There comes a time in an individual’s, or institution’s, life when a juxtaposition of what is going on in our own life coincides with significant changes in the outside world. This often prompts a slight change in direction, and then a sudden growth spurt. The year 2010 has been like that for the Initiative.
The year started with the publication of John Abbott’s book Overschooled but Undereducated drawing on what the Initiative has learnt since its formation (as Education 2000) in the early 1980s. With the General Election in England looming in May the Initiative used its Parliamentary Briefing Paper to urge politicians to embrace the new thinking about the brain, and how humans learn, so as to bring about that long overdue transformation of pedagogic practice aimed at giving young people an ever-greater involvement in, and responsibility for, their own learning.
As the Coalition settled in during the late summer their policies seemed to be dominated by issues of governance (who should run the schools) and competition, rather than any serious attempt to reverse the perceived superiority of secondary over primary schools, or by encouraging the all-through 5-16 schools. Consequently in this new political climate it was decided that the Initiative should no longer spend time trying to directly influence politicians but rather to build up, across the country, a far better understanding of what such alternative methods of education would look like, why they were more likely to succeed, and how ordinary people can start to effect change.
Three of our most senior Trustees retired (including Christopher Wysock-Wright who started Education 2000 in the early 1980s, and David Peake who has been Chairman since 1993). John Senior, formerly Head of Community Affairs at Rio Tinto, and a Trustee for several years, has been appointed Chairman. Four new Trustees have been appointed: Richard Hornbrook, formerly Chief Executive of the Chelsea Building Society, Peter Mountstephens, a well known Primary head who is Chairman of the South West Primary Heads Association, Dr Johanne Grosvold, a Lecturer in the School of Management at the Bath University and Caroline Wijetunge, a freelance copywriter. They are being assisted by, amongst others, Lorenzo McLellan, a recent Graduate from Bristol University in Philosophy and French, and Dale Stafford who has run her own company providing a range of training resources and programmes.
Believing that the strength of the Initiative is the powerful and well-articulated case that the book and supporting papers make for far-reaching pedagogic change, the Trustees also recognised that we have only a loosely connected network of supporters (drawn out of the nearly 1,000 lectures given in the past ten years, and in many parts of the world). Many of our strongest supporters have a clear sense of what the Initiative is about, but lack the knowledge of what to do about it. To help rectify this the Initiative has produced a three-page description of what the Initiative is about. It is a powerful document and is available on the website.
The Trustees have decided to commission a graphic production company to work with us to produce an animated documentary graphic which, by focussing just on the argument in the first chapter of the book, will be able to give an overview of what the Initiative’s ideas are in between four and five minutes. For those knowledgeable about such matters they will already know about the animated documentary called “The Story of Stuff”. This is a good illustration of what we are seeking to produce.
The graphic will be placed on our website and as many links as possible created to attract the largest possible audience. Immediately this animated documentary graphic would help those of our supporters who regularly comment “I have read the book from cover to cover, twice, and so believe in what it says yet I get totally frustrated by not being able, myself, to explain it properly to my friends. Please can somebody help me do this better”, by enabling them to use such a video to back up their own explanations. By utilising the best of modern methods of communication this graphic should be able to do this splendidly. The more widespread the graphic is used the more other people will turn for more ideas to our website.
Of course only a fraction of the Initiative’s ideas can be covered in one such video – we have already identified a further dozen videos that could be extracted from the content of the book alone. Producing such graphics is expensive and we will have to use the first one to attract sponsors to fund the production of subsequent videos. These will provide an incomparable tool for extending the Initiative’s ideas. These videos will each invite questions and comments, provide suggestions to what individuals and organisations can do next, and then direct enquirers to specific parts of the website. Each video is likely to cost between £10,000 and £15,000.
The graphics are the first of three projects to support the Initiative’s strategy. The second project will be to establish, in the middle of 2011, a Conversation between some 15 or 20 especially invited men and women, each with a wide and appropriate background, to consider what kind of education do the people of this country want for what kind of a world. Some readers will remember that John Abbott once linked this to a subsequent question – “do we want our children to grow up as battery hens or free-range chickens?” The second project will inevitably feed off the ideas generated by the graphics, and vice versa. This Conversation is likely to require start-up funds of £15,000.
The third project is still tentative and involves attracting those 17 – 18 year olds who are already interested in the possibility of becoming teachers and are anxious to take an appropriate gap year between school and university. The Initiative is having discussions with various groups in British Colombia, Canada where the ideas of the Initiative are best being implemented, about a scheme which would split such a year into two parts. They would act as student teachers working with some excellent teachers in the Gulf Island School District to the south of Vancouver Island, supported by an extensive programme run through one of the universities in introducing them to all the research involved in the “grain of the brain”. The second part of the year would be spent in a school in one of the developing countries in Africa or elsewhere. They would then return after such an inspirational year to study for three years at university in their particular chosen subjects but this experience should lead them to be far better prepared for a postgraduate teacher training experience. The immediate start-up costs for this will be between £10,000 and £15,000.
The plans for the three projects are now well underway. The Initiative will post regular updates about all of this on the website, and more directly to those who have provided the Initiative with your most appropriate, personal, email addresses.
There are, we know, a number of people who could, in a variety of ways, help us promote either one, two or three of these strands and we would dearly like them to identify themselves to us by contacting John Abbott directly. Some of that help has to be in developing a network of like-minded people, by encouraging the dissemination of the ideas, and part in helping us find the essential funds to make all this happen. If you know an idea, or a contact, or a source of funding please do let us know as soon as possible.
Should you feel that you yourself can help fund the work of the Initiative, we have set up a donation page on our website which you can find at the following link:
While this may seem a big agenda the Initiative believes it to be highly appropriate to the opportunities we can take, and the challenges that have to be accepted. A further update will be issued at the end of January, and we expect to send you the first animated documentary graphic at the end of February, just in advance of it being posted on the website.