David Leat considers some of the practical problems that will arise in managing innovation

I will start with a snippet I heard on the radio. The entertainment industry is now a £4bn export earner and tens of thousands of people work in that industry. Art, music, literature, dance and theatre earn that money through live performance and saleable products. The wealth is generated by the artists and the directors, designers, administrators and clerical and technical staff. This is but one example of the human and economic value of being creative. This is not to say that school is only a vocational preparation but it is a strong argument for exposure to and experience of creativity and innovation.

In the pages of Learning and Teaching Update so far we have had many pieces on teaching innovations. The challenge is to move from experiments involving one teacher or one class for some of the time to something that transforms educational experience for all pupils.  This is a tough journey. In this edition there is a piece by Helen Boyle on Campion School, which moved from experiments in relation to Learning to Learn to a curriculum innovation, Opening Minds. She acknowledges a number of the issues. First, some departments were worried about losing time and the ability to cover the statutory curriculum. Second, she points out that meetings of teaching teams must be scheduled into the calendar for planning and review. This is a reminder of some of the practical issues to be faced in transforming teaching, although it is likely to be the tip of iceberg.

One of the advantages of the traditional curriculum is that the timetable produces a structure that dictates where groups of pupils (and teachers) are at any time of the school day or week (or two weeks!) and thus ensures that they are supervised. Schools have heavy legal responsibilities in loco parentis so this is not an insignificant point. If the curriculum is to be transformed then serious work is required in managing the movement and whereabouts of pupils. 

Let me take Opening Minds as an example and explore some of the implications. In this approach students focus on projects or enquiries over a number of weeks, often spanning a number of traditional subjects. If you allow students to develop more independence through this process, then how do you keep track of them as they move between ‘lessons’, independent research, local fieldwork and working in groups? How would you feel about pupils wearing a tracking device? It is a neat solution if you have the technology, but it is also safe to assume that there would be human rights objections from parents and pupils. The press might have a lot of fun with the notion of tagged pupils. If some students were allowed off site with parental permission for specific purposes, one can be certain that others would not, either because of parental wishes or because the school would not want to take the risk.

If schools begin to use more community resources in students’ education that has a stronger spine of project or enquiry, then more adults will be coming in and out, and more people will have to have Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks. Also such visitors have to be planned for and planned with. And if pupils are working independently, in groups or alone, for some of their time in KS3, where will they be? Does a school have space for say 100-200 KS3 pupils working alone or in small groups at any one time? Is this being considered in Building Schools for the Future thinking?

The deeper issue is that teachers are first and foremost subject experts. For the most part they do a degree in a teaching or allied subject, follow this with a postgraduate certificate in their teaching subject, and finally get jobs in subject departments or faculties. Many join subject associations, read subject teaching journals and magazines and join subject teaching networks. They are steeped in subjects. There is a strong need for support and training focused on learning. Learning has a place in teacher education but it has not been the driving force.  The KS3 Strategy and its successor the Secondary Strategy have a made a small dent in the need by offering some good-quality generic training focused more on teaching and learning issues rather then subjects.

Assessment provides a particular challenge. It is possible to take achievement back to subject assessment levels but this seems to defy logic in that it denies the very reason why a school would make a shift. There is a need for new assessment frameworks to reflect the experiences and achievements of pupils in learning and thinking skills beyond subject confines, but how will this be managed? Leaving aside the thought that students themselves need to have prime responsibility, how do we create a system in which teachers from different subject backgrounds contribute to evaluations of skills, dispositions or habits of mind?

Another thorny issue is when and how much should pupils study subjects given that cross-subject teaching is being encouraged in the new ‘slim’ KS3 curriculum. If you introduce topic, enquiry or ‘core’ teaching in Y7, which subjects give up the time? If any subject becomes ‘invisible’ in KS3 how do pupils experience sufficient subject teaching in order to be able to make informed choices at KS4?

We are confident that some of you will be tackling these and other pragmatic issues about reforming teaching and transforming learning. Leave a comment if you have anything to share.