RSA videos on the school system

A One Nation Schools System (Stephen Twigg)

Stephen Twigg has emerged from the shadows, aka the often criticised for being policy-light opposition benches, with a ‘One Nation’ take on schools.  His talk is on the RSA video channel and his opinions have been picked up elsewhere, including on the Local Schools Network (LSN) and The Guardian.

I find it interesting that the YouTube comments have picked up on why online learning is not considered in the debate.  I’ve mentioned on various platforms in the past that online education should allow for better interaction between educators and parents and more consistency for students.  It sounds like ‘One Nation’ Labour are still looking for ‘local challenges’ to schools rather than recognizing the need to educate, not for local communities, but for a globalized world.  To raise aspiration, I would argue a key aspect is to make young people aware of the opportunities available to them by not looking locally but to the national and global level.  This would help deal with a number of issues facing our nations, including assisting with making young people more entrepreneurial and aware of the importance of exporting goods and resources.

Twigg calls for “networked” schools but the focus seems to be on local communities playing their part, it will be interesting to see if the announced work for David Blunkett simply recommends a return to more LEA style-coordination.  Presumably, as Labour introduced academies, they are potentially just as likely to ignore reports into their weaknesses as Twigg suggests the current Education Secretary has around Free Schools.

He also suggests schools working together, but still doesn’t mention online learning and tutoring specifically in this speech.  I would say the physical bringing together of children in schools immediately puts up walls, physical and metaphorical.  Schools create a “them and us” mentality; online platforms ignore location in a way that would enable the level playing field Twigg desires.  This would include sharing the best teachers to more pupils and dealing with the challenge of meeting the crisis of students outside educational institutions, again ignored here.

Twigg says Free Schools, via their current approval process, will dry up but I don’t think he actually sets out how he will deal with the challenge of places he acknowledges (and is asked about).  The necessity of likely school building costs needs to be seriously considered, and has probably been made even more pressing by the axing of the Building Schools for the Future programme.  There is a suggestion in the Q&A that Labour will not throw money at the challenges, thus how will One Nation labour save money and deal with the exploding issue of class sizes fuelled by immigration under the last Labour government?  Twigg identifies quality of teaching, by qualified teachers, as a way to improve schools.  This includes making outstanding schools partner and support those that are struggling.  He does not, in such a short speech, get into specifics.  However, class sizes were the old argument piece in education (pre-Free Schools) and I would argue a shift to online would allow us to move from worrying about class sizes, within physical schools, to the better measure of 1-2-1 educator to pupil time.

I would agree with the LSN post that Twigg’s positivity is a big step forward, as opposed to the current cycle of argument between schools and government.  However, whilst the current anti-Gove atmosphere in schools is one thing it should not be forgotten that the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, was not particularly popular with educators either when responsible for schools.  A move to online could offer the teachers, who feel stressed and alienated by the current environment, a flexible working model that allows them to continue to contribute to the profession.  Those who excel in 1-2-1 coaching could concentrate there whilst large group presenting masters could specialize in that area.

The following speaker, from Kings College, identified the current patchy quality.  I would again argue an online schooling system can deal with this challenge.  Bringing the sector together online would help to deal with the inequalities she highlights, including pupils identifying themselves by their local hierarchy.

Overall, the talk and Q&A confirms the insular approach of schools, I would say regional government has to be seen as failing here.  The public sectors advantage should be in freedom to share and network, league tables have not helped but are not solely to blame for the cultural problems.  There are clearly a whole host of challenges to tackle; online schooling, I would argue, is a potential solution.  Pitching it to teachers unions, educators, parents and evidently politicians is the next step – and I would not be keen about using the ‘cloud’ term.

Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems around the Globe (Global Education Leaders’ Program)

This second video has a vision more in line with my own, as hinted at above.  However, the six design principles ‘GELP’ highlights are hardly revolutionary in their own.  Indeed there is still talk of ‘classrooms’ and brining technology into the classroom.  In addition, a lot of the ‘ecosystem’ talk is largely meaningless, at least in the detail afforded by the presentation format.

There is a growing consensus that system transformation, not school improvement, is the necessary response.

This excellent comment from the GELP website does not really seem to get followed up in the presentation as their ‘transformation’ seems to be about schools working together (as Twigg advocated) but not transforming the system.  Again, I would argue there is no reason why such collaboration has not existed in the past.  Whilst league tables can be blamed, universities do collaborate in a similarly competitive admissions market.  The argument for forcing change on schools would be that have they failed to transform themselves.

The Q&A inevitably leads to the point that schools are effectively forced by parents/students demand to focus on grades due to their implications in the post-school (work/university) world.  This, again, is a common complaint in the university sector where educators fear students are solely interested in reaching the 2.1 benchmark.  Personally I would advocate that Open Badges, ePortfolios, etc might be what is needed here.  Ultimately a ‘young persons’ LinkedIn’ (like to make young people more transparent to employers could be built out of online schooling and help with the crisis of youth unemployment?

Whose Education is it Anyway?

In answer to this website’s fundamental question there is clearly a flaw in both of these presentations – the ‘Global Education Leaders’ and politicians may decide what they think is best (based on varying research/practice bases).  However, as shown in a recent report, parents and students (at least in the US) are already recognizing the value in online.  The challenge for the UK, in my opinion, is for the online developments to be led by teachers and school leaders rather than having a system imposed upon them.  Success will make it impossible for politicians, or anyone else, to then pull the rug away.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

One thought on “RSA videos on the school system”

  1. Inevitably after making that post I’ve come across a few related things, including:
    – New York School of One ( reimagining the US schooling model.
    – French school leaders article ( French school leaders struggling to find the time for school improvement.
    – Doug Belshaw’s take ( including changing the school/lesson model
    – Digital Wales ( part of the U trying a joined up approach
    – We Care About Education ( including a nice collection of related videos
    – IGGY ( the University of Warwic leading a global teenager collaboration site.

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