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EDITIONS
Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 02:31 GMT
Pupils learning skills not subjects
Chafford Hundred Campus classroom
Chafford Hundred Campus: Forward-looking
A number of secondary schools in England are trying out a radical departure from subject-based lessons.

The schools are using instead an alternative curriculum based on five skills needed to succeed in life:

  • learning
  • managing information
  • managing situations
  • relating to people
  • citizenship.
These "competences", as they are known, were devised by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which sees them as a model for future learning.

"Education as it is, with the national curriculum, no longer serves the needs of pupils," said Patrick Hazlewood, head of St John's School & Community College, an 11-18 comprehensive in Marlborough, Wiltshire.

"What we are operating within schools is an industrial model that churns out people at the other end for a fictitious workplace which no longer exists - not training them for the 21st century."

Learning how to learn

So he is piloting the alternative curriculum with one third of this year's first years - the Year 7 pupils.

pupils at St John's School
Learning how to think at St John's School
"We haven't disapplied the national curriculum but we don't teach subjects," he said.

"We are helping them to learn how to learn and how to think, and use those skills to manage situations and information."

Dr Hazlewood is not someone who needs a radical initiative to drive up standards - his school has GCSE results well above the national average.

"We are a very successful school and clearly I can't jeopardise that. But I hope this is going to allow our children to achieve even more highly.

"In May we will look at the internal evaluation evidence and make a decision as to how to proceed.

"The early data would suggest this is going to be much more successful than we first thought."

Primary extension

He argues that this makes more sense for children coming from primary to secondary school, which can often be a bewildering experience.

One of the problems in secondaries has been that there's no obvious link between lessons

Head teacher

This is also apparent to Alison Banks, joint head of another of the pilot schools, Chafford Hundred Campus in Thurrock, Essex.

"We still do subjects but what we have tried to do is to build on the good practice of primary school, where learning is much more integrated," she said.

"One of the problems in secondaries has been that there's no obvious link between lessons. When the bell goes it's bewildering for the little 11 year olds."

Novel school

Chafford Hundred Campus is an unusual combination of nursery, primary, secondary and adult education centres all in one.

Chafford Hundred
Fun learning at Chafford Hundred
There is a single management team, office, administration system and wireless computer network which pupils access through laptops.

Primary numeracy teachers are now putting their expertise to use with the 11 to 14 year olds, while secondary subject specialists teach primary pupils for such things as art and music.

Because the school was completely new, Ms Banks said she had "a blank sheet of paper" on which to construct the curriculum.

Looking to the future

Legally she was still bound to deliver the national curriculum - she would rather have dumped some subjects altogether.

I think in many ways the national curriculum was retrogressive

"But I thought the best way to do it was to put the subjects second and the competences first.

"I think in many ways the national curriculum was retrogressive and so very, very content-driven. We are trying to be a school of the future."

So the children are set units of work for each half-term, reinforced with weekly one-to-one tutoring sessions at which they are helped to assess their own progress.

How it works

The teaching day is split between numeracy-based then literacy-based sessions in the morning, and expressive arts in the afternoon.

She argues that it is a more efficient way of learning than the traditional stopping and starting of different subject lessons.

Conference debate

The issues raised are being discussed at a conference organised by the RSA on Monday, at which the speakers include the head of the curriculum quango, the QCA, David Hargreaves.

The RSA's project director, Valerie Bayliss, will be telling him that its development has revealed deep concern that education is not going in the right direction.

"There is plenty of concern that those who pull the levers of power in education are looking backwards."

Mr Hargreaves was invited to the conference before announcing his decision to retire early.

There have been concerns in some quarters that he was leaving because ministers were stopping him from considering scrapping GCSEs in the review of 14-19 education signalled in the education White Paper, although he has said that would be " a grave mistake".

Photos courtesy of the RSA

See also:

26 Jun 01 | Education
21 Sep 01 | Education
05 Jun 01 | Education
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