21st Century Learning. Reaction to Andy Burnham’s Speech

Andy Burnham, MP is the Labour party Shadow Education Secretary. (UK)

I would like to focus on some key points Andy Burnham made in his speech on 12th July entitled “21st Century Learning- What do young people need to succeed in the Modern World?”

He talked about the essential qualities young people will need to “navigate the modern world”, without going into much detail about what these qualities are. There is some great work being done at the moment with curriculum development particularly with ‘competency based’ or ‘skills based’ curricula such as the RSA ‘Opening Minds’ curriculum or, dare I say it, the excellent competency based framework I am developing with a wonderful team of educators at my current school. These competences become a foundation and a framework for all learning within school for all those experiencing it. The competencies we are focusing our curriculum on are :

Global Connector, Creator, Communicator, Collaborator, Explorer, Thinker and Knower of Self.

By focusing on these areas across the whole curriculum we give the learning community understanding of key skills they will need throughout their lives.

I would like to see schools take on a framework like this in primary school and continue into Middle (KS3) and High (KS4), making sure that all areas of the curriculum are focusing on these skills. One way that competencies can be explored is through another area which Andy Burnham focused on in his speech, work related learning.

Work related learning should not be seen as an option for the non-‘high flyers’ in schools, but rather for all students as a way of experiencing real life. Work experience would not dilute academic achievement (however you define this) but would enhance the curriculum they are experiencing. Work experience, in the past has often been a waste of time for students who complete two weeks work making coffee in an office and then return to their normal school routine. I would like to see students pursing an area of interest through work related opportunities and then continuing exploring when they get back to school through inquiry based, self driven projects and investigations. Schools will also need to focus on forming much closer links with local businesses and industries. A two way partnership where students realize their understanding of the key competencies outside the school environment.

Look further at excellent, proven schemes such as the Big Picture Organization’s Learning Though Internship programs for evidence of how these opportunities can transform student’s lives and help them to pursue passion.

Schools would need to invest in staffing for projects like this. Dedicated staff, whose sole responsibility is to forge links with local business and help provide opportunities within the school’s surrounding area.

Students exposed to a competency based curriculum, combined with real world learning will in my opinion be really connected to the 21st century world Burnham talks about. Real world learning relates to the child’s world and the world that they are in as well as preparing them for a world which we don’t exactly know will be like.

A competency based curriculum does not only focus on the child, but becomes a part of who every adult in the school is. Teachers need to be held accountable for quality teaching and the competencies apply to them too. This can be a very useful tool for professional evaluation and for deciding on professional development opportunities for staff.

I applaud Andy Burnham’s reference to creativity, the Arts and Sports, but am saddened that yet again the focus of support using the Arts and Sport as a means of helping students achieve more in their ‘core’ academic subjects. ALLsubjects or disciplines are core. They are all inextricably connected and this needs to be reflected in a quality curriculum.

I also agree with Burnham with his focus on reforming league tables and agree that a form of value added is important. Value added at the very least, looks at the progress of the individual child. But used as a tool for teacher and school evaluation, can lead to non-relevant standardized tests being use to gauge this value which is (or is not) being added. See article by Alfie Kohn on Value Added.

Andy Burnham also talks about how employability is not all we are preparing our students for. We want students to understand the world around them and the people around them, to understand themselves and to be critical in thought and caring in action.

Overall I very much liked what I read in the speech. I think he missed the opportunity to talk about creativity and design thinking combined with 21st century tools for learning in schools as a critical part of what students need to succeed in the modern world.

More about the Competency based curriculum being developed by my school soon.

One Comment on “21st Century Learning. Reaction to Andy Burnham’s Speech

  1. Thanks for getting me introduced to The Big Picture organization!

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