I have always had in my mind the concept of ‘de-schooling’ and so in the present climate of academies and ‘free’ schools I went back and reread, just to revitalise, the works of my mentor Ivan Illich and I am pleased to say that my ideals are still alive and well.

Some of the ideas coming out of the new governments proposals really resonate with me as being excellent thinking. The idea that we might be able to redefine the word school to again mean a place where people learn together in a group that is formed for that purpose rather than it being an institution which carries all sorts of baggage and legalities attached to the learning. Also the concept that: … the Education Secretary repeated his desire for a compulsory curriculum reduced to a “simple core”. (Read Mike Baker’s account here)If this frees teachers and learners to work together then this just has to be positive. Also, as I have already commented in a previous blog – children/learners should know things … what things I can’t specify but there is a power that comes with knowing that can’t be denied.

But all of this government ‘concept’ could be usurped by the idea that a ‘one-off’ look at the primary curriculum will do the trick. We are living in a fast, flat, world society in which change is the only stable thing. We and the systems must evolve to keep up and a one-size-fits-all just will not do. We must not look back but forward. So where does the technologies that have developed come into all of this? Only yesterday I read that the money for ‘harnessing technology’ had been moved to support the ‘free’ schools initiative. “Reallocated £50 million of funding from the Harnessing Technology Grant to create a Standards and Diversity Fund – reinventing a fund set up by the Labour Government in 2006 and stopped in 2009 the purpose of which was to create diversity of provision in the schools system. This will provide capital funding for Free Schools up to 31 March 2011. Funding for Free Schools will be a top priority for the Department for Education in the forthcoming Spending Review.” (

I wish those who have the urge to take charge of teaching and learning outside a controlled institutional context the very best. I do hope that they will continue their enthusiasm for the ethos when their own children have got past the age of need. On the way to nirvana I hope that they get round to thinking about things such as compulsory timings of days, weeks and years.

I hope all of the ‘free start-ups’ have done their research into what teaching and learning in the 21C might well mean and that they have read the philosophies widely – ‘Summerhill’ – would be a good start as would the ideas behind the ‘Montessori method’. And a good look at what is happening and has happened in Finland, S Korea, New Zealand and Singapore – to name a few. And when they have researched they are not just jumping because the hurdle is in front of them but that the jump will be sustained and developed as times and attitudes change.

A refresh of what we mean by schooling, teaching  and learning is long awaited and i should feel optimistic about the potential for freedom from the political involvement in education … but why am I so bothered?

3 thoughts on “De-schooling

  1. Doug, your ideas resonate with me as my kids aged 9 and 5 journey through the traditional school system. I see the system as well-meaning but highly conventional and sanitised. Sadly the general culture tends to see anything unconventional as inferior. I hope over time more schools adopt a new teaching model as you suggest, maybe in time for my own children’s children to benefit.

  2. The harnessing technology grant has had no impact on many schools. Local authorities purchasing countywide systems takes no account of individual schools. If the money can be put to better use, then I wholheartedly support it’s reallocation. My fear remains that it is being moved from a project with limited success to one which has the potential to disadvantage the many children who will remain (potentially against their wishes) in authority controlled schools with static or decreasing budgets.

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