CBI logoEducation 2000 had become sufficiently well-known by 1987 for me to be invited to address the Annual Conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) which was televised live with a studio audience of 1,800. This represented a massive step from a standing start of only two years before.

I spoke about the importance of educating a nation that was able to think for itself, and of individuals who could stand on their own two feet. The vital step, I argued, was to raise young people who wanted to learn and take responsibility for their own actions. “The clue is in the word ‘teaching’. Primary schools encourage children to want to learn… the child becomes excited – motivated. Secondary schools have been saddled with the artificiality of single subject disciplines, each with a heavy load of content – the teacher takes control, the pupil does as he is told… it’s the only way of covering the syllabus. The integrated view of knowledge is easily lost…a vital attribute – that of responsibility – is lost; many never recover – learning is associated with failure, and this bugs them for all time”. The need to get the correct balance between Teaching and Learning became the battle cry of the embryonic Education 2000.

Sitting in the audience was the new Minister for Education, Kenneth Baker. No sooner had I sat down than Baker proposed a deal – I should combine Education 2000’s obvious success in galvanising sponsors with his own political plans to establish twenty City Technology Colleges as a means of breaking what he saw as the monopoly of state education. Again I declined the offer suggesting instead that rather than schools opting out of Local Education Authority control, means should be found for groups of schools within identifiable communities to opt in to a new form of community-based ‘School Boards’ comparable to those of the late nineteenth century. The Minister, said that arrangements had now gone so far with the changes needed for the forthcoming Act that he was planning to bring in during 1988, that he could not unscramble the legislative framework.

At that early stage, Education 2000 resolved to focus on, ‘from teaching to learning’. It subsequently became a catch-phrase, as the Trust saw the new role of the teacher as the ‘facilitator’, a mentor and advisor to the pupils in place of the more traditional instructor role that is more commonly understood by the title. Pupils too were becoming more responsible for their own learning, using the new technologies available to meet up and discuss ideas and activities. Computer and information technologies were revolutionary for schooling. The idea that students could submit, edit and re-evaluate homework saw a shift in the way teachers looked at young people’s work marked the beginning of a potential revolution.

By 1990 there were nine communities (Letchworth, Bury, Ipswich, Calderdale, Tring, Swindon, Leeds, Loughborough and Coventry) attempting to develop a community-wide approach to education. Their goal was a fundamentally changed relationship between schools, home and community facilitated by technology, with new methods of organising teaching and learning to develop genuine skills of creativity and personal enterprise. Sadly, increasingly centralised and prescriptive directives by successive ministers steadily squeezed these embryo projects and their transforming potential out of the mainstream agenda of educational change.

As more research was always becoming available in the early 90s, synthesis became a major problem. Due to the various disciplines (many such as neurobiology, systems theory and evolutionary psychology relatively alien to policy makers and administrators) that affected the understanding of how best humans learn, much of Education 2000’s mission was to help synthesise these ideas from across various platforms of research and so create new models of education. Unfortunately there were more places interested in putting into practice what the Initiative believed should happen, than there were the resources to back these up. There was a further and more difficult problem; the Initiative’s goals were so large (and rightfully all-embracing) that many in the individual projects picked off a small (but manageable) part of our thinking which frequently failed to deliver. And then there was a still bigger problem… so many of the centrally mandated innovations imposed by government ran off in totally different directions to Education 2000.

My earlier introduction to thinking in the U.S. led to a number of invitations to speak (and discuss) at many overseas conferences to people fascinated by how Education 2000 was working to achieve ‘Whole Systems’ change. See also the reference to “The Creation of Effective Modern Learning Communities; the role of new information and communication technologies” (NATO Workshop). University of Leuven, Belgium May 1991

Al Shanker

Al Shanker

As the climate for educational reform became increasingly cold in Great Britain, Education 2000 realised that the crisis in schooling was an international phenomenon. In both America and abroad Education 2000 received a warm reception for its ideas and pedagogic reform and in 1992 Dr Albert Shanker, the President of the American Federation of Teachers said that, “once in a great while, and usually spurred on by a crisis, a combination of forces and ideas come together in a way that makes real change possible. In the field of education I believe that now is such a time”. Shanker argued that blind faith in past forms of education would prove detrimental to the learning environment of future generations that needed to adapt to suit new skills demanded by society. He also noted that governments with nation-wide, prescriptive school policy would fail to meet the demands of individual communities, “the rigidity of the traditional structure forces us to try and fit diverse children into the same mould… learning must be active and children learn in different ways and at different rates”. Dr Shanker then agreed to sit on the Council of Education 2000.

In 1991 I met several times with Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist and Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He contributed a thesis based on the development of a child’s mind in the early years. Gardner suggested that children learn intuitively with several parts of the brain, or ‘multiple intelligences’ such as Linguistic intelligence, Musical intelligence or Intra-personal intelligence. This means that as children we learn, remember, perform and understand in different ways and this necessitates apprenticeship as the best model of learning by contextualising information. The Hertfordshire project went some way to addressing these needs, enabling young students to range across disciplines and bringing various perspectives to study broadly based themes.

Many Europeans were enthusiastic about Education 2000’s message, and I was invited to talk at the ‘Changing the School Curriculum’ conference at Soest in Germany**. I spoke to policy makers, researchers and industry CEOs on the need for overall cultural change to allow young people to take responsibility for their own learning with systematic reform driven by educationalists and communities. I discussed recent research across the cognitive sciences and other educational disciplines such as research conducted in Germany that illustrated how 60% of a child’s learning occurs outside the school environment – at home, from television, from books and magazines, from parents and friends and from all manner of other stimuli. Helping people to understand the importance of community in raising a child was a key part of the Trust’s message. In this article, ‘Children Need Communities’ (1995) *** I argued that a vital part of learning for young people was interaction with their environment which provides a critical sense of personal purpose and an understanding of the essential interconnectedness of different forms of human endeavour. Education is not a preparation for life, it is life, and needs to be connected fully to it.