Thursday, March 15, 2007


Imagine by John Lennon.
Imagine if we could start from scratch to really design a school system for a creative age.
All too often 'reforms' are attempts to sort out problems created by previous reforms and are akin to trying to patch up the Titanic!
What if schools weren't organised in traditional ways?
Take a look at a nearby secondary school - consider they were designed to produce students for an industrial era and owe much of their thinking to a past factory age mentality.
Consider why are school holidays and hours are organised as they currently are? Why is learning fragmented and timetabled the way it is?
Why is there such a difference between primary and secondary school approaches - and need this be so? Why do schools work independently of each other and in isolation from their communities?
In the United Kingdom such questions are being asked by the Innovations Unit of their education department and outlined in their booklet 'Next Practice in System Leadership'.
It would seem that we need to merge the expertise and pedagogy of primary and secondary teachers and to develop a more unified years 1-12 approach.
In the UK a range of scenarios are being attempted. In one village a school has been established combining a primary and a secondary school with a whole village leadership structure. In another area a secondary school and its feeder schools are establishing a whole town delivery of of educational services.
The landscape of school leadership is changing. Headteachers are taking on the responsibility of leading more than one school in forms of partnerships and federations. By doing this they are able to provide a diverse range of integrated services to their students.
Such developments might be a glimpse of a future in where the whole idea of 'school' might be 're-imagined'.
Such developments would need centralised support and encouragement. Pilots groups could well be established in an attempt to pioneer more effective models for the future.
Once educationalists start to think of new models all sorts of ideas would emerge some of which might provide exciting alternatives to the current traditional system - a system which is obviously currently failing too many students.
Those who are interested in such ideas ought to download a booklet by Michael Fullan on System Thinkers . In this publication Fullan writes that in the future school heads have to be as concerned about the success of other schools as that are about their own school. He believes that sustainable improvement of schools is not possible unless the whole system is moving forward. Over the years he has come concerned with: developing networks to share better practice; the radical concept of personalising learning ( fitting the curriculum to the learner and not vice versa) ; and now he is thinking about wider developing systemic changes as outlined above.
He believes that most current initiatives amount to adjustments to the current system rather than a new and more fundamental way of working necessary if we are to move beyond success gained by imposing 'informed prescriptions' on schools - the success of which is now plateauing out due to lack of ownership of the schools themselves.
The role of the centre ,writes Fullan, is to set up the conditions for cultivating the wisdom of the system - to mobilize that the ingenuity and creative resources of the whole system to develop a 'collective commitment'.
He says we have an ingenuity gap - and that we can't rely on whatever 'wisdom' is able to rise to the Ministry levels! Fullan is asking for a return of moral purpose to our system. Solutions he writes can only be solved locally but not independently.
Tapping and sharing the wisdom of schools and teachers will not be easy as politicians prefer short term ad hoc solutions. If collective wisdom can be tapped a new creative commitment could be developed to achieve system transformation.
Such a transmission of our antiquated system would be exciting.
Creative leadership at all levels will be vital.
As John Lennon sang - imagine if!


Anonymous said...

I think you are right - we really haven't faced up to the fact that our school system needs re-imagining. Can't see any political party being brave enough to do do so but they could set up a range of pilot schools.

Anonymous said...

Schools are so trapped in structures set in the previous century to ever think in alternative or creative ways.

Bruce said...

Sooner or later those in charge will begin to see that school failure is just as much a problem of the system as it is of poorly behaved students. It is easier to change the system than the students. Fullan's ideas are on the right lines.