Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Focus on the future

Line of people

What if today's perceptive teachers were set free with sophisticated technology? An imaginative, genuinely personalised curriculum for each pupil might become a real possibility, says John Adcock.

The social and economic conditions in which the early education acts were passed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries bear little resemblance to our own. Large families, inadequate housing, semi-literate parents, subsistence incomes, little leisure and poor communications restricted the options of those charged with securing a literate population.

Children had to be removed from their homes, placed in large classes in schools and instructed by strangers. There was mandatory attendance, prescribed hours, restricted curricula and itinerant inspectors. A basic model was established: children would be taught a set curriculum, in set places, at set times, apart from their families.

Using this model in 2010 is unnecessary and puts stress on children, parents, teachers and school leaders. It can lead to truancy, indiscipline, early-leaving and a reliance on the 'carrot' of examination success or the 'stick' of failure. That the system is struggling is shown, for example, by the reluctance of teachers to apply for headships. But unimaginative politicians, few of whom have taught a class, persist with the school-based model. They throw in more money and hope for the best.

Yet times have changed. Teachers are more perceptive of what is needed and critical of what is provided, while, waiting in the wings, is the unlimited scope of sophisticated communication technology. This combination, undreamt of in the 19th century, makes possible the provision of a personalised curriculum for each pupil according to abilities and inclinations.

For instance, a tutor could be given professional responsibility to promote - alongside parents - the wellbeing of 20 pupils. Each tutor could receive an initial lump sum, derived from the sale of chosen schools, to establish a practice, plus - based on current expenditure - an annual allowance of 100,000 to spend as he or she thought fit.

Out of that allowance would come the tutor's salary, the purchase of books, stationery, equipment, insurance and the hire of rooms and transport - or whatever the tutor decided.

Traditional materials

The tutor would consult with pupils and parents and, using traditional materials such as a rich library of English literature and modern multimedia, design and implement a teaching programme appropriate to the needs and interests of each child. The tutor would practise free of political dogma and interference and be answerable only, as is any professional, to his or her clients: 20 pupils and their parents.

Each tutor's group would be within a two-year age range and remain with that tutor for two years. The tutor would work as one of a panel of five and this would cover the ten-year age range from four to 13. When funds allowed there would be a sixth tutor who, also for two years, would contribute to groups, cover absences, arrange activities and, in rotation with the other tutors, act as panel chairperson.

Some suitable school premises would be retained and converted to multi-purpose community resource centres available to tutor groups and the public for 15 hours a day throughout the year.

Centres would have a staff of tutors, covering a range of skills, ready to augment the work of personal tutors. The centres would contain study, reading, seminar and multimedia rooms, libraries, sports facilities, clinics, shops, lounges and cafes, and, to complement these facilities, personal tutors' homes would be provided with study areas for professional use.

Free of pressure

Tutors would use the centre's facilities, their own homes, pupils' homes, libraries, art galleries, museums, parks and other available venues; the places where tutors practised, and the size and composition of tutor groups, would be for tutors to decide based on pupil's age range, parental preferences and the work in hand. Similarly, topics chosen for study would be for pupils, parents and tutors to determine.

Pupils would enjoy, for ten years, warm, close relationships arising from long-term, small group membership plus family involvement. They would be free of achievement pressure and peer group influence, gain from bespoke study programmes, retain childhood longer and develop lifetime interests. In a country where values are questioned and families often split they would have a relationship they could rely on and a friend to support and advise them. As society becomes increasingly complex and difficult for a child to comprehend that close relationship could become the ultimate prize.

Whole families would also gain. Parents would have greater influence in their children's upbringing and, as far as they chose, benefit from the skills, knowledge and ready presence of a familiar, sympathetic, innovative and unstressed tutor.

Teachers, as tutors, would have the satisfaction of deciding on their work content and its pattern, and of implementing that work at different times and in different venues with a small number of pupils and parents. They would be free, in their own way, to develop as fully-fledged, responsible, professional people.

John Adcock taught for 30 years and was a secondary school headteacher before moving into publishing. His latest novel Vote For Terry Park! The Common Sense Man is available from www.ypd-books.com

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