April 26th, 2007


Opening minds

Today I attended the Opening minds conference at the RSA in London.

Opening Minds is the RSA's integrated curricular approach to Key Stage 3 (ages 11-13), although it has been applied successfully to other age groups. It is based on five sets of competences related to learning, citizenship, people, managing information and systems. The first pilots were launched in 2001 so the first cohorts are about to take their A levels.

The conference opened with a short film made by pupils at the Bemrose Community School. School. It was clear that pupils and teachers thoroughly enjoyed the approach. The consensus was that the approach teaches pupils how to learn. Students appreciated having fewer teachers, particularly teachers who admit when they don't know things. The liked “having our own room”and not having to carry stuff around all the time. They also like setting their own timescale with time to complete work without being rushed and being able to carry on work in breaks or lunchtime. Working in groups, having fun, and doing presentations to parents and others, and “learning important things for life” were also valued..

Jonathan Scott, one of the first cohort, addressed the conference in an assured and focused way. He asserted that we need good teaching, good learning, and good assessment. The best teachers are those that break the mould; to be better than average, a teacher must teach in a way other than that which s/he was taught to teach. Good learning flows from pupil's passion for learning. Passion comes from engagement in selecting the learning process. Current assessment methods favour those with textual leanings and disadvantages the rest. Scott and his peers have proposed an approach to individualised assessment. They fielded penetrating questions with aplomb.

The six students on the panel ranged from years 6 to 13. They were articulate, enthusiastic, open, and challenging. Indeed, they were very much more articulate than the teachers that followed them onto the dais.

After the formal programme I spoke with a group of three teachers from an Essex upper school who seek to build an integrated curriculum for one day a fortnight. They seemed eager and engaged.