Tag Archives: Opening Minds

The Opening Minds Conference 2008: letting schools provide the answers

The annual Opening Minds Conference was held at the RSA yesterday. Yet again the event was a sell out, and most of the team spent a lot of time standing or sitting on the floor to listen to the presentations.

Despite the warm day in the packed Great Room, delegates listened and responded to a range of speakers including Michael Gernon, principal of the RSA Academy, Mick Waters, Director of Curriculum at QCA and Paul Hammond, Deputy Head at Oasis Academy.

The conference was themed around assessment and brought together some different perspectives on what is always described as a ‘thorny issue’. How do you assess the Opening Minds competencies and demonstrate progression? How do you measure progress in creativity or relationship skills? What are the links with the QCA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills?

True to the nature of Opening Minds itself, the conference did not try and dictate the answers to these questions to delegates, but provided a starting point by sharing what some schools were trying out for themselves.

This sort of issue is where the new RSA online platform for schools using Opening Minds (due to launch this year) will be useful. It will provide a space into which schools can upload their ideas and their practice around assessment or any other issues and share them with other schools.

We think that it is unlikely that any one person or organisation will come up with the answers to some of the really difficult questions in education and what is right for one school or one community is rarely right for them all. We think Opening Minds represents the RSA at its best, helping inspiring practitioners to share ideas and collaborate with one another to find their own answers.


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Filed under Future Schools Network, Opening Minds, RSA National Education Campaign, Uncategorized

Why I increasingly want to be Welsh

And it’s only partly because the Welsh rugby team is so much more successful than my native Ireland’s.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all used devolution to make significant changes to their curricula. The potentially far reaching impacts were brought home to me when I attended a meeting of the Nuffield Review of 14-19‘s Core Group last Friday – a fascinating event from which I learned a huge amount, and certainly much more than I contributed (sorry!).

In particular, a really informative presentation by Richard Daugherty on developments in the Welsh education system since devolution touched on the increasingly popular Welsh Baccalaureate (WBQ). This and subsequent conversations highlighted the importance of a distinction between subject and qualifications led systems (as it seems will still largely be pursued in England even taking Diplomas into account), and the idea of an truly encompassing programme of study which the WBQ comes closer to.

From an RSA Opening Minds standpoint, such a coherent programme could ensure a broader curriculum for all even after Key Stage 3. Students could specialise in science, but not completely lose humanities or the arts. Crucially, however, such a programme of study could enable schools to carry forward something like the Opening Minds framework beyond Key Stage 3, where it normally stops when students pick their GCSE’s.

It’s early days, but devolution seems to mean that these are exciting times for young people going to school in Wales.

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Stuck in the past

One of the big problems for education in this country was illustrated yet again today with the publication of the report from the Centre for Policy Studies’ on re-training military service people to work as teachers in schools.

 First, for clarity, I am not implying there is any reason that people with a background in the military can’t re-train to become wonderful teachers. Secondly, I am commenting less on the substance of the report itself. Rather, what concerns me is the public story that accompanies the report, and some of the response to it from members of the public and politicians.  

 It is just one more demonstration that the public imagination about school is stuck in destructive notions of the ideal classroom being about silence, acquiesence to authority enforced with the threat of sanction, and absorbing knowledge from one point at the front of the class.

The idea things should be this way is contradicted by the schools we know using Opening Minds, or one of a number of other innovative approaches. These schools are seeking to help young people become creative, independent learners, active citizens, and people who can take the opportunities afforded them in a fast moving economy. 

They show the possibility and benefits of actively engaging learners, whatever their background, in buzzing, noisy but focussed classrooms. They create healthy communities which encourage exploration, peer interaction, and most of all excitement about learning.

Disadvantaged young people might ‘respond to raw physical power’ (who doesn’t?!) but they respond better in caring communities of learning.

And that’s the image we need to see in the media, and getting positive responses from politicians. Perhaps we need to shout louder to get that point across?

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Knowledge and power

We had Prof. Michael Young in the House last night talking about the question ‘What are schools for?’ This marked the first in a new series of education lectures at the RSA supported by Edge.

It’s the sort of question that, by virtue of being big, broad and endlessly contestible, is always enjoyable to explore and but impossible to fully answer.

Michael’s focus was on knowledge and the curriculum. In particular he made a distinction between everyday experience, and curriculum knowledge. He argued the latter is powerful knowledge – it relies much less on context to be of use, and importantly takes students beyond their own experience. It’s the kind of knowledge that helps people interpret, understand and ultimately change the world around them, and their lives. 

But these are also the difficult, disciplined, coherent bodies of knowledge and their role is being challenged by recent educational innovations, changes to the Key Stage 3 curriculum, and Diplomas.

Ultimately Michael’s warning was that by changing curricula to emphasise the experience of the learner we could actually deny young people the chance to acquire powerful knowledge. We would leave them stuck in same situation they were in before they engaged in learning.

The debate in the hall afterwards, to my mind, misinterpreted him – often inferring (wrongly, I think) that a conservative idea about the process of teaching was also being advocated. One audience member went as far as describing him as a dinosaur!

I think there is an important implication for social justice here, which those concered with innovation in the curriculum would do well to consider carefully, and must balance with the challenges of relevance and enagement.

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Room for subversion

As many will know, this Monday the RSA, in partnership with the Innovation Unit, will host the first event in the life of the Future Schools Network.

 The purpose of the Network is to create schools fit for the 21st Century – by which we broadly mean schools which are responsive to a world which is changing fast, and which enable all young people to fulfill their potential.

We’re really excited about the possibilities. And schools are too – members of the network have already begun to tell us their thoughts about what practice schools need to develop to meet this challenge (thank you to all those Network members who have got stuck in to the wiki!)

With all those next practice ideas in mind, I was interested when Mike Baker posted an article on BBC Online last Saturday about what makes a good teacher. There is a lot there about teachers’ practice. However, it was a wider point he made about the culture within the teaching profession that particularly caught my eye:

‘The big question now is whether – after 20 years of being told exactly what and how to teach – there are enough teachers ready to be “creatively subversive”?’

The take up of the RSA’s Opening Minds work indicates that a proportion practitioners never lost that readiness, and that there really are more ready to take a risk and do something out of the ordinary because they believe in its worth for students. Indeed, the Future Schools Network is betting the farm on that being true.

 Are we right? And while we’re at it, what do you make of the ideas in Mike’s article about good teachers?

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Risky business

Why do I take some risks and not others? I suppose it’s about how well I can foresee a potential positive outcome against a negative result, and the severity and likelihood of each. But that makes the whole subject sound like an entirely rational calculation, which is not what it feels like in real life. Personally speaking, my judgements are often intuitive, and shaped by past experience.

We seem to think ever more about the risks facing children and young people. But how can we think about them usefully?

It’s a subject that is perhaps particularly important to Opening Minds schools. Learning centred around the development of competences will usually have a greater emphasis on experience and independence – developing the ability to understand and to do. Our thoughts and feelings about risk can shape the learning experiences we design, and the judgements and choices young people are able to make.

Equally, the degree of inequality in Britain means that some young people will have very different risks to manage in their lives, and differing resources to help them excercise good judgement.

So, how do we help young people develop the best understanding of how to handle risk in their lives?

This is a question that the RSA have been thinking hard about.  The Risk and Childhood report, launched in October, helps us consider the risks children and young people face in everyday life and how we should respond.

Now, we are developing a fun, interactive Online Psychometric Tool that can be used by young people to help them understand the risks in their lives, how they can approach them wisely, and where they can go to get help.

 We want to involve schools and young people in this development process, and particularly schools working with the Opening Minds competences for Managing Situations.

If you want to find out more, leave a comment or drop us a line.


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Networks of knowledgeable people

In the last post I mentioned that we visit schools a lot.This means each of the team are in schools every week and have the opportunity to talk to staff and students (though probably not as often with students as we should, and our conversations with staff aren’t as ongoing as we would like).Being in a school is a constant reminder that so much knowledge is created by schools taking some pretty raw ideas and making them work in practice. There’s a close knowledge that only comes from being directly involved in delivery. There are often questions asked by schools thinking about Opening Minds, for example, to which I don’t know the answer. However, I will tend to know someone who does. Almost invariable, they will be people who have had to work through a similar issue in detail to implement change in their school. There’s nothing new to practitioners having tonnes of knowledge that others need.But, what is new is RSA Networks. The RSA is making a major effort to understand how we can create networks which, on their simplest level, mean that you have a connection to the people who you really want to ask questions, and whose questions you can answer. Hopefully it will go beyond simple questioning to sharing ideas and resources, and ultimately making a difference to our schools together. About 90% of you said you would when we surveyed you last term…What will this mean? Well, one of the main things is that the RSA Education team is working to create an online platform for some of this sharing to happen in the Spring. In slightly different ways we hope it will support both Opening Minds, and our RSA Future Schools Network.  

We’ll be meeting the web developers again in a few days. Tell me what you think about these ideas, and anything about what you want to see the new site.


Filed under Future Schools Network