Transforming Schooling: Why we must and what it will take

01 April 2015  |  By Dr Chris Goldspink


School does not work for too many of our young people and is also failing our wider societies. In a series of posts I am going to outline how I see the problem and discuss what I think we need to do about it. On the way I will identify the major reasons why school has remained stuck in an approach to teaching and learning born of the industrial age. This is a blog – but this won't be just my opinion.

For over a decade now I have been working with educators and researchers in several different countries to understanding how to transform schooling. The aim has been to understand what works for learners with different backgrounds and experiences – particularly those who have been shown to be disengaged with, and to not achieve within, traditional schooling contexts.

My motivation is more than just professional. School did not work for me. When I started this work I assumed that the many and repeated attempts by Governments of all persuasions to improve schooling would have changed it from what I experienced – it has not – at least not in ways that matter.

The concern to transform is different from the normal objective of school reform. The latter is about improving what is rather than imagining what could be and understanding what it would take to achieve it. Being concerned with transformation means being willing to question deeply held assumptions about the very nature of school, teaching, learning and knowledge. It has also meant questioning taken for granted assumptions about the role of learners, teachers, school leaders and communities. None of this is new – Paulo Freire did it back in the middle of last century as, of course, did people like John Dewey. There have been many more since and I will touch on the contributions as we take the journey through how we came to be where we are and where we might reasonably head.

It is reasonable to claim that schooling has proven difficult to change. As an institution, school has been around, in much the same form, for a long time. Perhaps a part of the answer as to why it is hard to change then is that everyone has a view on what school is and how it should work. These views are generally informed by personal experience. They are seldom interrogated with any depth or rigour and this is a part of the problem, beceause what is true of the wider population is arguably true of many policy makers as well. They go with what they think they know, based on personal experience, rather than with what the evidence shows.

There is some justification for this as the evidence has been very patchy and a lot of key questions have fallen between the cracks of traditional, discipline based, research.

In this series of articles I want to share what I have learned and are still learning about transforming schooling. The ideas communicated in this series are backed by evidence and have appeared or will soon appear in peer reviewed academic papers for anyone who wants to go into the issues raised in more depth. These will generally appear on Incept Labs or associated web sites in one form or another. My colleagues and I have been directly involved with (and continue to initiate) some of the research upon which I will draw but I will also draw on the wider body of relevant research. The aim of this series is, however, to make these ideas and experiences more widely accessible to everyone who has an interest in transforming the way we do schooling. I don't claim to have the last word. I do aim to provoke debate and action. To this end each article will be short and sharp – highlighting the key issues. The aim is to flag what each of us can do to support our local schools to transform.

The series will deal with the following questions:

  • Why do we need to transform schooling?
  • What makes an effective learner?
  • What drives student engagement in learning?
  • What do skilled teachers do?
  • What are the common assumptions about teaching and learning that block transformation?
  • What do effective leaders do to support transformation?
  • Why have past (and many current) attempts at school reform failed or made things worse?
  • What are the key phases in school transformation and how can each of us support them?

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