coming days.

It is now easier to share your thoughts and stories – simply add them on the page and submit.

Thankyou to all of you who have shared your thoughts – there are some incredibly moving stories which we can all learn from.

We've reached 250,000 downloads

May 22, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

We are delighted that our animations have been downloaded just over 250,000 times. In an earlier post, John talked about the thinking behind the animations. Now, in just over 12 months, the animations have been downloaded more than a quarter of a million times and have been shared all around the world.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone of you for supporting us, sharing our animations and sharing your stories. We aim to make more once we have raised further funding to do so.

The journey from school boards to education authorities

May 21, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

In 1902 the British government ended the school board system, so ending a successful period of school management in which local communities helped dictate their local school provision.

There then followed a period of wars and economic depression – World War One, the great depression, the Jarrow marches. When it came to the second world war prime minister Winston Churchill knew he had to beat the Germans and in order to do that had to introduce conscription. To get the population to buy that he did a deal and that was to provide a perfect education system for all once the war was over.

R A Butler was brought in to design that system. The Butler Act was based on an intelligence test at the age of 11 which would help sort the population into leaders, administrators and the rest of the population.

He also said that central government must not administer this system. So, he set up local education authorities (there were around 140 which were each responsible for around 300,000 people).

The system never really worked, however, because the authorities were too big to make local people feel like they were involved in education. And the comprehensive school system never became a cohesive system as schools were run in different ways by individual authorities.

By 1965, new prime minister Jim Callaghan wanted to resolve this and he sought to bring some order to the way secondary schools were run. However, in so doing he lost the support of educationalists and academics, which led to the problems of the last forty years.

Also in our series on how schools are managed:

  • A short history of school boards in English education

Can you answer these 11 questions about education in the UK?

May 16, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

In 2009, we published a briefing document – A Briefing Paper for Parliamentarians on the Design Faults at the Heart of English Education – for members of the UK parliament.

The aim of the document was to inform members of parliament of the latest thinking on how children learn and to provide some clarity on how the English education system needed to be redesigned to best meet the learning needs of children.

At the beginning of the document we posed 11 questions about English education that we believe to be very difficult to answer.

Why did we do this? To raise awareness of these issues and to stimulate discussion.

See if you can answer them? We’re keen to see  answers  or responses in the comments section below.

  1. Why is schooling split at the age of 11, and why is it that primary pupils generally enjoy their education, but secondary pupils don’t?
  2. Why, if the early years of education are so important, are secondary schools better financed than primary?
  3. Why does England, a country so dependent on technology, have difficulties in recruiting teachers of science?
  4. Why, if education is so important, aren’t teachers held in higher regard?
  5. Why, in a country with a fully-funded public education system, do some 7% of pupils on average attend independent fee-paying schools?
  6. Why, given the significance in earlier generations of of adolescence as a ‘proving ground’ for adulthood, does modern society treat adolescence as a problem, not as an opportunity?
  7. Why, if one of the most significant indicators of future success is the quality of home life in the earliest years, are schools now expected to take on ever more of what until recently were the responsibilities of parents?
  8. Why are those aspects of schooling, that children enjoy most called extra-curricular, as if they don’t matter so much and are only informally offered?
  9. Why are Steiner and Montessori Schools so popular with professional parents?
  10. Why, in a largely secular country, are faith schools generally so popular?
  11. Why, unlike those in almost any other country, do schools in England insist that children should wear school uniform?


Learning from the Finnish school system

May 14, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

Finland’s school system is much admired, but why? John Abbott says it is more about the concept of what school is for rather than the subjects that are taught. This has big implications for the way teachers teach. In Finnish schools, a major focus is how to get the child weaned of its dependents.

Many thanks to the British Columbia Ministry of Education who have kindly shared this interview following John’s recent visit.

The three-legged stool – where home, community and school come together

May 9, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

Following on from John Abbott’s recent trip to British Columbia, where he advises the government on education, the Ministry of Education have kindly shared some interviews they carried out whilst John was there.

Here John talks about the ‘three-legged stool’ – where home, community and school come together. This is powerful when understood in a rural community, he says. But in urban areas there is a real problem because communities have disintegrated.

In urban areas we need to revitalise communities. Without this out-of-school experience provided by the community the child is always dependent on the formal learning provided by the school.

A short history of school boards in English education

May 8, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

A recent article in The Guardian by Graham Clayton suggested that a return to the school board system would bring about more democratic control of education. But would it?

In this film, John Abbott provides a short history of the school board system. It is a colourful history that makes mention of William Shakespeare and the origins of the word hooligan. From the 1870s the boards provided a way for local communities to take greater ownership of local schools. They were a remarkable success.

This picture from the 1890s is of the school John’s grandfather attended. The Devon school was built by the the local school board and the entire village turned out for its opening.

Not only did local schools built by boards get more children into schools they also started to provide interesting courses that challenged what grammar and public schools were offering.

In the end they were a victim of their own success. In 1902 the government abolished the school boards and brought in a centralised approach to education. As John says, this had a devastating effect on local communities.

Bringing the discussion up to the present day, could such a model for managing education in England once again work for our schools? john thinks so . . .

“When people say bring back the school boards because that introduces the idea of local democracy that is absolutely spot on. The only people who would make the decisions about how the school was going to work would be the local people. And if things went wrong they couldn’t appeal to somebody else to sort it out – they would have to sort it out for themselves.”


'Every child needs to feel they are an expert at something'

May 4, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

Whilst in British Columbia recently, John Abbott was interviewed on different aspects of education. We have just been sent some of the interviews, which we will share on the blog.