21st Century Free School: a way ahead?

15 Mar 2012

Caption: Peter Hyman delivers NET Lecture. Photo: Gary Eason



Free Schools remain controversial and, while some excellent new schools have been proposed, the big questions remain:

  • how sustainable are they?
  • will they ever reach more than a tiny minority of children?
  • what is their effect on neighbouring schools?
  • can they maintain curriculum innovation despite league table targets and Ofsted inspections?

These dilemmas were raised by the audience at last night's annual National Education Trust lecture. They had heard an inspirational talk from former Tony Blair strategist, Peter Hyman, who is opening a new Free School - School 21 - in east London this coming September.

 The school will be a far cry from the Toby Young school, which has so far dominated the coverage of Free Schools. It was given its name to denote Hyman's determination to look ahead to 21st century teaching and learning styles. This is not a 1950's, nostalgia-led project designed to give a new boost to school uniforms and Latin. 

School 21  will put a much greater emphasis than usual on speaking and listening skills, or oracy, which - as Hyman argues - is greatly under-emphasised in this country compared with other succesful education systems. he also said he felot many state school pupils were at a disadvantage in ubniversity admissions because of a lack of oracy skills. 

Variety of learning styles

School 21 will also offer a wide variety of learning styles, mixing round-table seminars, specialist lectures, traditional classroom teaching, one-to-one tuition and mentoring, and project-based working. Hyman cited his own sources of inspiration: Rich Tasks from Queensland, Australia; the Harkness Method of discussion-based learning from New Hampshire, USA; and Project-Based Learning from San Diego, USA. 

One of the tasks that Hyman acknowledges he faces is a need for a 'new type of teacher', someone who is comfortable as a subject-specialist but is also able to be a one-to-one coach, lecturer and facilitator.

Hyman acknowledged the irony that he is rooted in Labour Party politics but - after his career change from Dowing Street to classroom - is now implementing a Conservative Party policy.   He defended  opening a new Free School in Stratford, east London, on the basis that there was a basic need for more school places there, so he would not be undermining existing schools. 'I would not have done this in an area where I was just taking pupils from other schools', he said. He also believes there is 'a strong case for teacher-led schools'.

Better assessment needed

He accepted there was an issue about how - if it is successful - a Free School could scale-up its activities to reach a wider group of children. Responding to questions, he also said that current assessment regimes could threaten innovation if it does not conform with national expectations, as could Ofsted inspections. He said we need to 'find a richer way of assessing children' and argued for Ofsted to set up a branch that was not just about monitoring schools but would spread good, innovative practice. 

More about school 21 here: www.school21.org/

A full transcript of Peter Hyman's Lecture will be available shortly at the NET website.

User Comments

Kevin Hewitson - 15 Mar 2012

New type of teacher

Peter Hyman's acknowledgement that he will need a new type of teacher is a refreshing declaration. His description is not far off either. Philosophy 4 Children speak of the "guide at your side" not the "sage on the stage". Let us hope the assessment system will not inhibit such a relationship building role for the teacher for this is always the monster in the cupboard as far as teaching is concerned. Let us relish in teaching the child and not to satisfy the assessment monster.

JoeN - 17 Mar 2012

New Teachers

I would agree that in some schools and systems we desperately need a new type of teacher but the last thing they need to be, is teachers who fall for the "21st Century" marketing hype of journalists like Charles Leadbeater, who is chiefly responsible for the use of this inappropriate concept in education. Apart from its crass utilitarianism, it has become a clarion call for all sorts of individuals nurturing an anti-school agenda, often for very personal reasons.

I am equally puzzled by this comment, as any experienced secondary teacher would be: "someone who is comfortable as a subject-specialist but is also able to be a one-to-one coach, lecturer and facilitator." Any half decent secondary school teacher would expect to be all those things and a great deal more.

Hyman's expectations expose how the entire teacher training industry in recent decades, has succeeded in shifting the emphasis of the role away from teaching to social work.

As does that repugnant cliché "Guide on the side: not sage on the stage" only ever uttered by individuals who were never anyone’s guide or sage. I'm amazed to see it isn't dead yet, although it should have been strangled at birth.

wasateacher - 19 Mar 2012

Learning Styles

"someone who is comfortable as a subject-specialist but is also able to be a one-to-one coach, lecturer and facilitator". There is nothing new in this and smacks of many of the approaches to education practiced in ILEA in the '70s and 80's.

Unfortunately, New Labour did nothing to throw the 3-part lesson (or is it 5-part) out with the bath water. A teacher would have to have been extremely confident, whilst being inspected, to do anything which responded to childrens' needs rather than the Government's requirements.

I am fed up with those who claim to be looking forward to the future without evaluating the successes and failures of the past. That is arrogance.

Milly Gandy - 18 Apr 2012

Jam tomorrow - 21c learning

Ive just read the prospectus for 21 School ... All sounds marvellous on paper encompassing all that seems to dazzle 'new frontier' in education ...

As a Parent the more I read, the more I become despondent about the Primary education my own child is receiving ... Which could not, it seems, be more removed from the one outlined in this glossy new school brochure.

Right now my reality is that if I aspire to giving my kids access to THIS kind of education... I MUST provide the Magic, the Imagination, the extra-curricular, the Inspiration ... and my kids are lucky enough to attend a 'Good' state school ?

I am left feeling a bit sad ... Excited by the 'art of the possible' but wondering how as a Parent I might drag my local school, and others like it, kicking and screaming towards this 21C vision?! We're not all lucky enough to have School leaders with such pedigree / vision ... Much as we try as we might try as a community to bolt things on and lend our own professional support to our kids schools it's an uphill battle if the schools do not want or see the need to change ?

Milly Gandy - 18 Apr 2012

Can schools prepare you for anything ?!


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