School's Out, Forever

In the words of rock legend Alice Cooper’s most famous song, "school’s out forever".

Knowsley Council in Merseyside, which – for years – has languished near or at the bottom of exam league tables, has abolished the use of the word to describe secondary education in the borough. It is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009.

As part of a £150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven state-of-the- art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft – which has already developed links with one school in the borough, Bowring. The style of learning will be completely different. The new centres will open from 7am until 10pm in both term-time and what used to be known as the school holidays. At weekends, they will open from 9am to 8pm.

Youngsters will not be taught in formal classes, nor will they stick to a rigid timetable; instead they will work online at their own speeds on programmes that are tailor-made to match their interests. Children will be able to study haircare, beauty therapy, leisure and tourism, and engineering as well as the more traditional academic subjects. They will be given their day’s assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to internet cafe-style zones in the learning centres to carry them out.

The 21,000 youngsters of secondary education age in Knowsley will also be able to access their learning programmes from home.

Madeleine Cotson, the headteacher of Bowring, said: "Provided they can show they have developed their learning, there is no reason why they couldn’t do some of their learning from home."

The youngsters may find themselves working beside adults – possibly even their parents – who can enlist for courses to update their skills. That kind of arrangement has already worked well for Bowring, which has been running healthy-eating lessons.

"Let’s stop right now building new old schools," said Nick Page, who is in charge of transforming children’s services in Knowsley. "We’re building for the next 25 to 50 years and 25 years is a hell of a long period if we get it wrong."
Figures show that only 19 per cent of youngsters in Knowsley obtained five A* to C grade passes at GCSE in 1995 compared with 43 per cent in the rest of the country. The figure went up to up to 48 per cent last year but that is still 10 per centage points behind the national average.

"The lack of progress, catastrophically high levels of pupil absenteeism, stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment and the rapidly changing nature of the labour market drew a political response both locally and nationally," says a council document outlining the reasons for the changes.

Ministers say the experiment – which forms part of the first tranche of the Government’s ambitious £2.4bn programme to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school in the country by 2020 – is the most radical of all the bids submitted by local authorities. Although it has not embraced sponsorship, Knowsley has acknowledged the need for private sector involvement in the running of schools – with Microsoft, RM (a supplier of information and communications technology to schools) and Jaguar (the local car plant) all backing the scheme. The teachers’ unions are unlikely to oppose the plan as – unlike the academies programme – the shake-up does not hand control of the institutions to the private sector.

The philosophy behind the shake-up, as spelt out in the council document, is "to establish a culture in which it is understood that ‘these children can’ instead of ‘these children can’t’," it says. "Too many in secondary schooling expected little or nothing of local children and this had to be addressed."
At Bowring, the "can do" approach is already emphasised through encouraging the teaching of skills – such as problem solving and creative thinking – which will be valued by employer.

After all, Madeleine Cotson argues, an employer might be impressed by the traditional academic qualifications such as GCSE’s and A-levels but would need to know whether a potential applicant for a job can get on with people.
"We’re looking at ways of measuring these skills and actively finding a way of assessing these qualities," she said. "We believe they’re just as important – in fact more important – than the academic skills because we’re preparing people for life outside school."

At present, the timetable for 11 and 12-year-olds at the school has been changed to allow youngsters to follow problem-solving projects through. They can spend as much as two hours on a topic – such as how to drop an egg without breaking it – rather than just stick to a rigid timetable of fifty minutes per lesson.
The Knowsley experiment has attracted interest from other councils in the UK as well as from further afield, including Tasmania and the US.

from The Independent, "No more school as council opens ‘learning centres’"

written by Richard Garner, Education Editor, Published: 14 May 2007



    May 18, 2007

    This is such a good idea. I remember, back when I was in secondary school,having a discussion with my friends which was along the same lines.

    With this system, those who are academically-minded can get all the learning they want; while those who see little point in academic subjects can pursue something more to their tastes.

    Exploding Tomato

    May 18, 2007

    “We’re building for the next 25 to 50 years and 25 years is a hell of a long period if we get it wrong.”

    And yet, they’re getting it so, so, so spectacularly wrong.

    I shudder at the thought of what those idiots are doing to the population in the area, and the education of a generation or more of people. Can’t imagine a worse crime against education, those children’s chance to prosperity, or even against humanity in that region of the UK than these loathsome plans.

    Entrusting the biggest responsibility a person can ever have – that of their education and their mind – to children… that is the greatest disservice they can ever experience. It’s like handing a gun to a toddler and telling them to find out about right and wrong. It’s like selling a cure-for-all medicine to someone who has never heard of scammers.

    It’s the ultimate lie: Creating a silly cuddly pretend-utopia enhanced by gimmicks and computers which completely fails to prepare children for life in a real world, for the rigidity of employed life, for academic struggle at university, for a world where freedoms are a fiction that is sold to the masses on paper, but reality is bound to debts, expectations, consumerism, mortgages and a million other things that aren’t fluffy.

    It is putting children in Santa’s toy factory, feeding them nothing but sweets, giving them nothing but a feeling of self-worth unbalanced by any facility for self-criticism, and once all these darling Violet Beauregardes are spewn out of the system into the world, it dooms them to crash and burn and find out at the age of 18 or 19 in a big collapse of their world what everyone else learns gradually over the years, and it asks them to adapt to that change in such a short frame of time that the expectation is ludicrous.

    For all the parents living in that area, the smart time to exit is now.

    (Meanwhile, I wonder, do those new non-schools actually include any teachers, or will they be fully automated and ready for a teacher-free future? Is perhaps the motivation behind these plans a simple desire to save on labour costs while simultaneously being able to point at the inevitable failure of the children and claim it’s all their own fault, because they got all the freedom and responsibility to learn whatever they wanted to learn, so if they didn’t learn anything, they have to be flawed human beings, born to be chavs/hoodies/ASBO-teens…)


    May 18, 2007

    So do you believe that learning can only take place between a teacher and a student?

    That it can only take place between the the hours of 9am and 3:30pm?

    That it can only happen if no electronics are involved?

    Most children want to learn. There is a drive. Just because they all do not have the same idea about what they want to learn does not mean that they can’t.

    Surely a bigger injustice is forcing children through a system that operates on the ideals of ‘lowest common denominator’ and ‘one-size fits all’.



    May 18, 2007

    I think some people forget how quickly kids grow up these days – they face a lot issues than most of us had when we were kids – drugs, crime.

    We’re not talking about changing the education of todllers here – it’s the 11+ group that is being changed.

    This is precisely the group that is more and more dissaffected with their education! What better way to get teenagers interested in learning than providing them with subjects they actually want to learn!
    I think Exploding Tomato shows a complete lack of respect for the teenagers intellect. They are not brainless idiots! Perhaps the current school system is what makes them look that way! You only have to look at how they respond to new technologies to realise that learning has moved on, and the kids with it.


    May 18, 2007

    I forgot to mention sex


    May 18, 2007

    Mark +1 🙂

    Exploding Tomato

    May 18, 2007

    Oh, I’m all for divided education and selection at 11, mind, to avoid the silly lowest common denominator one size fits all approach. Comprehensive education is pathetic and misguided. It’s just still better than no education – which is what these non-schools are about to churn out.

    Higher and lower tiers? Special needs? Bollocks, if teachers are forced to try and cover the same matter with all the children in a year, just with different levels of depth. Divide them into 2, 3 or 4 different schools at the age of 11, then teach the dumb ones stuff to do with their hands and sports, the mediocre ones skills needed for customer and/or civil service and middle management, the reasonably clever ones academic stuff, and the really bright ones even more academic stuff, a few foreign languages, and preparation for Oxbridge…

    As for the questions, the answers, in that order are:

    1) During childhood, yes. Without the teacher, what happens is gossip, games, make-up and make-out, but certainly not education.

    2) No. But why keep children in a fake environment that doesn’t reflect anything? If they get used to set hours then, they’ll cope with set hours at work. Not everyone will have flexitime when they grow up.

    3) Electronics can be a teaching aid. But in reality, too much focus is invested in silly gadgets that have little actual benefit (eg: electronic whiteboards), but give the appearance of moving education to the next century. Any educational policy plan which sets aside half its effort to waffle about electronics is trying to cloak the fact that it has very little experience or understanding of the reality of education. It’s education, as designed by politicians, electronic company marketeers, and consultants. In short, it’s spin and BS.

    With regards to teenage intellect – I’ll believe in it when I find evidence for its widespread presence and commonality.

    Thus far, that evidence has proven elusive.


    May 18, 2007

    Unfortunately I was never taught much about gardening, but I can see that this tomato has well and truly ripened and exploded, and should now be composted.

    A quick scan of wikipedia reveals that the tomato is a plant of the nightshade family with “a weak and woody stem that often vines over the other plants”. Botanically tomatoes are fruits, nutritionally they are categorised as vegetables, intellectually who knows?.

    Prince Charles sometimes spends time in conversation with plants, it is somewhat ironic that here in cyberspace we are following his example and are discussing education with an open minded free thinking tomato.

    Having followed the previous comments I can’t but help wonder what would happen if our tomato had to repeat his or her schooling?
    Into which of the previously described groups would or should he or she have been planted?
    Among the dumb, the mediocre, reasonably clever or really bright.
    How could we decide?

    On the evidence before us I know where I’d place this particular plant.

    The Administrator

    May 18, 2007

    Another alternative is, of course, home education. More here:

    The Administrator

    May 18, 2007

    Education Otherwise is a UK-based membership organisation which provides support and information for families whose children are being educated outside school, and for those who wish to uphold the freedom of families to take proper responsibility for the education of their children:

    The Administrator

    May 18, 2007

    Dubbed the quiet revolution:

    The Administrator

    May 18, 2007

    Most parents send their child to school, but you do have the right to educate your child at home. As a parent, you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of five:

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