I haven't really paid too much attention to the recently introduced concept of 'free schools' in the UK, other than to be vaguely pleased that the opportunity now existed for a different educational model.
Then, last night I was talking to someone who heads up an organisation that is applying to establish one in his local town.
We were talking about what his leadership team had in mind for the school. What they envisioned. How they planned to tackle the concept. He had some great ideas, looking at working with the local business community, and calling upon the expertise of real, live working people to contribute regarding the sort of work they do, and the skills required to do it successully.
I was thinking: what an opportunity! After all, many of us in this space agree that the current education model is broken. That repeated tweaking is not going to fix it. That it ought to be scrapped and a new one developed from the ground up.
My contention is that we should start at the end. We should ask ourselves what the ideal school leaver looks like: what can s/he do, what does s/he know, how does s/he approach challenges... all that stuff. And we shouldn't just make up our minds in a vacuum on this point. We should engage with entrepreneurs, business leaders, community leaders, etc. We should ask them what school leavers need, and then work backwards from that point, figuring out how we're going to help them get there.
I thought my companion was ideally situated to exactly that. To come up with a model of education that actually prepares young people for life and for the workplace. In theory, the establishment of a Free School would enable his organisation, as a charity, to lead the school as they see fit while being completely funded by the government.
BUT... the practice isn't going to be that straightforward.
The school would have to meet the same standards set by the government for all schools in the UK and as such will receive the same OFSTED inspections.And it's this bit that worries me.
How far are these free schools going to be able to stray from the government appointed model, if they still have to jump through the same hoops?
For example, I envisage a model of education that more closely reflect real life and the workplace. People working together on a project and the end result being, well, the end result. People working in teams with a mentor who serves as a guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage. People being encouraged to explore and to share their learning with each other. The teacher being on the journey with the students. No-one ever being shut away in a room and subjected to sensory deprivation, being expected to rely entirely upon their own memory, seasoned with understanding, to demonstrate in the space of 90 minutes that they are conversant with material they have spent the last x number of years studying.
But, if they are going to have to meet the same KPIs as existing schools and sit the state exams at the end of it anyway, in order to be placed on a bell curve and evaluated via the same mechanism as the production line model... well, is this really going to be possible?
I sincerely hope that they give it a jolly good try, and am certainly willing to contribute if called upon to do so, but I wonder if the term 'free' is entirely accurate. It sounds a little tethered to me.