13th August 2001
LOOKING FORWARD TO THE FUTURE FOR SCHOOLS
Future watching is a hazardous occupation, but one academic is prepared to best-guess what schools will look like in the future. Professor Trevor Kerry has spent the last four years looking into his crystal ball and has come up with a vision of how the future of schools might look…
“I started out by asking questions about the nature of school organisation as we currently know it,” says Prof Kerry. “This led me to believe that the trends were that ‘schooling’ in the traditional sense was threatened. Not immediately threatened – schools will not close down tomorrow – but threatened in the longer term.”
Prof Kerry identifies the following as clues about the changing nature of schooling: the rise of the information society and the potential of computing; the growing ownership by school pupils of laptops; the use of the Internet and Intranet to support learning; and greater public ownership and private funding of schools.
“Even in computer-led courses pupils still need the teacher as consultant and motivator,” he says. “What they don’t want is the kind of teaching envisaged by the former Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead – just a monologue from the expert instructor.”
Prof Kerry holds some unconventional views and isn’t afraid to stand up and be counted for them.
“I would abolish all homework instantly,” he says. “Better by far are learning contracts. Youngsters agree with the teacher what needs doing and then do it in their own time and place, and at their own speed. This takes account of the reality that many less able pupils are constantly stressed to keep up with abler peers, and that many very able children are just bored and turned off by schooling that fails to cater for their specific needs.”
He’d like to do away with the traditional three-term school calendar, too. He sees the even five-term year of eight-week terms with two-week breaks (and a shorter four-week summer break) as an improvement. But in the end schools must adapt to become places of community learning 365 days a year, and open all hours. “After all,” he asks, “when did a teenager you know perform at their best at nine in the morning?”
Of course, radical changes such as these require changed attitudes. Prof Kerry is aware that one or two teacher unions regard him as a public enemy. He was once called a ‘bogeyman’ and has received threatening letters, but he is undaunted by this.
“I want to re-define learning,” he says. “That’s radical, and you can’t do it without upsetting the traditionalists. On the other hand, do we really want a 21st-century education system dominated by 19th-century thinking, or teachers whose decisions are guided by a ‘perk’ mentality? That was
one union’s advice in opposing changes to the school year: defend your last remaining perk. Is
that professional? Contrary to public opinion, most teachers do a good job and are more
intelligent than this.”
Trevor’s latest book, ‘Working with Support Staff’, takes another of the trends for change in schooling and tries to see its benefits for the future of pupils. “All parents know that schools employ a lot of support staff in various roles, but most people don’t really appreciate what they do,” he says. “This book is about those roles and how to manage them better - but it tackles the subject from a new perspective.”
The book recognises that more and more people hold roles in schools that support learning. “Obviously there are learning support assistants, teachers’ aides and special needs support staff. But there are others, too: laboratory technicians and IT technical officers, for example. These kinds of role will grow in significance: the IT technical officer is increasingly changing from the person with a screwdriver to the operative who can translate lessons into Intranet programmes.”
Some paid roles in schools, not normally associated with teaching, are nevertheless significantly instrumental in learning. Lunchtime supervisors and school secretary/receptionists frequently have a real influence on students’ learning in the area of social and behavioural skills; and school bursars and finance officers can significantly affect the learning potential of a school through the quality of their decisions about spending on human and material resources.
More controversially, Prof Kerry suggests that unpaid support staff can materially affect learning in schools. The most obvious case is that of the school governors, whose effectiveness in carrying out statutory duties is crucial. But there are other roles too that are significant now and may be more significant in the future, such as parent helpers and volunteers (especially volunteers from the retired population as life expectancy increases and we need to fill our leisure time).
“My suggestion is that all of these roles are part of the ‘learning resource’ of a school; and that a school’s effectiveness will be determined in part by how well this total resource is managed,” says Prof Kerry.
But at heart, the professor is still just a classroom teacher. “If you were to ask me about my values and philosophy I would have to quote the first sentence of the Plowden Report into primary education that was written in 1965: ‘At the heart of the education process lies the child.’ That says it all really.”
Prof Trevor Kerry works for the International Institute for Educational Leadership at the University of Lincolnshire & Humberside and is a professor in education at the College of Teachers, a learned society for teachers in the UK and overseas. His book, Working with Support Staff, is published this month by Pearson Education, price £18.99 in paperback. Contact email@example.com
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University of Lincolnshire & Humberside
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