Big ideas from Enquiring Minds

19 November 2007

Students trialling the new Enquiring Minds curriculum Imagine children working in partnership with their teachers to decide their own curriculum and how they will be taught: a radical new vision of learning now available to all schools can make this a reality. Futurelab’s Enquiring Minds programme places children at the centre of the education process as owners of their own learning, and creates a new relationship between children and teachers.

Researchers working on the Enquiring Minds programme, an exciting project conducted in partnership with Microsoft, have this week published a practical guide aimed at enabling teachers to run Enquiring Minds in their own school. The guide is accompanied by a report detailing the findings of the first two years of this three year research project.

To support the guide, a series of seminars will take place in March 2008, aimed at schools that want to focus on putting Enquiring Minds into practice. So far, over 100 schools have expressed an interest.

A three-year research programme launched in 2005, Enquiring Minds aims to put children at the centre of the education process. The central questions posed by Enquiring Minds are: can children be given more responsibility for their learning, and will the desire to learn be increased if pupils are given the opportunity to decide what and how they are taught? The project was conceived as an experiment to move away from some of the rhetoric around personalised learning, and see what can realistically be done in busy schools to start transforming the classroom experience.

Futurelab worked closely with 10 teachers and 120 pupils in two secondary schools to develop a new approach to teaching and learning, and a model of enquiry to support this approach. The model is divided into four steps, each including a set of questions and activities that teachers can try out and adapt to meet the needs of their school and the interests of the different pupils that they teach.

Education bodies the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) and Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) are all taking a keen interest in Enquiring Minds. Since 1997, there has been more weight given to developing creativity and thinking skills in the curriculum, as well as an increased emphasis on student voice.

John Morgan, Senior Researcher at Futurelab, said: “This has been a fascinating project which has looked at the challenges of offering freedom and choice. There are no easy answers. Some teachers have found it hard to share decisions about learning with their pupils and to give up some of their authority to become co-learners. Some pupils have found it challenging to handle the possibilities on offer when they are given freedom and choice about what and how they learn. It has raised all sorts of issues about the nature of learning and teaching and has challenged many of the values and assumptions in schools. However the schools we have worked with have been so excited by the project that they have extended it to further groups of pupils this academic year.”

Steve Beswick, Director of Education, Microsoft UK, said: “Nurturing independent and creative thinkers enables children to develop the skills that will better prepare them for life and work in the 21st century. Microsoft’s partnership with Futurelab on the Enquiring Minds programme stems from our belief that technology can be a powerful catalyst for improving teaching and learning. Not only does it empower students and teachers to use technology in creative and innovative ways, but harnessed in the right way, can also foster the skills required for lifelong learning.”

Enquiring Minds will be showcasing at BETT 2008 on both the Futurelab (J6) and Microsoft (D30 and D40) stands.

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