More Small School Quality

Qualifications- a redundant currency

by Mervyn Benford

Hard research consistently shows that education is about people. It is about the relationship between those who know and understand already and those who want or need to know. In 2009 Professor Hattie from Auckland published his analysis and related summary of thousands of small scale national and international studies over 15 years of what proved effective in teaching and learning. He then put them in a league table of relative effectiveness. The top factors were human factors.....not least pupil self-esteem and awareness and relationships.

System factors like buildings, tests, inspections, organisation, structures were down at the bottom.

It is not just employers who criticise outcomes. In 2009 Professor Birkhead at Sheffield University published a report in which he argued convincingly that schools failed to prepare pupils for university as we had bred a generation unable to think for themselves. Sadly schools do not teach such competence but it lies at the heart of everyday life and work. Yet universities must take the blame for how teachers work. At a National Education Trust conference in 2009 Paul Bennett of the National Leadership College described a project which brought 150 primary children to them for a day to talk about what they most liked in their schools and what they thought about school and their needs. The following catalogue describes the pupil perspective presented summarily. As you read it try to imagine where it currently happens as standard experience.

We want to learn about real things.
We want to break down subject barriers.
We want to choose our curriculum.

We want more time for our work, to learn better.
We want to learn about the world and world events.
We want more work with different age groups.
We want to learn about parents and adults.

We want to use different technology.
We want more doing and making.
We want experts to inspire us.

We want more work in teams.
We want other country contacts.
We want to work more outside.
We want to laugh together.

Current educational provision should start with these demands because they do develop real skills of initiative, problem-solving and creative ideas. Secondary schools should then build on these, exploiting and extending the growing practical skills and insights their pupils are developing. Today they concentrate heavily on the purely academic demands of university entrance which still heavily hang upon basic instruction of prescribed facts to be memorised sufficiently to pass tests and exams. This present examination concept is long out-of-date. The more we persist with it the more desperate become the efforts to accommodate it. Employers know that Professor Birkhead is right. The universities know their pursuit of increasingly meaningless examination grades creates problems for themselves. So many pupils now obtain not only conventional 'A' grades but also the supposedly more demanding A* grades that colleges talk of limiting university entry to particular favoured (i.e. traditional) subjects. Comparable achievement in physics or hairdressing will mean nothing. This is academic myopia at its worst.

This paper finds a place on the NASS website because in the small school, with its mixed age and ability working, strong family ethos and community roots the working practices more closely resemble those implicit in the wish list above given to the National College. The small school model is closest to that very effective one found in families and working life.