Innovative Shift in Education Taking Place in England

This post is excerpted from a presentation made by Geoff Mulgan at a recent Ted Conference Talk.

Geoff Mulgan is director of the Young Foundation in the United Kingdom, a center for social innovation, social enterprise and public policy with a 50-year history of creating new organisations and pioneering ideas in fields as varied as aging, education, health care and poverty reduction. Before the Young Foundation, Mulgan held various roles in the UK government including director of the Government’s Strategy Unit and head of policy in the Prime Minister’s office, and he was the founder of the think-tank Demos. He is chairing a Carnegie Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland. His most recent book is The Art of Public Strategy: Mobilising Power and Knowledge for the Common Good.

“Some kids learn by listening; others learn by doing.” Geoff Mulgan gives a short introduction to the Studio School, a new kind of school in the UK where small teams of kids learn by working on projects that are, as Mulgan puts it, “for real.”

And about five years ago, Mulgan asked what was the most important need for innovation in schooling in the U.K. He felt the most important priority was to bring together two sets of problems. One was large numbers of bored teenagers who just didn’t like school, couldn’t see any relationship between what they learned in school and future jobs. The other was employers who kept complaining that the kids coming out of school weren’t actually ready for real work, didn’t have the right attitudes and experience.

And so he asked: What kind of school would have the teenagers fighting to get in, not fighting to stay out? And after hundreds of conversations with teenagers and teachers and parents and employers and schools from Paraguay to Australia, and looking at the recent academic research, he came up with a very simple answer in what he calls the Studio School.  The call it a studio school to go back to the original idea during the Renaissance, where work and learning are integrated. You work by learning, and you learn by working. And the design they came up with included the following characteristics.

1.  First of all, they wanted small schools — about 300 – 400 pupils ranging in age from 14 to 19 year-olds.

2.  80% of the curriculum would be completed, not through sitting in classrooms, but through real-life, practical projects.

3.  Every pupil would have a coach, as well as teachers, who would establish timetables much like a work environment in a business.

4.  And all of this would be done within the public system, funded by public money, but independently run.

Underlying it all was the very simple idea that large numbers of teenagers learn best by doing things, they learn best in teams and they learn best by doing things for real — all the opposite of what mainstream schooling actually does.

Mulgan thinks they are onto something. It’s not perfect yet, but he thinks this is one idea which can transform the lives of thousands, possibly millions, of teenagers who are really bored by schooling.  He believes they are at the beginning of a journey of experiment and improvement to turn the Studio School idea into something which is present, not as a universal answer for every child, but at least as an answer for some children in every part of the world.

Listen to his presentation of this material at a Ted Conference.

About Marion Witte

Marion Witte was born and raised on a farm on the prairies of North Dakota. It was there that she acquired her Midwestern work ethic and her philosophy of helping others. Marion enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur, and upon selling her various business interests she began pursuing a life of philanthropy. She is passionate and outspoken about the need for radical changes in the way we view children and parenting. Her memoir “Little Madhouse on the Prairie” relays the story of her life, and it is the basis of her commitment to this work. She founded and manages the Angel Heart Foundation and its sister organizations “Next Generation Parenting” and “Brave New Leaders.”

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