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Schools are failing, and flexible education is the answer

Posted by Graeme in Education,parenting at 11:40 am on Thursday, 3 August 2023

Schools have been deteriorating for many years, and lockdown hastened the crisis this caused – but the deterioration dates back many years, and the underlying cause is the stubborn focus on a Victorian model of education and the addiction to metrics. The solution lies in empowering pupils and parents.

The problem is that schools are failing to achieve genuine high standards, causing severe mental health problems, and are generally struggling to cope. Many good teachers are leaving the profession because they are frustrated. Those that remain are fixed on the short term: getting high grades in this years exams.

Children are naturally born to learn. Schools often suck the joy out of learning. The need to stick to a curriculum, to make individuals with different talents and interests do exactly the same things at the same time is simply a bad idea.

The concept I have is easiest to describe in how it would apply to children of secondary school age – which,is the age group who have the most issues with school. It also works for younger children but needs more parental involvement (simply because of issues such as transport and safety – for which there are many solutions).

The solution is simple: schools cease to be “providers of everything”. A student at a school is typically there for the same hours every day, other activities such as sports are provided by schools: a single institution dominates a child’s life.

Instead schools provide classes and facilities. Other institutions provide extra resources: libraries, for example. Many resources can be provided online at a national or international level – these already exist but they could be so much more if they received government funding.

From all these parents and children choose what they want to use. They sign up for individual classes, and access the resources they want. Children good at a particular subject can move to a more advanced class, children who are struggling with a particular subject can move to an easier one. There will be more flexibility to fit in activities outside school.

It will also improve education. Teachers can teach the subject instead of focusing on league tables. Children can be sent o the classes taught in the way that best suits them. If they prefer to self study some things, then they can do so and be given access to the books, online resources, and whatever they need. They will also have a much wider range of subjects to choose from. Consider the choice of GCSEs a typical school can offer: it is nothing like the dozens that are possible (I have not done a thorough count, but it exceeds 60 subjects without even counting modern foreign languages).

Having more choices will also make learning less of a chore: it is a chore because it is compelled. I love reading, but if I have to read a book it because a chore – and this is a good example of something schools do that kills the joy. A library is a great educator.

It is also better in terms of social and personal development. Instead of spending all day in one place with the same people of exactly their own age, they will interact with far more people in multiple settings. They will be encouraged to take more responsibility for themselves instead which is a better preparation for adult life.

I know many people will be asking whether all this will work. I know it will because I have done it and it has been hugely successful. It is the commonest form of what is called “home education”. There are multiple studies around the world proving that home education works well, and that it works better than school for poorer and less well educated families.

The differences between what I propose above and what we do is that I had to pay for everything, and because it is something only a minority of people do the resources available locally are limited (which pushes us towards remote resources).  If it were adopted as national policy the budget that goes to schools, that is currently inadequate, would be enough to provide a very well resourced system on these lines (what parents pay to do this is invariably far less than the cost of school places).

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