During my talk on ‘Ten things we have forgotten about being a child’ during last week’s Sunday Times Festival of Education, I announced my education manifesto for when I rule the world. Here therefore are the top six things I would be changing in education, based on international research findings. These things are so boring, everyday and low cost that I imagine no politician would countenance them.
1. I would be forgetting about uniforms and just asking children to come to school prepared for both sedentary and physical tasks, in clean clothes that fit, that are suitable for the task in hand. We have no hard evidence that any other form of clothing benefits their education.
2. I would encourage schools to keep their children in the same classroom for blocks of time, with the same teacher, to avoid mass migrations around the school as well as rapid shifts in thinking from, say, Maths to English to Music and to Science. We have no evidence that moving around every lesson and doing short blocks of discrete learning is helpful. We do have evidence that longer blocks of learning promote better concentration and pupil led enquiry, and also lead to reduced noise and associated stress in school buildings.
3. I would encourage more interdisciplinary work as well as pupil-inspired (but teacher-enhanced) projects. We have no evidence that dividing subjects into easily tested silos helps pupil achieve advanced levels of understanding in any particular subject area. We do have evidence that interdisciplinary work leads to what is known as ‘deep learning’.
4. I would increase the amount of time pupils are physically active, both through formal PE lessons as well as outdoor experiences in general. We have no evidence that treating school pupils as though they were white collar office workers is good for their development. We do have evidence that physical activity is good for children’s mental and physical health.
5. I would reform the examination system so it resembled both the way children work in class, as well as the way people are tested and appraised in the workplace. We have no evidence that high stakes testing does anything to make education more thorough or consistent. We do have evidence that regular, constructive feedback about pupils’ work allows for more rapid and extensive improvement.
6. I would start the school day at 9 for primary schools and 10 for secondary schools. We have no evidence that current timetabling traditions are helpful to pupils. We do have evidence that adolescents struggle with current timetabling of school days.
I will leave you with a question.
How would you change education, based on the research evidence?