Year 3 report: Schools, knowledge and educational change

October 2008

About this report

This report presents the findings and conclusions of the Enquiring Minds project to date, and it builds on earlier documents such as the guide, to which this report should be read as a companion. Overarchingly, the report is about the ways in which ideas about education commute into educational practices. Enquiring Minds has not only been concerned with turning a vision into a reality, but with making sense of how educational policies, practices and theories intersect and interact with one another.

The full version is available to download (open pdf version of Year 3 report - 92 pages, 1.4mb), while on this page you'll find the report's summary.

Summary

In recent years, there has been a great deal of debate about whether the educational system as currently set up is able to meet the needs of children and young people growing up in the 21st century. Enquiring Minds set out to explore this issue. At the heart of the Enquiring Minds project is the idea that students bring with them to school important ideas, experiences, interests and concerns that should provide the raw material for learning. In other words, the project worked with a notion of student-centredness that sits uneasily with dominant notions that teachers are there to guide students through a series of tasks and assessments.

From 2005-08 researchers from Futurelab worked with teachers in two schools to develop approaches to curriculum design and classroom practice that explicitly started from the interests, experiences and concerns of students in schools. In both schools, distinctive Enquiring Minds sessions were established and trialled with students in Years 7 and 8. Researchers observed the Enquiring Minds programme as it developed, interviewed teachers and students, and conducted surveys to examine students’ interest and motivation.

In the third year of the project, on the basis of the work conducted with teachers and students, an Enquiring Minds guide was published which was distributed to schools in England. Over 80 schools attended a series of workshops that explored the Enquiring Minds approach. As a result of this, a significant number of schools are trialling Enquiring Minds from September 2009. Futurelab is planning to provide support to these schools and follow the process of curriculum innovation as it develops in schools.

Sustainable changes in the way that teaching and learning happens in schools do not take place overnight. An important element of change is the wider context of educational debate and policy. The report details the current context and argues that there is much talk of educational transformation in the face of widespread economic and technological change. It is widely argued that the UK is in the process of becoming a ‘knowledge economy’, and that this has implications for what is taught in schools. These changes are complex and are not one-directional. Education always reflects the values and beliefs of society and individuals, and these need to be at the forefront of any attempts to bring about educational change.

There remain important unresolved questions about what types of knowledge should be taught in schools, and there is a need for a more explicit debate about the nature of the school curriculum. Enquiring Minds allowed teachers and students to explore the question of what makes for a meaningful curriculum. Research on the project has indicated how different types of knowledge, including the academic and the popular, can be brought to the fore in the classroom and made the focus of student-initiated activities.

Teachers are invariably at the forefront of any plans to implement educational change. Current models of teacher professionalism risk suggesting that teachers are to deliver a body of knowledge and skills. In contrast, teachers in the Enquiring Minds project were involved in a curriculum experiment that required them to develop and use a wider set of professional qualities that recognise the social and cultural lives of their students. This placed demands on individual teachers who were also working within schools where there is a pressure to deliver results. There is the need for a wider definition of teacher development and professionalism.

This report provides evidence of students’ responses to the project, suggesting that they are welcoming of the opportunity to have more say about what and how they learn. They report feeling motivated by teachers’ interest and enthusiasm for their own ideas, and we have observed how classroom routines in Enquiring Minds have been punctuated by dialogue and discussion between teachers and students. At the same time, the report seeks to examine ideas about student-centredness and suggests that they are currently being used uncritically to support ideas about the ‘flexible worker’. This has consequences and ramifications for policymaking that aims to promote ‘personalisation’ and ‘student voice’.

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