Personalised Education Now
The Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now – Personalising the Educational Landscape

Research: Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric.

February 28th, 2015 by Peter

Home Education and the Safeguarding Myth: Analysing the Facts Behind the Rhetoric.
Wendy Charles-Warner (Centre for Personalised Education)

The current climate regarding safeguarding of children has brought added consequences  for those who choose ‘Education Otherwise’ such as Elective Home Education (EHE). These families face suspicion, undue scrutiny, monitoring  and bureaucratic hurdles.
In the first data analysis of its kind Wendy Charles-Warner exposes the reality behind the rhetoric. The safeguarding data and analysis of serious case reviews indicates, that far from being at risk, EHE children are safer than their schooled counterparts. In fact the relevant authorities continue to miss opportunities to protect children when presented. In the case of EHE families these authorities exceed their roles and responsibilities without the statistical evidence to warrant their intrusion.

 Read the research here: home education and the safeguarding myth.WCW

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Flexischooling Learning Exchange Saturday 18th April 2015

February 25th, 2015 by Peter

Flexischooling Learning Exchange Saturday 18th April 2015
Members and the wider network of friends are invited to join us at this event.
Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now members – free. Non-members £5 (adults) Children and young people – free.


Refreshments / Lunch / Informal Networking. Drinks will be available but please bring your own lunch.

– Welcome – CPE-PEN and Flexischooling
– Flexischooling Campaign – Where are we now
– Flexischooling at Hollinsclough Primary School – The Journey So Far

Flexischooling Learning Exchange 1
Learning Exchange – drawing on experiences and information from participants

Refreshments. Drinks – Informal networking.

Flexischooling Learning Exchange 2
Learning Exchange – drawing on experiences and information from participants. Depending on numbers and group needs … small groups with specific focus e.g. (a) Communicating and liaising with schools (b) Flexischooling and Special Needs (c) Flexischooling futures – families / learners Perspectives (d) Flexischooling and the law etc

Key themes arising from the day
Next steps
Closing Remarks / Thanks

Venue Details –
Welsh Congregationalist Church Hall,
Loveday Street, Birmingham, B4 6NR. (Latitude 52.486459, Longitude -1.895700) (Walkable from all City Stations and easy access from M6-A38)

Please let us know you are planning to attend with your address, telephone and email contact Peter Humphreys at / 01922 624097 Alternatively, join one of the Flexischooling Facebook groups (1) Flexischooling; (2) Flexischooling Families UK; (3) Flexischooling Practitioners and respond to the event there.

Everyone welcome but please confirm intention to intend.
We can accommodate up to 100 participants

Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now

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The BIG Problem with the Scientific Analysis of Education. Paul Henderson

February 16th, 2015 by Peter

It is generally agreed that education policy should be informed by legitimate peer reviewed scientific research arrived at through evidence based rational thinking. There is no doubt in my mind that this approach is totally correct; however there is a problem with the research that currently informs classroom teaching practices throughout the world. The problem is that plausible science has been conducted on top of a shaky foundational concept of education which has led to conclusions, claims and recommendations for which there is no evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

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February 16th, 2015 by Peter

The incredibly sad and sudden death of Paul Ginnis on Friday 30th January 2015 has reverberated around the networks.

Inline images 1

Paul had a long association with our network being at its heart during the Education Now period. Paul edited the very first journal, contributed to and led learning exchanges and conferences and wrote books for Education Now Publishing.. Paul and his wife Sharon worked with Roland and Janet Meighan, Philip and Annabel Toogood throughout, forming close relationships with everyone.

Much loved Paul ran an international educational consultancy. He and Sharon travelled extensively around the world training schools and teachers and liberating them from some of the worst excesses of the system.

Paul wrote the now classic Teachers Toolkit … a great resource for teachers wishing to go beyond didactic practice.

Teacher's Toolkit: Raise Classroom Achievement with Strategies for Every Learner

We will in due course honour Paul’s life and work more fully.

Our thoughts are with Sharon and the family.


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February 16th, 2015 by Peter

For your diary!!!. More information next week

Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now

Flexischooling Learning Exchange
Saturday 18th April 2015 1245-1730.
CPE-PEN Members – free. Non-members £5 (adults) Children and young people – free.

Hear about the growth of Flexischooling, the work in Hollinsclough Flexischool, meet other Flexischooling families and share experiences. This is your chance to discuss the issues that are important to you. Meet in person some of the lovely people in our network.

Welsh Congregationalist Church Hall,
Loveday Street, Birmingham, B4 6NR.(Latitude 52.486459, Longitude -1.895700) (Walkable from all City Stations and easy access from M6-A38

Members and the wider network of friends are invited to join us at this event. CPE-PEN Members – free. Non-members £5 (adults) Children and young people – free.

Everyone welcome but when details are circulated next week please confirm intention to intend. We can accommodate up to 100 participants

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BOOK REVIEWS Josh Gofford and Hazel Clawley

October 2nd, 2014 by Peter

Personalised Learning for Young People with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties

by Andrew Colley published by Jessica Kingsley 2013

Andrew Colley has written a book which will be very inspiring, illuminating and, at the same time, practical to anyone who is working with young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. It is also more widely important for its refreshing contribution to the writing on personalised learning and, in this area, I found the focus on relationships particularly notable.

In the first chapter ‘Not Just Babysitting’, Andrew Colley introduces us to some of the young people who we will meet during our reading of the book. This creates a practical and relational thread which runs throughout the book grounding practice in the lived reality of each young person’s life. The chapter also provides a helpful orientation to the reader, at this early stage of the book, with a section on Labels and Definitions.

The second chapter ‘Getting to Know You’ begins with some brief definitions of the conditions which teachers may come across in their practice. Most striking about this chapter is the description of the care, sensitivity and time that is taken to really get to know each young person and indeed their parents. This is evident, not only in the practical suggestions, but in the underlying principles which inform all the practice. Andrew Colley writes: “ Happiness, communication and independence: these three things should be at the heart of any curriculum for young people with complex needs.”

Towards the end of the second chapter there is another paragraph which I found arresting:
“ At this period of observation and interaction…..we will have learnt a great deal about each of the young people we will be working with. Above all, though, we have begun to see each one as they are. There is no need to impose a ready-made, off-the-peg curriculum, because each young person contains within him his own unique curriculum”.

I found Chapter Three, ‘He Meant to do That’, of particular interest because of my previous work with pupils excluded from school and young people in the criminal justice system. Andrew Colley is very helpful indeed in understanding the behaviour of young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. He provides examples of how think about behaviour, how to put each behaviour into context and how to orientate ourselves towards responding skillfully. Through his writing he provides the kind of coaching which I have often found so missing in school environments. For example: “ The ability to lower our own level of arousal to stress, to breathe, to stay still, to slow down, to be calm and focused. Above all to keep it simple. When dealing with a young person like Daniel, less is usually better than more.”

In Chapter Four ‘What do You Actually Teach Them’, Andrew Colley states that ‘ a curriculum for any young person with complex learning difficulties…..must be a direct response to his or her actual needs. It has to grow out of everything we know about them. So, if there are 12 students in a class, there will be 12 curricula.‘ He goes on to explore this theme through sections ranging from ‘What is Learning?’ to ‘Being Happy‘ to ‘Independence‘ all of which have important relevance to any educational setting.

After reading the very practical and helpful Chapter Five ‘Environment, Staffing and Timetable’, I was intrigued how Andrew Colley would deal with ‘Target Setting and Assessment‘ in Chapter Six. He states at the beginning of the chapter:

“This is a non-linear, organic approach to their education. An education for life, where the focus is on creating an environment where they can learn at their own pace. An education where they are not constrained by external expectations, external curricula, external targets and assessments. An education where they are not held accountable against measurable criteria set by someone else. An education which is about each individual person.”

Then he goes on to say:

“ It’s difficult, though, to get away from some form of target setting, so as teachers of young people with complex needs we have to learn to make targets work for us and, more importantly, for the young person we are working with.”

These two arguably irreconcilable positions have exercised some educators for generations, particularly during the last thirty years. I feel that Andrew Colley, in subsequent pages, does a great job in exploring, and sharing with us, how he reaches a workable reconciliation of these positions in his own practice. I would recommend this chapter to anyone in any educational setting who would find it helpful to explore theory and practice in this area.

With the same care demonstrated in Chapter Two ‘Getting to Know You‘, in Chapter Seven ‘Moving On’, Andrew Colley explores the issues of the transition of leaving school for young people with complex needs. In the final chapter ‘Edward’s Story’, in keeping with the thread of relatedness throughout the book, Andrew Colley writes about how the personalisation process might be used to create a unique curriculum for Edward.

I feel that this book is about much more than its title. Yes, it is about young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties but, more broadly, it is about the care, attention and respect we pay to each other in any education setting and beyond that too. It is unusual in that it is a book with a big heart with feet firmly on the ground!
Josh Gifford



Novel approaches to home-based education

Skellig by David Almond (1998)

My Name is Mina by David Almond (2010)

Home School by Charles Webb (2007)

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (2011)
David Almond’s novel Skellig came out in 1998. It won the Carnegie Medal, the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year and a string of international prizes. It is written for children and about children – the teller of the story is an adolescent boy, Michael – but is such a gripping and profound tale, so well told, that it speaks to all ages.

Michael discovers a strange being in the crumbling garage in his garden. The creature seems barely alive, is dressed in filthy tatters, and has a craving for 27 and 53 from the Chinese takeaway (“food of the gods!”), washed down with Newcastle brown. It appears to have wings. Could it be an angel? Michael shares his discovery with Mina who lives a few door away, and who, to his surprise, doesn’t go to school. “My mother educates me,” she says, because “the mind needs to be opened out into the world, not shuttered down inside a gloomy classroom”.

The book isn’t “about” home education; it’s about the angel (?) Skellig, and about Michael’s desperate concern for his new baby sister struggling for life in hospital. But for readers of this journal who value home-based education, the glimpses we are given of Mina’s life have a special interest, particularly the contrasts between her way of learning and Michael’s school-based education. One day, Michael finds Mina in her front garden copying a drawing of a bird’s skeleton into her sketch book. “You’re doing science?” he says. She laughs at his simplified labelling of what she’s doing. “See how school shutters you,” she says. “I’m drawing, painting, reading, looking. I’m feeling the sun and air on my skin. I’m listening to the blackbird’s song. I’m opening my mind. Ha! School!” Because of his worries about his baby sister, Michael has some days off school. His dad is concerned: “Maybe you could go back soon, eh? Don’t want to miss out on too much.” “I learn a lot from Mina”, says Michael. “She knows about lots of things, like birds and evolution.” Another day, Michael takes his homework into Mina’s garden. She mocks his quiz-like worksheet. She flicks through the book he has brought from school, and says it looks good – “but what’s the red sticker for?” “It’s for confident readers,” he says. “It’s to do with reading age.” “And what if other readers want to read it?…And where would William Blake fit in?…’Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright / In the forests of the night.’ Is that for the best readers or the worst readers? Does that need a good reading age?” She later apologises for this outburst: “One of the things we hate about school is the sarcasm that’s in them. And I’m being sarcastic.” As her mum says, “She’s a madam sometimes.”

So how did Mina come to be home-educated? How happy I was to find that David Almond has provided the answer to this question in his prequel to Skellig, entitled My Name is Mina, published in 2010. The flyleaf of the paperback edition is full of praise from reviewers: “joyous”, “life-affirming”, “exquisite”, “poignant”. Even the Times Educational Supplement is there with the rest. Yet not one quote indicates that the book is in fact a glorious celebration of autonomous learning and deschooling.

Mina tells her own story in this book. She is in love with words, and playing with words is one of her great passions. The typography of the book mimics the handwritten pages of her journal, with some words shouting from the page in bold black slashes, some pages white on black (her journey to the Underworld, for example) and much concrete poetry. This love of words and story-telling does not stand her in good stead at St Bede’s Middle. Her teacher insists that nothing should be written without a plan. This seems like nonsense to Mina, but she wants to be what they call “a good girl”, so she does try. Her plan meets with approval but, as she records, “When I started to write, the words wouldn’t keep still, wouldn’t obey. The words danced like flies. They flew off in strange and beautiful directions and they took my story on a very unexpected course. I was very pleased with it…” But the teacher is not impressed. “She held the plan in one hand and the story in the other. ‘They do not match!’ she said in her screechy voice.”

Things come to a head on SATs day. Mina describes the stress at St Bede’s: “Everybody was so concerned that everybody would all turn out to be better than the average of children of our age throughout the country! Everybody was so concerned that we would get Level 4 and Level 5 and Level 99! We shouldn’t get worked up about it, though!…Just relax! JUST RELAX!” Mina relaxes, and sets about her essay: Write a description of a busy place. She calls it “GLIBBERTYSNARK”, and writes two rip-roaring pages of nonsense full of invented words and original spellings. She achieves Level 0 (Well Well Well Below Average), causes her teacher to swear in front of the whole class (“You are an utter bloody disgrace!”) and, to the Headteacher’s relief, is removed from school by her mother.

Mina’s mum is a single parent who (fortunately) works from home. In order to spend more time with Mina, she cuts down her working hours. This means they have very little money for luxuries like travel – they travel in their minds, through books, dreams, conversation and writing. They are very happy. “I love being home-schooled, when we don’t have to stick to subjects and timetables and rules.” “We learn so much, and wonder so much, and explore so much, and ideas grow and take flight… Mum says it can’t last forever, though. She says I’ll become too isolated, especially as I’m an only child. She even says that schools aren’t really prisons and cages. Yes, they bloody are! I tell her. She shakes her head and grins. Language! she says.”

Even Mina, who hates school, sometimes thinks it would be interesting to run one herself. Instead of “lessons”, she would introduce “extraordinary activities” (of which she gives examples throughout her book). Before opting for home-based education, Mina and her mum agreed that she should spend a day at Corinthian Avenue Pupil Referral Unit. “I enjoyed the day. I learned a lot. It taught me that misfits can fit together in weird ways. It taught me that even as a misfit I might fit into this weird world. I liked the people there… But it wasn’t the right time. I needed to be at home with my mum.” Nevertheless, Corinthian Avenue shows her that it is possible for adults and children to learn happily together in a supportive, accepting place.

A very different novel about home education is Charles Webb’s Home School. Published in 2007, it was hailed as the long-awaited sequel to The Graduate (yes, the novel which inspired the film starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman). The seductive Mrs Robinson has morphed into “Nan” to Benjamin and Elaine’s two home-educated sons. I found the book laugh-out-loud funny, but I know that it wasn’t well received in all home-educating circles, so be warned. Unlike the David Almond novels, it is in no way a children’s book.

Charles Webb and his wife in fact home-educated their own children in New York State, just as Benjamin and Elaine attempt to do, and like the parents in the novel, they encountered much opposition from the school authorities – though I trust their solution to the problem was less extreme than Benjamin’s! Does Webb share “Benjamin and Elaine’s conviction that a child’s natural learning impulse must be allowed to develop freely, unfettered by direction from above any more than is strictly necessary, and that if this freedom is permitted, innate curiosity will guide the child to the objects of greatest interest and relevance to its life…”? Probably, though let’s hope that in his case it didn’t result in one of his children constructing a working guillotine behind the house, as Benjamin’s Jason was keen to do. (A family discussion nipped that idea in the bud, fortunately.)

Some home-educators who lead otherwise fairly middle-of-the-road lives (like our own family) will allow themselves a wry smile of recognition at the arrival on the scene of Garth and Goya and their children. They live in the backwoods, and spend much of the year travelling the country and “sponging” (Elaine’s word) on other home-schooling families. They are “complete professional hippies” (Elaine again), “bums…slobs…an embarrassment”. Benjamin has a soft spot for them, seeing them as “the great shock troops of the movement, forging the way for the rest of us.”

Unlike The Graduate, Home School doesn’t have a great ending. The plot rather fizzles out, which is why I don’t see it becoming a film, but I found much to enjoy. Home educators can be guilty of taking themselves too seriously at times.

Finally, I’d like to mention a fine, though strange, novel which is about childhood, and which, just in passing, touches on what we might call flexi-schooling – though done informally and without permission. Set in Los Angeles, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a family story told by a young girl who has the ability to taste in food the emotions of those who made it. She has a gifted brother, Joe, who is outrageously bored in class: the teacher keeps him amused by giving him her handbag to sort through while the rest of the class works on simple addition. His mother finds a short-term solution to the problem by inventing frequent doctor’s appointments (no one questions this for several months) and taking him (along with his pre-school sister) out and about to the shops, the park and the market, to “discover the world on his own”, as she puts it. This happy state of affairs doesn’t last for long, and when the school authorities realise what is going on, Joe returns to full-time schooling, and his mother is placed on “mom probation” permanently. Joe’s childhood continues to be disturbed and unhappy.
Hazel Clawley

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There’s nothing irregular about flexi-schooling

September 27th, 2014 by Peter

There’s nothing irregular about flexi-schooling

Our rigid, semi-privatised British education system doesn’t seem to like it, but part-time learning is great for kids.

From the Guardian Blog             There’s nothing irregular about Flexischooling

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The PAH Continuum: Pedagogy, Andragogy & Heutagogy

September 19th, 2014 by Peter

The following article appeared in as a guest post in
Heutagogy Community of Practice
It follows from Paul Henderson’s mention of andragogy – which some, may not be familiar with.
Fred Garnett has done some amazing work and I’d urge readers to follow up his ideas… they are very much in tune with those at CPE-PEN

The PAH Continuum: Pedagogy, Andragogy & Heutagogy
Guest post by Fred Garnett

In my teaching practice, mostly with socially-excluded kids attempting to get some qualifications in college, I developed a number of techniques for showing them how to be successful on their own terms. College is classically a context in which an andragogic approach works best, where you negotiate with your students to find an agreed learning path. In the department where I worked, at Lewisham College in London, we had developed a universal entry test, followed by an interview, which everyone took. We had found this process to be a better predictor of success that their school results, which usually just measured their dissatisfaction with an education system, which was designed to fail them. We then offered to the prospective student what seemed to be appropriate courses and subjects on which they might be successful.

However, over time, I developed a technique that I now call brokering that was much more about negotiating with the learner in the learning context of the subject that they had chosen. I had started teaching in the USA and one of the aspects of teaching there which I particularly loved was that for any subject that you taught you developed your own syllabus. It went through a quality assurance process so that the University approved what you taught, but you had designed the learning. When I started teaching in England I took it for granted that you would write your own syllabus. Consequently I was soon on all the course committees and before long had written a unit on the social impact of Information Technology, still my favourite course of all the many that I taught.
Writing the syllabus and developing the schedule of delivery along with the work to be completed meant that I was, in effect, building the framework of what I was teaching. Consequently I really understood what the boundaries were and so could better broker between the formal requirements of the education system and the personal desires of my learners; I had found that all these ‘failing’ students wanted to learn. On the social impact course each student picked any technology that interested them to research and write about. I showed them how to “play” with the learning requirements, which can be used as creative constraints, and how best to meet them in their completed work. I also encouraged them to present that work in original ways rather than as just a written report. Although most presented reports a precious few tried original approaches, such as wall charts, cartoons, a class presentation with Q&A, and so on. Most importantly simply having the opportunity to present finished written work in ways that they determined meant that they thought about various ways in which to explain their ideas.

That, in effect, is what we now called the PAH Continuum. Start with a known subject, the delivery of which a teacher is confident with (pedagogy), negotiate with the learners how they might study that subject in ways that motivate them (andragogy), and offer creative ways in which they might express what they have learnt (heutagogy). In my experience what this process, which I call ‘front-loading’ learning, also develops is the confidence in learners to both manage their learning and also to determine what it is they choose to learn. More formally we have presented these ideas as part of a post-Web 2.0 approach to learning that we call the ‘Open context model of learning’, which incorporates many other ideas, in a table called the PAH Continuum. We feel this is a heuristic that can help teachers, lecturers and trainers think about and reflect on how they might their structure the courses, units or subjects that they teach in order to help their learners become more autonomous and purposeful in how they learn

A Schematic of the PAH Contiuum

                      Pedagogy     Andragogy     Heutagogy
Locus of Control    Teacher      Teacher/Learner     Learner
Education Sector   Schools      Adult education       Research
Cognition Level      Cognitive    Meta-cognitive      Epistemic cognition

Some consequences of the PAH Continuum

In effect the PAH Continuum is a tool that can help teachers design heutagogic affordances into their practice. Consequently we were very happy to discover that Thomas Cochrane had done exactly this in the Product Design degree course at Unitec Auckland. There it was used as an organising principle to help structure learners’ use of mobile learning technology across the four years of the course programme. Thomas called this ‘bridging learning contexts’ in his article Exploring mobile learning success factors.

When we collaboratively developed the ideas of the open context model of learning, Wilma Clark had pointed out that in Russia the word ‘obuchenie’ means both teaching and learning, and the PAH Continuum might be seen as a way of scaffolding ‘obuchenie’ as a move from teacher’s control to learner’s control. I would see it as axiomatic, as I did when I was ‘brokering’ learning, that teachers, whilst delivering their subject expertise, should be enabling learners to better understand the process of learning for themselves. Nigel Ecclesfield and I tried to capture this in our freely available OER slides called The Craft of Teaching which is now used by a number of educational institutions as part of their teacher training.

One of the institutions that likes this work, and is open to the idea of heutagogy in education, is Salford University, particularly Chrissi Nerantzi in the Post-Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice programme, who publicise their work as @PGCAP. Chrissi has been making a series of films called ‘Food for Thought’ and asked me to discuss how learning is changing and to describe how we might recognise the heutagogic learner. (Oh! I meant to say “learning is doing and reflecting” in the video.)

So the PAH Continuum: thinking about how, when you design learning or develop your teaching or training practice, you can make it open to heutagogy…

Thanks to Ronan O’Beirne, with whom I wrote “e-learning and andragogy” who first introduced me to Hase & Kenyon’s From Andragogy to Heutagogy and said we had to incorporate that work into our own work, from which comment the PAH Continuum eventually emerged. And to everyone who believes in learners generating their own contexts for learning…

Fred Garnett blogs on issues relating to heutagogy on The Heutagogic Archive and can be followed on Twitter @fredgarnett. Fred’s current big project is WikiQuals, a project testing ways of using the post-hoc accreditation of learning activities as a way of replacing high-stakes assessment in education systems.

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A Much Better World: From fast food pedagogy to Michelin star andragogy

September 19th, 2014 by Peter

A Much Better World: From fast food pedagogy to Michelin star andragog. Paul Henderson

Paul’s latest thoughts will resonate with so many of us who have been teachers. He goes on to highlight some core essentials for effective, deep learning.

When I was a classroom teacher I felt that, even if I were to tirelessly strive to refine my teaching skills to the absolute pinnacle of my abilities, the highest possible level at which I could work would be no more than that of the educational equivalent of a skilled burger flipper. Yet in the much better world of my current educational practice, I feel there are opportunities to achieve the highest levels of excellence with hard work and dedication, and that the very best in my field are the educational equivalents of Michelin star chefs. Clearly, the idea of being the educational equivalent of a burger flipping conveyer belt worker with no hope for any signs of improvement before retirement was not very appealing and therefore, after a good deal of soul searching, I decided to resign from the career in which I had invested so much time and money, as so many teachers do when the realities of the job dawn upon them. I still think that teaching is one of the most important things anyone could dedicate their professional life to, but what I was doing was not really teaching, and what I was ‘teaching’ was not a true real world reflection of my subject, therefore it was time to explore other options.
During my time as a classroom teacher it felt like I was training lab rats using punishments and rewards according to a very inflexible imposed criteria to box tick and hoop jump their way from one end of a vaguely subject shaped maze to the other. As if this were not bad enough, by the time students were awarded their certificates they had forgotten everything they demonstrated they had learned in order to receive them, while us teachers were being praised to the hilt for our fantastic job on yet another record league table performance. In stark contrast to this, I now work in a much better world as an educational practitioner who is professionally, philosophically and personally self-concordant and able to engage with the learning process in a way that is far more suitable and effective for all concerned. In my current job there is no reason whatsoever for the young people I work with not to arrive at learning solutions that fulfil their self-defined aims in a way that is personally meaningful, fully contextualised and creative. While acknowledging that nothing is perfect, it seems to me that what I am doing now is vastly preferable to what I did then for all concerned, yet I am still working in state education, so what has changed apart from the fact that I am now a music instructor rather than a classroom teacher?
In my experience there only appears to be three significant changes required to make a massively positive difference in teaching and learning. These are;
1. Voluntary participation of learners.
2. One-to-one and small group teaching.
3. Non content prescriptive curriculum and assessment criteria.

Voluntary participation of learners
Students volunteer to participate in instrumental music instruction and its related extra-curricular activities and can quit if they don’t enjoy it. This means that they are intrinsically motivated. Motivation can be divided into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic. Wherever the stimuli required for extrinsic motivation are used, whether they are in the form of punishments or, far more commonly, in the form of positive reinforcement, learning is coerced, and consequently learners are trained and conditioned irrespective of their wishes. This is an expedient way to contrive league table results and achieve prescribed outcomes, but it is known to detach learners from the natural learning process, kill creativity, curiosity and explorative playfulness, inculcate dependent learning, and override intrinsic learning urges which can atrophy to virtually nothing without being purposefully employed. This is not a pleasant list of side effects. In consideration of the well documented evidence, it would seem that if conventional intra-curricular compulsory core subject schooling were a drug which was subjected to the strict and rigorous criteria of the randomised control trials that underpin modern medicine, with unschooling and democratic free schooling used as a pedagogical placebo, it would not be surprising if a very strong case emerged for the banning of conventional schooling altogether on the basis of its comprehensive catalogue of toxic psychological side effects.

One-to-one and small group teaching
One-to-one and small group teaching enables educational practitioners to effectively become andragogues rather than pedagogues because without classroom management and constant monitoring of discipline, teachers can adopt the strategies and principles of andragogy, which are far more conducive to deep learning than the shallow regurgitation required to pass prescribed content assessments. As a result of this, teaching and learning becomes much more about personal, creative and immediately responsive purposive interaction than contriving the implementation of formal learning strategies to satisfy an imposed box ticking and hoop jumping pedagogy.

Non content prescriptive curriculum and assessment criteria
The best thing any exam board can do is to utilise forms of assessment that do not prescribe content. This is the way Michelin star restaurants are assessed. Criteria are set which maintain standards, but contents (ingredients and recipes) are not prescribed. This means that chefs can use whatever ingredients in whatever proportions they please to create food that is truly excellent. Their imagination is the only limit. By contrast a burger flipper has to deliver food that must adhere to prescribed content criteria ensuring standards are adhered to while killing any creativity whatsoever on the part of the flipper, and any real engagement with the taste of real food on the part of the consumer; it’s more about delivering a prescribed curriculum than creating delicious and memorable food with character and flair.
The same excellence and creativity enhancing Michelin style of assessment is also utilised in the solo performance assessments that music candidates sit. The exam board set a list of criteria with a suggested list of pieces as a guide, but the actual program of pieces used in the exam can be arrived at through a process of open source learning or can even be created in its entirety by the candidate. Their imagination is the only limit. Creativity remains unimpeded while standards of excellence are still maintained. This excellence enhancing method of assessment exists right now within state education but its use is limited. If excellence is the aim then it should be widespread. Students can and have attained the highest possible results by playing their own musical creations in solo performance exams at all levels. Students have also gained top marks through utilising an entirely open source learning approach whereby learning and assessment content is learner defined and sourced. Academic and intellectual freedom and creativity remain unimpeded while still maintaining standards. The form of assessment that allows all of this is not utilised nearly as often as it could be but it most certainly can be and has been done within state education with excellent results.
Not every music candidate can justify the extra time it takes or the commitment required to drive their own learning, and some do not place music performance at the top of their priorities but still enjoy participating. In such instances students may wish to be trained to pass exams as a means to fulfil wider aims (e.g. as an enjoyable way to achieve part of the non-specific prerequisite academic credits to gain access to a university course which may not be related to music). In these instances there may be a mutual agreement between student and teacher that the best option would be to use spoon feeding teach-to-the-test techniques using exam board pre-approved guideline content which facilitates minimum learning with maximum attainment. This strategy requires less time spent on sourcing or creating content and practising, and consequently allows for more time to be spent studying for the student’s higher priority areas. In such circumstances teach-to-the-test, spoon feeding or dumbing down, whatever you want to call it, is ethically justifiable. It is not ethically justifiable to pass these techniques off as a ‘broad and balanced’ general approach to education, but they do have their place when mutual consent is given as part of a wider exam preparation strategy where time management has to be critically evaluated. The ethical justification comes from mutual consent.
Sadly, there are some kids who would walk into a three star Michelin restaurant and ask for a ‘Big Mac’ because they don’t know any different, just as, as many educationists have observed, there is likely to be a significant number of students attending today’s conventional formal learning institutions who, given the choice, would opt to be spoon fed in every subject because they have forgotten all knowledge of anything different. This is thanks to a previous succession of blameless spoon feeding teachers whose style of teaching, reluctantly adopted to satisfy the demands of the system, inculcates dependent learning which causes the natural informal intrinsically motivated autodidactic learning instincts of the pre-school years to atrophy to virtually nothing through lack of use. Because of the extent of the damage done to their natural learning instincts, the only curative but mostly impractical remedy for such highly dependent learners is up to a year of deschooling. Without this solution more spoon feeding appears to be their only option.
Unfortunately, it has been noted that box-ticking teach-to-the-test techniques are widespread in formal learning institutions. They involve changing the behaviour of students using uninvited operant conditioning as an expedient way to contrive better league table results and achieve prescribed outcomes. It could be argued that these techniques are only ethical when used by mutual consent, as is the case with other techniques used to change human behaviour such as hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy. Unfortunately learners and teachers in such institutions are very rarely made aware of the fact that the use of punishments and rewards to achieve compulsory learning outcomes is a form of operant conditioning. This is mainly due to the fact that punishments and rewards are such an irreproachable part of the system that their ethics are never questioned.
While the merits of their pedagogy may be debatable, great things definitely do happen in conventional schools – especially when TV cameras are running! It is no coincidence that the greatest memories most people have of their school years are as a result of extracurricular activity. However, most of the day-to-day activities in conventional schools are intra-curricular and don’t get remembered or filmed often because they are not memorable and make for terrible TV. I doubt a school based TV drama or documentary would have very high viewing figures if it devoted 50 non-stop minutes to showing pupils sitting at desks perfecting their polynomial factorisation skills. On the other hand, an extracurricular activity such as helping a boy with a stammer, as shown on a recent popular school based TV show, gives a glimpse of how things can be when teachers are afforded the rare the luxury of genuinely working with pupils to meet their personal individual needs rather than ticking the next box in a committee formulated outcome based checklist.
In writing this piece I am not pretending to be an expert in alternative, mainstream or any other kind of education. There are those who have dedicated their entire lives to discovering more about the nature of education who are infinitely more qualified to speak with legitimate authority. Neither am I claiming to be God’s gift to teaching – when I see the work of my colleagues I am reminded that I always have a lot more to learn (although I’d like to think I have my moments!). This and my other writings are just my small contribution to a very important and far bigger picture viewed from the unique perspective of a ‘bog standard’ educator working in the front line who has experienced three simple changes in learning environment that have vastly improved the potential for breadth, depth and personal meaning in teaching and learning. All I hope to achieve is to offer my small contribution to a very important cause.
I resigned from classroom teaching because I felt the system forced me to either adopt an unethical pedagogy or resign. While I still have to do some teaching to the test, I now do it in an ethical way that facilitates a specific mutually agreed learning strategy. The main thing is that I am now able to work with young people to genuinely help them achieve their self defined aims, and offer praise for their self motivated effort in a genuine way, rather than as an insidious veiled behaviourist stimulus.
What I’ve stumbled across is not particularly new. It is just a small example of what many leading advocates of alternative learning have been putting forward as part of their evidentially substantiated, proven beyond doubt and utterly conclusive case for over a century, and I guess I should be thankful that I am one of the lucky ones who is now able to work by their principles as a professional educator. Perhaps one day all professional practitioners of education will be able to thank their lucky stars, and all learners will learn in a learning environment that is sensitive and adaptable enough to further their self-defined aims and ambitions in a personally meaningful way without the spectre of uninvited coercion. Examples of such an environment can be found in extracurricular sports coaching, instrumental music instruction and its related extracurricular activities, school shows, school trips, after school drama (etc) clubs, home education, public libraries and alternative schooling, but these are special cases whose educational approaches do not reflect the widespread social and cultural expectations of standard conventional intra-curricular pedagogy. Surely it would be a much better world if the widespread social and cultural expectation and mainstream intra-curricular convention was that all children should be given the right to experience something much more akin to a Michelin star education than a force-fed fast food fix.
Paul Henderson, September, 2014.

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Social Thought on Education – Edith W King

September 3rd, 2014 by Peter

Another good friend Edith W King has  her new e-book published. It’s the 2nd edition of Social Thought on Education.

Social Thought on Education

2nd Edition

by Edith W. King

On Kindle at £3.31 2014

In this, the 2nd edition of Social Thought on Education, the work of eminent social thinkers is brought to bear on education and teaching. The author’s objectives are to bring the ideas and writings of these powerful social thinkers who have inspired us in the past, in the present, and now in the uncertain future. The introductory chapter describes and discusses the recognized major theories in sociology and sociology of education as well. Then Social Thought on Education is divided into three sections. The first section contains sociological thought from the Pre-911 world. The theories of 20th century sociologists, Robert K. Merton, David Riesman, Erving Goffman, Elise Boulding and anthropologist, Margaret Mead are exemplified by anecdotes, stories, and accounts drawn from educational settings. The book continues with three of the classical social thinkers of the 19th century, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx applying their theories to schools, classrooms and higher education settings. The final section presents a chapter on contemporary uses of social thought developed by Ray P. Cuzzort. An Epilogue concludes the book emphasizing social thought for contemporary educators.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Edith W. King, Educational Sociologist, has contributed to the teaching of the sociology of education throughout a distinguished career spanning over forty-five years. She is the author of more than eighteen texts, numerous articles, monographs, and multimedia materials on diversity, multi-ethnicity, gender issues, world awareness, global perspectives and peace building. Among her more recent texts is Teaching in an Era of Terrorism (Amazon: Kindle 2013)

THIS BOOK IS FOR sociologists, educators, school administrators, social workers and all other people concerned with how society impacts schools and education in the 21st century.

Please feel free to circulate Edith’s Flyer for this book  –  Flyer 2nd E Social Thought UK PDF 

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The Learning Sweet Spot by Paul Henderson.

September 3rd, 2014 by Peter

  We’re delighted that Paul Henderson’s writing in the CPE-PEN blog over the years has attracted attention worldwide. Our good friend Wendy Priesnitz and her Life Learning Magazine ( ) has published ‘The Learning Sweet Spot’ in the July-August edition of the magazine. Here Paul takes an in-depth examination of how and why learner-driven education provides the optimum circumstances for learning. The original article in this blog can be found and Paul’s other work can be accessed quickly by clicking on his name on the word cloud to the left.

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CPE-PEN New Trustee – Director

June 24th, 2014 by Peter

CPE-PEN are delighted to welcome Wendy Charles-Warner as trustee – director. Wendy brings with her a wide spectrum of knowledge, skills and experiences. She has a legal background, varied campaigning and lobbying experience and first hand understanding of alternative education.


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What is the point of home education? Paul Henderson

June 24th, 2014 by Peter

Always the voice of reason. Paul writes so well and passionately about education and learning.  He has real insight into  mainstream and alternative perspectives. Don’t undertsand home-based education? Perhaps this will will shift your perspective.

What is the point of home education?

Home education compares very favourably indeed with conventional schooling from an academic perspective; however any comparison with schooling using standardised tests fails to shed any light whatsoever on its real nature. The margin by which home educators can outstrip their schooled peers is similar to the margin, shown by Benjamin Bloom in his two sigma research, required to bridge the gap between standard conventional classroom teaching and optimal learning demonstrated by one-to-one mastery learning techniques. Such correlations, while they may be statistically interesting to academics, completely miss the point of what home education is really about. Measuring the worth of home education using standardised tests is like measuring the worth of apples and oranges by how well they compare to the standard shape of a sphere, and then arriving at the conclusion that oranges are better than apples because on average they are more spherical. Measuring fruit by how much it adheres to a standardised shape gives you information about the fruit which can be used to provide a comparison, but it does not do much to reveal its true nature. If standardised tests reveal nothing of any real value about learning contexts, they reveal even less about the true attributes of individual learners, irrespective of context.

To validate and vindicate home education by using globally accepted educational benchmarks to verify that it can easily achieve high academic attainment is to misunderstand the true nature of learning, especially in home education. High academic attainment may or may not be a by-product of one of home education’s central purposes, which is to provide an educational environment in which learners strive to meet personally defined learning intentions shaped by personal passions, interests, pursuits, aptitudes, attitudes, dispositions and needs that are in line with personal values. The extent to which these personal learning intentions are met continuously provides the feedback to inform the evaluation and revision of previous learning intentions and the creation of new ones. Successful learning is therefore regarded as a natural, continuous, dynamic and organic lifelong process similar to breathing which is inherent to the natural learning process, as opposed to a scientifically defined and measurable outcome generated as a product of an educational processing environment.

Many home educators believe that individuals will work and play in a far happier and productive fashion, and will better serve and enrich society both culturally and economically (partly due to their creative instincts being allowed to flourish unimpeded by conventional schooling) when they;

  • ‘find Self concordance through intrinsically motivated activity’ (as psychologists say) or
  • ‘are in their element’ (as Ken Robinson might say), or
  • ‘find work worth doing’ (as John Holt put it)

The three terms above all allude to the same thing, indicating that it is better for young individuals to primarily serve themselves, which in turn allows them to better serve their communities and adult society when they are ready to join it. This self-service open-source approach to education ensures learners learn as much of what they want, when they want, from whatever source suits them best. At this point critics may say that an open source self-service approach to education is like a self-service restaurant in which kids, trusted to serve themselves, will eat nothing but junk food. This criticism forgets that, when it comes to learning, one person’s junk is another’s treasure; therefore all learning is valuable if learning intentions are self-defined according to personally meaningful criteria. It also implies that educationists and politicians should be trusted to know what’s best for children to learn, while placing no or very little trust in children. This implication is fundamentally flawed if improving and enhancing learning skills is deemed to be important. How can children ever be trusted to take responsibility for their own learning if they are never trusted to take it? It is not as if children who are trusted to make their own decisions make them in a vacuum. Their decisions are bound to be influenced by the attitudes of family, friends, communities, mentors and the cultures they connect with – which are far more important and relevant to young people than distant committee formulated learning intentions designed for the masses and no one in particular. Can politicians or educationists or curriculum advisors or teachers be trusted to prescribe the correct content of young people’s compulsory formal learning intentions? While it may be argued that a good nutritionist may be trusted to know what diet will be in an individual’s best long term interests, there is absolutely no way whatsoever that anyone, no matter how qualified, can ever know what specific set of formal learning outcomes to prescribe that will be relevant in the individual futures of learners.

Instead of a self-service open-source approach, schooling serves a diet of homogenised and standardised dishes from a narrow and inflexible menu which offers comparatively little choice. To create this menu, politicians consider what society needs from an economic and political perspective (e.g. more STEM graduates) then make Maths, English and Science compulsory core subjects in schools up to the age of sixteen because they have decided that that is what meets political and economic needs. Forcing young people to study subjects that they may or may not be interested in at a time when they may or may not be interested in studying them in an environment which sidelines trust, divergent thinking, creativity, independent enquiry, curiosity, playfulness and intrinsic motivation is seen by many home educators (and a great many leading thinkers and academics) to be counterproductive and more likely to turn these subjects into forced hard labour for uninterested conscripts instead of revealing their true and fascinating beauty to those inclined to seek out and appreciate it. Not that it should be taken as a measure of worth, but it is interesting to note that research has shown that a higher percentage proceed towards STEM careers from the unschooled population than from the general population. This finding shows that what is good for the individual can also be good for the nation, but enforcing the converse is counterproductive. It also suggests that government targets for STEM graduates would be better met by allowing people to define their own learning intentions rather than by the compulsory imposition of core subjects in schools. Compulsory imposition tends to kill any interest derived from natural curiosity, just as people regularly force fed with their favourite food would surely lose their appetite for it.

Critics may wonder how a self-service approach to education can lead to successful learning in the form of good exam grades. Those who adopt the ‘work worth doing’ concept of successful learning may or may not regard the acquisition of a full set of top exam grades as success. If they were achieved through a voluntary, non-coercive, intrinsically motivated means as a vehicle to further self-defined aims then they are a success. If they are achieved through compulsory imposition and coercion in order to get ‘a good job’ they may be viewed as a public success but a private failure.

Public success and private success are two very different things. The history of celebrity is full of publicly rich, famous and highly successful individuals who were privately miserable. Of course, it is important to feel valued, but receiving praise for a personally meaningless achievement is a hollow reward. Public success that has been gained as a by-product of pursuing private success is something to be genuinely celebrated both personally and publicly. For example celebrity cleaners, Kim and Aggie, are famed for their knowledgeable, good humoured, no-nonsense expertise in cleaning! Who would have thought that an in depth knowledge of cleaning such things as toilets would have led to such high social status and public appeal? People can have a passion for the strangest things. Recent TV shows about dirty jobs that no one would think of doing voluntarily, revealed that there are a great many people out there thoroughly relishing unglamorous jobs in such fields as pest control, sewerage work, undertaking, waste management and recycling etc.  These eye opening shows revealed a lot of very happy, fulfilled and privately successful individuals.

Such private success is praiseworthy, but those who pursue public success judged by the prescribed success criteria of others, and achieve it merely for the glory of public approval, may quickly find themselves miserably bored and unfulfilled in a job that others may find fascinating, but that they themselves don’t connect with. Rather than learning merely to gain ‘a good job,’ it may be better to learn from ‘work worth doing,’ which is any activity in which learning, working, and playing become the same thing. Such activity can only be defined by personal preferences rather than public opinion. Work worth doing is not defined by salary or social status but rather by the interests, proclivities, passions, aptitudes, attitudes, dispositions, characters and personalities of individuals, the multifarious myriad of which is the true substance of society.

Bearing all of the above in mind, it would seem that the point of home education is not to out-school schooling. The most important attributes and beneficial characteristics of home education cannot be measured using the standard benchmarks and success criteria of conventional education or public opinion. It has very little to do with them. The whole point of home education is for individuals to achieve their personal best according to their personal criteria. Home education trusts that human beings, like all living things, are naturally driven to avoid pain (physical, emotional or intellectual) and seek pleasure. One person’s pleasure may be another’s torture. It seems reasonable to postulate, therefore, that our natural intellectual inclination to avoid boredom and seek flow drives curiosity, playfulness and self motivation; all of which are the key ingredients of self-sustaining lifelong independent learning. The only thing that can upset this delicately balanced apple cart is the imposition of extrinsic punishments and rewards which, if exposed to for long enough, replace the innate learning drive with an unnatural behaviour pattern learned through frequent exposure to a conditioning environment which extensively utilises behaviourist stimuli, on which ‘learners’ become highly dependent.

Sometimes it is humbling to see those who were born less fortunate than most, or who have been struck down through illness, achieve goals which those at the other end of the health spectrum take for granted; equally it is breathtaking to see the world’s leading exponents excel in their respective fields. Such things remind us that true valour lies in making the best of what you’ve got according to your own individual personal goals based on your own attributes, rather than being herded on mass into achieving committee formulated standardised success criteria merely, in some cases, to justify the existence of the formulating committee and its sentinels.

One of the main purposes of home education is to provide an educational environment which is adaptable enough to support and nurture all of the unique qualities of individual learners. A great many leading thinkers have noted that this is something of a rarity in conventional schooling, which has a tendency to coerce individuals into demonstrating their abilities by means which are heavily biased towards the cognitive domain and linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences. One of the many problems caused by biasing education towards the cognitive domain is that employers report that it is precisely and categorically the wrong bias required for future economic prosperity. What employers are crying out for is self-driven, agile-minded and adaptable employees who can independently take the initiative and also work collaboratively in groups to arrive at creative solutions. The attributes required for this are far more dependent on character, attitude, disposition, personality and creativity than on pure cognitive ability. Employees with jobs that are highly dependent on their purely cognitive abilities are far more likely to find themselves automated out of a job as advances in technology exponentially increase. Anything that is easily measured and formulated can be automated. It may be expedient for exam boards to measure learners’ abilities expressed linguistically, logically and mathematically using formulated marking schemes, and then have them published in national league tables which in some strange way are interpreted by politicians as being some kind of comparative future economic indicator, but such league tables have always failed to serve as economic indicators in the past and are even less likely to do so in the future. Unless a far wider and holistic view of human ability is adopted, the fact of the matter will still remain: the educational bias found in conventional schooling as it stands today is categorically wrong for promoting the optimal conditions for economic prosperity in the 21st century.

Home education is the antithesis of conventional schooling because it advocates the nurturing, supporting and enhancing of individuals’ natural tendencies, through engaging in activities that are true to their beliefs and values, as the best way of achieving a personally meaningful life of private success and economic buoyancy. Such activities may be as diverse as cleaning houses or making creative new scientific breakthroughs. Any intrinsically motivated activity in which individuals either find self-concordance or are ‘in their element’ may be also be referred to as ‘work worth doing.’ Learning is, therefore, thought of much more as an inherent part of living, as opposed to the product of an educational processing device with measurable inputs and outputs. Learners’ inherent or intrinsically motivated impetus towards personal success, shaped and defined by personal values and proclivities, is embedded in the philosophy of life leaning rather than measured as an outcome. It is trusted that individuals will naturally want to make the best of themselves through personally preferred activities suited to their differing preferences, aptitudes and abilities, and by making the most of available opportunities. Why wouldn’t they? In this way, through this philosophy, optimal personal success is not an outcome measured by externally prescribed criteria; it is a continuously evaluated and reviewed (according to personal success criteria) organic and dynamic natural state of being, more commonly known as living.

The point of home education, therefore, is that it grants young people the freedom to happily develop, through their own personally meaningful self-defined purposes, into the adult version of themselves, rather than either a failed version of the adult that they perceived their schooling wanted them to be, or, perhaps even worse, the ideal perfectly state programmed malleable and materialistic consumer who comfortably vindicates, validates and unquestioningly acquiesces to sometimes whimsical and arbitrary social fads and fickle political assertions.

Apart from their concerns over the acquisition of negative social skills, home educators are not entirely anti-school and may see some of the resources that schooling provides as potentially useful learning sources. This is why many home educating families have some children who have elected to attend school and some who have not but who may attend some extra-curricular school sports or music activities. The important thing for many home educators is that engagement with school, just like it is with any other potential learning source, is voluntary, and the purposes for which learners attend are self-defined. Any activity which may be regarded by learners as ‘work worth doing’ is a potent learning source. The problem with a lot of school activities is that they are often regarded as busy work with no real personal educational worth. If schooling wanted to attract more home educators it would have to vastly increase the amount of potent personalised educational activities and resources, and drop the idea of compulsory core subjects completely. Recycling schools into convivial, voluntary, all-age learning centres with optional day care facilities is a win-win solution fit for our time which would offer the best of both worlds to all learners. This entirely optional solution would offer experience, formally certificated courses, resources and local opportunities, at the request of learners, in order to further their own personally meaningful aims and ambitions, without any ties or conditions other than a mutually agreed and regularly reviewed level of attendance which would need to be reasonably maintained in order to manage staff and resources. Such centres could contribute towards a flexible and diverse educational landscape that would enable self-driven learners to contribute to society on their own terms as fully engaged citizens, culturally, economically and politically, in a manner that is vastly more suitable, efficient and clearly unimaginable to today’s proponents of conventional schooling.

Many leading thinkers, academics and home educators believe that the extent to which individuals can be true to themselves determines the extent of their happiness and liberty. For such people the main point of home and community based learning is that it liberates individuals by granting them their rightful freedom to achieve optimal self-concordance and well-being through a personalised learning environment that is sensitive and adaptable enough to facilitate their self-defined aims. This flexibility and freedom ensures that all practitioners of home education are perfectly at liberty to hold entirely different but equally valid opinions on its true purpose or main point. The opinion that school is the best place to educate kids deserves equal respect, since home education would not be a good learning environment for children if their heretical parents, who don’t believe in life learning, were permanently anxious and stressed by it.  Sadly, the magnanimity shown by home educators in respecting the beliefs, opinions, values and life choices of those in the mainstream is not always reciprocated.

There is plentiful evidence to prove that all healthy individuals living in developed countries are naturally equipped to make the best of themselves according to their own beliefs, values and circumstances within today’s information rich pluralistic societies. These societies constitute an ongoing and continuously churning melting pot which blends the natural attributes individuals were born with into the surrounding circumstances into which they were born and beyond. This melting pot is more commonly referred to as ‘life,’ which is why home and community based education, regarded by millions as the optimal way of living to satisfy the heart, soul and body as well as the mind, is often aptly and simply known as, ‘life learning.’


Paul Henderson, June, 2014.

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June 24th, 2014 by Peter

June 2014 – Edition Eight
This newsletter has some updates on our work. We are always happy to elaborate on any items. Just email us if you need m
ore information.

While we always welcome visitors to our normal College sessions it can beuseful to have specific Open Days. These allow moretime for visitors to talkto staff, parents and students. Our next two are in July – Wednesday 9 July
from 1.30 to 3.30pm and Friday July 11 from 6.30 to 8.30pm at our usual
address at Brighton Youth Centre. Technically the address is 64 Edward Street, Brighton, BN2 0JR. However the entrance is
in Grosvenor Street (off Edward Street) and at the rear of the building.
All are welcome to attend and refreshments will be

Up to last year we had a Management Committee with some outside representation alongside staff members. Our parent
charity approved the idea of dissolving this body and replacing it with a Governing Body. This new body has representation from the parents (Sam Wilson) and from the staff (Gillian Trott) along with a student representative (Faye Willby) (who uniquely has full speaking and voting rights). The other members are Richard Vahrman and Moira Nangle (representing local business), Avis Carter (parent of an ex-student and representative of the charity Trustees) and Dr Graham Dawes (with long involvement in Self Managed Learning). Two new members will join the Governors as they rep
resent the collaboration we have with other educational bodies. Dr Judith Good from the University of Sussex and Pedro Catella from the Brighton Institute of Modern Music have both been great supporters of our work already and
they will bring their considerable expertise to the Governing Body.

On Monday July 7 staff and students from the College will be attending a conference on student voice in London. We will be running a workshop to show how our students have more than a voice in their education – they manage it.

We have been quite proud that in 14 years we have had no NEETs at 16 –that is no student leavers who were not in educatio
n, employment or training. Indeed up to last summer all our 16 year olds had gone on to sixth form or further education colleges. Last summer changed that as two of our students decided to set up their own business on leaving us.
They visited the College this year to raffle one of their products – a newly-designed sweat shirt.

We continue to use this excellent qualification that has been developed by the Arts Council. The advantage to us is that it allows students to create their own personalised portfolios of real learning and at the same time gain GCSE level
qualifications. While older students generally do take their own selections of GCSEs such exams are often limited in not showing the full extent of student learning. The Arts Award allows a much richer picture of achievement to show
through. Another advantage over GCSEs is that we have qualified assessors in our staff so that we can do the direct assessment.

Digital Education Brighton is a unique meeting of digital experts from the Brighton area and those in education. We have beeninvolved from the start in supporting this venture. The projects created from it have been quite special including a joint project with the Cherokee Nationin Oklahoma which has resulted in a major event in Brighton celebrating the success of the project.

The Fuse Report is an important document that is the result of rigorous research into the new kinds of enterprises that constitute the major new employers in our city. It shows how the fusion of creative and digital activities is generating a whole new kind of organisation – generally small and very dynamic. These organisations are the only major growth areas in the localeconomy. Ian Cunningham attended a meeting on the educational implications of the report. Companies represented were concerned about how the education system is often not geared to developing the capabilities needed for this newsector of employment. Ian commented on the role that our College plays in addressing these weaknesses in the system, particularly with our emphasis on young people becoming excellent self managing learners.

As part of our collaboration with the Informatics Department at the University of Sussex we have had a new group of students from their Masters degree working with our students. They have entered into the spirit of SML by identifying what our students are interested in and then helping them with material on programming that fits with these interests.

Ian Cunningham joined a panel at this conference that was focused around the teaching of the new curriculum on computing. Ian emphasised that we had no intention of teaching this new curriculum. Our approach has been to support students in developing their capability around computing based on theinterests and activities that they want to pursue. As evidenced by our involvement in Digital Education Brighton and the links with the University of Sussex we take computing very seriously and we bring in experts in this field to work with our students.However the example of the University is apposite in this context. Our student s come up with their needs and the University students help them with these.
Ian also challenged the focus of the computing curriculum in separating it from other subjects. He cited the Fuse Report on the local fusion of the creative and the digital sectors. New jobs are being created all the time that integrate
creative capability with digital skills. And the evidence of that report is that more people are working in these companies from art, design and humanities backgrounds than from science, technology and computer science.

During the past academic year, we were awarded funding from the Sussex Community Fund. This has enabled us to expand reso
urces in our music department and share these with Brighton Youth Centre. Also the Scientific and Medical Network funded a major project setting up a web platform to debate ‘What is a Good Life’ particularly around the subjects of Science and
Philosophy. The project has also enabled us to connect with universities in Brighton and beyond to explore this interesting are
area. In order to get in more money we have set up a sub-committee of the Governing Body to take on the task of fundraising.This is being run mainly by parents and is actively pursuing funds for bursaries for students.

A film company is making a pitch to create a feature- length TV programme about us. They have already done some filming and logged a demo film on the Vimeo site. If anyone wants a sneak preview of what is being developed we can supply the link to the demo film.

16 year-old Sam Watling left the College in the summer of 2013. We arranged for him to make a presentation about his experiences in education to the local TEDx conference. Sam gave a 19 minute talk without the use of notes and
received a standing ovation for his pungent critique of the state of schooling. His talk can be accessed at

We have been delighted to have the support of volunteers to assist us in ourwork. This enriches the experience for students and allows us to support volunteers who may be looking for a career in education. It has also been valuable to get support from experienced teachers who have welcomed a different approach to learning. We have been especially pleased to continue our collaboration with the University of Brighton and provide placements for their education students.
We benefit by having other people available to our students and the University students benefit by seeing a fully functioning educational approach that avoids the errors of schooling.
This last year we have linked with Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) and have hosted their graduates who were doing a Post Graduate teaching qualification. This has proved a valuable addition to our music tuition as they
are able to offer us real expertise in a range of instruments.
If anyone is interesting in volunteering with us please get in touch.

As part of our collaboration with the School of Education, Gillian Trott and Ian Cunningham contributed to a workshop for undergraduates on employability.They showed how employment patterns have changed an d how important the
ability to continue learning is for future career development.

We are the only small secondary education providerin the area. Hence we continue to be active in the small schools movement
. The research evidenceon the value of small educational settings shows significant advantages in smallness of size and the Small Schools Conference is a valuable event that helps sharing amongst those of us working in this way. This year’s event was held in Bicester and Ian Cunningham ran a workshop on SML for attendees.

We continue to welcome visitors who are interested in our work. We take seriously our charitable status to develop educational practice and to support parents and others. We have visits from other community organisations as
well as schools (where they are looking for alternatives to use with students who do not respond to classroom-based learning). We have also had visitors who want to set up similar organisations to ours in their localities. We are keen to support such initiatives as we are not into ‘empire building’. We plan to stay small and to provide a model of working that others can learn from. A couple of examples of this outreach work follow this item.

We continue to support the Self Managed Learning programme that has been running in schools in Dorset provided by Guidance for Youth.

Parents from a primary school in the Winchester are a visited us and were convinced that they wanted to create a secondary school based on SML principles for their children after they reach the age of 11. Following the visit
we kept in touch and provided materials and support . This has included parents attending a two day workshop on using SML that we ran for them and others interested (including from our own parents). After the workshop Ian Cunningham spoke at a meeting of parents and staff at the primary school and they are now actively working on plans for a new secondary school.

Given the recent concerns about the quality of young football talent, readers may be interested to note that we are supporting the development of coaching capability in a couple of major football academies.The Self Managed Learning approach is ideal for giving the coaches of young players the chance to develop the new capabilities required to change
the way that footballers develop. One value of sport is that it provides direct evidence of the way that better learning leads to better performance. In January of this year Ian Cunningham visited thenew Football Association
facilities at St George’s and ran a workshop for coaches from Nordic

We are keen on students gaining work experience as part of their learning. We are indebted to organisations in the city and to parents for arranging week-long work experience in areas such as construction, broadcasting and events organising.

Outside visits are important for our students. As an example a group recently enjoyed time in the Devils Dyke part of the South Downs, exploring the history and geography of the area. In Brighton Gillian Trott took a group to the Earth
ship in Stanmer Park as part of an exploration of sustainable housing. Students have also used other local
resources such as the Brighton University Art Gallery, the Jubilee Library and the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. It’s a big advantage for us being in the city centre and within a few minutes walk of these and other facilities.

We have continued our connection with this award-winning community radio station. This has included Ian Cunningham doing a guest slot on education and a student doing a work placement at the studio.Also Ian and student
Elijah Armstrong contributed a joint programme.

You can get more information about the College on the website where you can download free material such as articles. You are welcome to get in touch with us if you need more information or you want to comment on our work. Also you can copy this newsletter and pass it on to anyone that you think might be interested.

Self Managed Learning College,
Office – 31 Harrington Road, Brighton BN1 6RF.
Phone 01273 703691 or 270995.

Mobile 07850 313814.
The College operates daily from Brighton Youth Cent
re, 64 Edward Street, Brighton, BN2 0JR

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Ditch the Label Reveals findings of The Annual Bullying Survey 2014

April 22nd, 2014 by Peter

Ditch the Label Reveals findings of The Annual Bullying Survey 2014

Conclusive Evidence That Exam Grades Are Affected by Bullying in Schools

One of the most comprehensive reports into the bullying of young people, The Annual Bullying Survey, will be published by national anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label on April 16th, 2014.

The report found that 45% percent of young people had experienced bullying before the age of 18 with personal appearance being the primary reason for bullying.  61% of those bullied had been physically attacked with 30% going onto self-harm and 10% going on to attempt suicide.

Worryingly the report highlights a direct correlation between bullying and students exam grades. Those who have experienced bullying are less likely to achieve higher grades than those who have never been bullied and more likely to get grades of D and below. 56% of bullied students felt that bullying was having a negative impact on their studies.

41% of those who had never been bullied achieved A or A*grades in English.

30% of those who had been bullied in the past achieved an A or A* in English.

26% of those currently being bullied achieved an A or A* in English.

The trends were similar across Science and Maths.

Ditch the Label surveyed 3,600 young people aged between 13 – 18 years old in partnership with over 30 schools and colleges across the UK.

The Annual Bullying Survey 2014 provides an in-depth insight into the current climate of bullying within the United Kingdom. The research has highlighted key areas of concern, along with the key demographic profiles most at risk of bullying and the long-term impact that bullying is having upon the lives of millions of young people from across the country.

Key Findings for Ditch the Label’s Anti-Bullying Survey 2014:

  • 45% of young people experience bullying before the age of 18.
  • 26% of those bullied have experienced bullying on a daily basis.
  • 40% of respondents reported being bullied for personal appearance
  • 36% reported being bullied for body shape, size and weight.
  • 34% reported being bullied for prejudice based reasons (homophobia/ racism/religious discrimination/disability discrimination/cultural discrimination/transphobia).
  • 63% of respondents with a physical disability were bullied, and were more extremely socially excluded.
  • 61% of respondents have been physically attacked.
  • 30% have gone on to self-harm as a result of bullying.
  • 10% have attempted to commit suicide as a result of bullying.
  • 10% of respondents reported been sexually assaulted.
    • 83% said bullying had a negative impact on their self-esteem.
    • 56% said bullying affected their studies.

Liam Hackett, Founder and CEO of Ditch the Label says, “Our survey shows the profound effect bullying is having upon the studies, self-esteem and therefore future prospects of millions of young people across the UK. It is my hope that our research, message and intervention programs will be used not only to raise awareness of the severity of bullying but also help us to reframe the prejudices and perceptions within wider society.”

Professor Ian Rivers, psychologist, author and Professor of Human Development and Head of School of Sport and Education at Brunel University. Ian has been researching bullying behaviour in the UK and the USA for twenty years and has published several books on the subject.

Ian says “Ditch the Label have produced a very important report that not only shows the extent of bullying in our schools, its diversity and long-term impact, but also its effect upon pupils’ grades. Very able pupils are disadvantaged by their constant experiences of bullying and this ultimately means that schools that fail to tackle bullying effectively will also face questions from Ofsted as grades decline. Taken cumulatively this report shows that we have still got a great deal to do to ensure that our young people are safe in our schools and able to learn in a supportive educational environment.”

Ditch the Label is a national anti-bullying charity delivering support to thousands of vulnerable young people both online and offline. The charity works closely with British schools and colleges providing them with research and advice on key issues. In addition, they provide a virtual “Bullying Support Centre” for the social networking service Habbo Hotel, which is accessed by over 30,000 teens worldwide each week.

Ditch the Label will be launching a Sponsored Silence on 18th May, 2014 to raise awareness of the 39% of young people who stay silent about being victims of bullying. To take part visit

Annual Bullying Survey Summary:

Bullying frequency and place

  • 45% of young people were bullied
  • 26% on a daily basis

Bullying Reasons:

  • 40% reported being bullied for personal appearance (32% of males bullied for this, 43% of females bullied for this)
  • 36% reported being bullied for body shape, size and weight (27% of males bullied for this, 39% of females bullied for this)
  • 34% reported being bullied for prejudice based reasons (homophobia/ racism/religious discrimination/disability discrimination/cultural discrimination/transphobia)
  • 32% reported being bullied for personal interests.
  • 22% said they were bullied because they got higher grades
  • 14% reported being bullied for not being considered masculine or feminine enough.

Bullying Forms:

  • 96% of those reporting being bullied experienced some level of verbal bullying, and 29% had experienced extreme verbal bullying (rated 8-10)
  • 61% have been physically attacked, 9% had experienced an extreme physical attack (rated 8-10)
  • 55% of those being bullied experienced cyberbullying.
  • 25% of those being bullied have been sexually bullied
  • 76% were purposefully socially excluded by their peers
  • 82% experienced indirect forms of bullying
  • 36% had their property stolen or damaged
  • 10% were sexually assaulted

Effects bullying has on the victims:

  • 83% said bullying had a negative impact on their self-esteem.
  • 56% said bullying affected their studies.

Health and social effects

  • 10% attempted to commit suicide
  • 30% had suicidal thoughts and 30% self harmed
  • 20% skipped school or class due to bullying
  • 10% of bullied students turned to drug or alcohol to cope with bullying

Of those who sought support…

  • 39% have never told anybody they have been bullied.
  • Most bullied young people turned to family members, teachers and friends.
  • Young people were least satisfied with teachers, health professionals and social networks when they turned to them for support or to report bullying.
  • Over half of students (51%) were not satisfied with teacher support

The full report can be downloaded from Ditch the Label, on the 16th April.

Ditch the Label publish two key surveys each year: the Annual Bullying Survey and the Annual Cyberbullying Survey.  Now in its second year, The Annual Bullying Survey enables Ditch the Label to continually measure trends and changes within the sphere of bullying so that they can continue to produce help and advice and preventative solutions.

Copies of both reports can be found at

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Terrorism: A Constant Threat for our Children. Prof Edith W. King

April 22nd, 2014 by Peter

Terrorism: A Constant Threat for our Children

                                                                                 Edith W.  King, Prof. of Educational Sociology, Worldmindedness Institute, Colorado, USA

 On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean it has become apparent that the threat of a terrorist’s bomb attack is always with us.  Every day the world-wide media brings reports and frightening photographs of the global terrorist violence, destruction and death for innocent civilians, for children and their families.  This occurs in the public market places, the famous shopping mall of Nairobi, Kenya, the churches and mosques of Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, there are also home-grown, domestic  terrorists. They seem able to strike in important city centers such as the 2013 horrific bomb blasts at the Boston marathon in the U.S. and in the public transport of city center London in 2005.  This article begins with a description of the parallels of these two violent and shocking events. Then I present suggestions and advice for teaching awareness about domestic  terrorism in the world today.   

Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013

One year later, April 2014, the US is reminded by the media of the horrible and unprecedented happening in Boston at the world renown Boston Marathon.  Last year as the week of April 15, 2013 unfolded, details and descriptions of the Boston Marathon Bombing filled newspapers, popular media, social media, and daily conversation. Two home-made bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on that April afternoon. The blasts killed three people and injured over 260 others, mostly spectators awaiting the end of the race. It took just several days to identify the bombers.  But during this time, the city center of Boston was virtually shut down with businesses and streets closed and mass transit cancelled.

 With the help of thousands of photos, video images, and other tips, federal, state, and local authorities named the bombers, two brothers — Tamerlan Tsarnaev, age 26 and his brother, 19, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Both men, Chechen Russian immigrants lived in the Boston area for about 10 years.  Tamerlan died in a shoot-out with police a few days after the bombing.  As they were fleeing, they  ambushed and  murdered  a police officer at the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in nearby Cambridge.  Dzhokhar, was ultimately captured after having suffered many bullet wounds, and taken to the hospital.  After extensive interrogation there he was charged with involvement in the Boston Marathon bombing.  It was reported that the brothers acted alone and were motivated by anger over the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   But as more details became known, it was reported that Tamerlan had spent six months in Dagestan, Chechnya, a troubled, violent, and rebellious region of Russia.  Both brothers were open about their devotion to Islam and indicated their adherence to radical jihad. Articles in the news reports described how the bombs were constructed using instructions from various sources readily available on the Internet.  Further days of media reporting revealed the personal upheaval over the past two years that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was experiencing at the breakup of his family and his disappointment over failure of his future professional career in boxing.   

 Striking Parallels to the London Bombings in 2005

The Boston Marathon Bombings present noticeable parallels with the London Bombings of seven years ago. Terror hit London on July 7, 2005 with disastrous blasts of home-made bombs in Central London on one bus and in three of the Underground train cars. Over fifty innocent people were murdered and hundreds more injured. Trains and transport across the United Kingdom were disrupted for days afterwards. The London bombings (7-7) and the subsequent fears for further terrorist attacks caused anxiety and stress for all – adults, children, British citizens, internationals, and tourists.

Further parallels arise in the descriptions and the histories of the bombers in the London terrorist acts and those of the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston years later.  Profiles of the men in both the London and Boston terrorist incidents described young adult males of ages 18 – 30 years.  Notably, the troubled socialization and school experiences of the radicalized Muslim bombers in London led to bitterness and disaffection, as well as strained relations with family members and the mosques they attended.  Strikingly similar family and religious experiences of the two extremist Muslim Chechen bombers in Boston are recounted in the U.S. media.  Changing identity from mere followers of Islam transformed itself to Islamic jihadism.  Disillusionment and anger against their adopted nation, led to violence and extremism, ultimately, ending with an acceptance of death in the process. These conditions describe the London bombers as well as the Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Author Lynn Davies in her book, Educating Against Extremism, insightfully explains the terrorist mindset:  She states “the Qu’ranic training camps give a sense of community, brotherhood and belonging.  But there is also the need for a moral certainty, of right and wrong.  The psychic need for rigid structures can lead to a calcified view of human behavior, and a loss of the recognition of its subtle complexities…. “                                   (Davies.  Educating Against Extremism, 2008, p. 39)

Protecting Our Children From Terrorism

How can we as adults  protect our children and prepare them to live in societies where the danger of sudden violence and disruption lurks?   There is a need for teachers and parents to continually search out information and advice for what to do in the face of extremist threats that seem bound to continue.  We can begin by encouraging young people to think about extremism and the  destruction of human life.  We can help young people by listening to their concerns and letting them talk about their anxieties over terrorist acts.  It is vital that children know it is acceptable to talk about their anxieties and fears brought on by extremism. 

 Some other suggestions are:

                 The terrorist attacks in both London and Boston wrought the destruction of human lives with the use of home-made bombs placed in backpacks (knapsacks).  It is no longer a joke to tell others “I have a bomb in my bag.”  This may lead to criminal charges against the “joker.” In our times a taken-for-granted possession such as a backpack or parcel can become the terrorist’s deadly weapon. Young people can be advised to watch out for anyone behaving suspiciously with bags, a package or backpack.  (Articles on the Boston 2013 disaster noted that if the bystanders had reported seeing the bombers placing several backpacks near the finishing line of the marathon the tragedy might have been thwarted)


Many children possess and use mobile or smart phones and several sources give advice about communicating during a major terrorist incident.  The suggestion that in being prepared for emergencies it is wise to keep a list of important phone numbers, those of family or relatives, either on the mobile phone or in writing.  However, we should not phone the emergency number during a crisis since so it can kept open for those responding to the disaste

Educating Against Extremism

Teachers can research information, studies, and recent books on topics such as the relationship of education to extremism. Or how does religious  fundamentalism influence extremists, within nations and across the globe?  Lynn Davies is one academic who is exploring these issues in her writing. Her latest book, Unsafe Gods: Security, Secularism, and Schooling, 2014 (IOE Press/Trentham) is a valuable resource.    In my book Teaching in an Era of Terrorism, (4th edition, 2013,  e-book Amazon: Kindle),  I offer educators and parents of younger children information and ideas on defining terrorism, teaching and talking about bullying -a form of terrorism.  Have you experienced teaching about home-grown terrorists or educating against extremism?  Do you share your ideas and stories with your colleagues and friends.


Davies, Lynn. (2008) Educating Against Extremism. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books

Davies Lynn (2014)  Unsafe Gods:  Security, Secularism, and Schooling.  IOE     Press/Trentham Books.

King, Edith. (2013) Teaching in an Era of Terrorism.  4th edition  Amazon: Kindle

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Tom Bulman on Empoyability

April 22nd, 2014 by Peter

Our recent Employability Learning Exchange proved a tremendous success. Tom Bulman took attendees through a thought provoking day of discussion and activities related to employability and young people. Tom continues his innovative approaches and convinced us all that more has to be done to help youngsters take more charge of their own lives and learning. Understanding employment and careers possibilities are an integral part of this. Whatever mainstream or alternative educational pathway a learner takes Tom shared practical strategies and resources that could make this a realistic, informed exercise. For more information


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April 11th, 2014 by Peter

Reminder… if you haven’t already responded we’d love to see you at our EMPLOYABILITY LEARNING EXCHANGE. Full details below. Don’t miss Tom Bulman and his pioneering work over the last couple of decades.  See prior posts beginning with the full details of the day…


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Dr Roland Meighan. 29.5.1937 – 20.1.2014. Full Obituary

April 11th, 2014 by Peter

Our dear friend and colleague Roland Meighan will live long in our hearts and his work will continue to be the engine underpinning  the Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now. This full obituary includes listings of his work.

A brief obituary has also been published in The Guardian hard copy Other Lives p.54… 12.04.2014 and The Guardian eNewspaper’s – Other Lives


Dr Roland Meighan died on 20th January 2014, he had been hospitalised since the New Year finally succumbing to heart failure. Roland was an academic at Birmingham, Nottingham (Special Professor of Education) and the Open Universities. He was a global thinker, researcher, publisher, and author who helped establish the Education Now Publishing Co-operative, was a founding trustee and director of Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now (CPE-PEN) and publisher of the Educational Heretics Press.

Roland worked in primary, secondary and further education in the UK and he also had experience of the Local Education Authority Inspectorate.   He lectured principally in Social Psychology, Curriculum and Sociology, and was involved in teacher training and in-service teacher education. He was Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Birmingham for over twenty years and was associated with the Open University in various part-time roles since its inception.   Roland was appointed Special Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham (1992-98) in recognition of his research and writings in the field of current and future learning systems in education.

In a distinguished career Roland researched, wrote and presented extensively on a range of topics including home-based education, personalised education and educational futures. His research included: 1. a ten year study of the perspectives of pupils and their judgements of teaching performance, 2. an ongoing study of over twenty years duration of the learning systems of parents who educate their children at home, 3. action research into democratic learning practices in teacher training over a fifteen year period, 4. theoretical research into the concepts of (a) the Hidden Curriculum, (b) Ideologies of Education, and (c) Flexischooling  (d) Current and Future Learning Systems.

Roland opened a window on and provided a framework for understanding education and schooling. His focus on learning systems, past, present and future led him to identify key distinctions between authoritarian, autonomous and democratic patterns.  He proposed that, in a democracy, learners must manage their own education, choosing the mode of learning that is appropriate for their learning style and type of intelligence, rather than making the best they can of what is prescribed for them by the state.

Roland had a very clear view of how he was educated and perceived. Typically, he wrote a tongue-in-cheek alternative curriculum and vitae that included the following…

Roland appears to have made most of the ‘blunders of education’.  He was an early school-leaver who grew to think that the boy’s grammar school he attended was a machine for insulting the intelligence of its inmates.  He therefore missed out on the much-vaunted sixth-form experience and as a result was probably deemed to be eternally handicapped. He was a two-year trained teacher and therefore a non-graduate entrant to what he considered the semi-profession of teaching.  His first degree was triple-tainted.  It was an external degree, obtained part-time and in Sociology and the Social Sciences. His research was amongst the despised and rejected, the ‘low castes’ of education.  First, there was a study of part-time youth leaders, and then investigations into the perspectives of pupils and their judgements of teaching performance.  Next, there was an account of the world of deviant parents – those who chose to educate their children using the home-based alternative. Then there was a fifteen year action research into using democratic methods of learning with new entrants to teaching by giving them the opportunity to plan, direct and review their own curriculum.  The education establishment barely stirred. Despite these handicaps, he somehow managed to become one of the most highly qualified professors of education with both a doctorate and a higher doctorate to his credit before going independent. 

The thread running through all his activity was an interest in learning systems, past, present and especially, the future. He was founder and director of Educational Heretics Press, a not-for-profit concern devoted to questioning the dogmas of education in general and schooling in particular, a director of the Education Now Publishing Co-operative, and a trustee and director of the Centre for Personalised Education.

He accepted no labels, political or otherwise, other than that of educational heretic and freethinker.  He was hostage to no man, institution or ideology and he didn’t bend with the wind.  He was very much the British John Holt (a man he met and greatly admired) and the Bertrand Russell of educational philosophy. He was an internationally renowned critic of oppressive educational systems, the upholder of reason, the enemy of bad schooling, and sloppy educational thinking. His voice was forthright, his analysis razor sharp, his wit equally so, his values as solid as rock.

 Although an academic, Roland wanted to reach a broader audience and he learned to communicate in an enthusiastic, compelling manner with child-like directness and playfulness.  He didn’t waste words he thought more, spoke and wrote economically. Consequently, what you heard and what you read is steeped in wisdom, clarity and common sense.

This was a man who knew his lines, his facts and figures and examples… as those who challenged him soon found out. His influence on educational ideas is incalculable. He never sought fame, would never compromise his values and principles but his ideas and his language ranges across the creative, radical and alternative educational thought. Many educational thinkers and writers will find Roland’s work underpins their own. He composed and recycled a range of memorable strap–lines and phrases that are much emulated ‘guide on the side’, ‘sage on the stage’ ‘alternatives for everyone, all the time’, ‘anybody, any age, anytime, any place, any pathway, any pace.’

Roland’s work cut to the heart of personalised education and learning. This was not about the shallow tailoring of a proscribed curriculum offer as epitomised in current governmental interpretations of personalised education. This was something more fundamental, deeper and wholly personalised with the learner directly in the driving seat, self-determining their own lives and learning pathways.

His experience, research and position gave him credibility and gravitas. It was a potent, convincing combination.

At Birmingham University in the 1970s and 1980s Roland both ran a PGCE secondary teacher training course in social sciences and taught courses in the sociology of education. Roland had a lifelong professional interest in humane and democratic alternatives to the existing nature of formal education that might take place within or outside of existing educational structures. This influenced his practice so that, based on an idea put forward by Adam Curle, then Professor of Peace Education at Bradford University, Roland developed the idea of ‘democratic learning co-operatives’ both on the teacher training programme and in his sociology of education courses. This was where the students designed their own course as a group and implemented it with staff as senior learners. This had a profound effect on the thinking of students as it immediately raised fundamental issues about the nature and purposes of education that questioned the assumptions of their previous experiences.

He also became increasingly interested in the practice and theory of home-based education during this period and in the early 1980’s was critically involved with one of the early court cases (the Harrison family) where a family’s right to educate their children at home was tested by the law. He was also active in ‘Education Otherwise’, the organisation run for and by people who are educating their children at home and being educated at home.

His writing on social science education and the sociology of education attracted the interest of the publishers Holt Rinehart who approached him about writing a book on the sociology of education. The first edition of A Sociology of Educating was published in 1981 and was an immediate success and was sold globally. It is still probably the book that Roland is best known for. Roland was particularly proud when it was translated into Polish. It has now been revised and reprinted five times. The title suggested its interactionist approach to sociology and, while being an introductory textbook, it nevertheless also introduced readers to alternative approaches to education and the ideas behind them.

Roland retired from full-time employment at the University of Birmingham in 1989 but continued for one day a week for three years. Towards the end of the 1980s Roland helped to establish the Education Now publishing cooperative and then later Educational Heretics Press and the Centre for Personalised Education. These were to become a major focus of his ‘retirement’. In the 1980s he had become increasingly concerned at the way mainstream publishers of books on education focussed solely on conventional education or the government agenda and he wanted to provide a publishing outlet for those more concerned with alternatives to existing patterns of formal schooling. He also wanted to try to reach a wider audience than academic writing permits.

One of the first books published by Education Now was Flexischooling written by Roland himself in 1988 which examined how education can become better suited to the complex, post-industrial world rather than the nineteenth century institutions that schools currently are. This book followed on from conversations with John Holt about the notion of flexischooliing. Holt had stayed with the Meighan’s during one of his European Tours and cemented the close association of their friendship and their shared educational world view. This was followed by a catalogue of nearly one hundred books all of which were in some way critical of existing provision and providing an alternative to it, whether in the form of more democratic education, home-based education or personalised education. A number of these such as Damage Limitation, Comparing Learning Systems and The Freethinkers Guide to the Educational Universe were written by Roland himself. Through his own writing and his encouragement of others via Education Now, Centre for Personalised Education – Personalised Education Now and Educational Heretics Press Roland has had a significant influence on the thinking of generations of those involved in education, whether in schools, higher education or otherwise. Whether of not they fully agreed with him, he made people think and his voice will be missed in the landscape of uniformity and dullness.

Roland undoubtedly had a massive and direct impact on countless lives. Tributes flooded in to his partner Janet from far and wide on his death. He had been a man who gave people an educational home when we were lost in the wilderness of learning systems dogged by oppressive control, increasingly narrow curriculum offers and the empty rhetoric of success. He gave hope and direction; he pointed to a saner educational future and encouraged people to remain free-spirited and true to themselves and to democracy.

Audiences listened to Roland intently. They knew that they were likely hearing something significant, certainly worth while and potentially life-changing. Such was the respect Roland engendered that countless families and learners redirected their lives to try and put some of his educational work into practice. Others were inspired to create their own radical alternative educational projects and settings. Recently even mainstream schools have started to think creatively about how they could accommodate flexischooling. For all the rhetoric about choice and change in Academies and so called Free schools they are not transformational and pale by the side of these alternatives.

Roland lived his unshakable beliefs in co-operation, democracy and free thought. He was a light in the creeping darkness of the nation’s politics and yet painfully, towards the end he declared himself weary of the battle, knowing that all had been said and done. His legacy is beyond measure and one day what he stood for will be surely be revisited and reasserted; the deaf ears of this generation will become the open minds of generations to come. Roland could take heart in the fact that, twenty-six years after he brought the concept of flexischooling to our attention he witnessed the current growth in interest in flexischooling and the part CPE-PEN is taking in its development.

His works provide a map for an alternative educational future based on the deep and natural principles of personalised learning and social justice. He understood acutely that an education is very different from schooling and would not settle for the limitations of the latter.  Roland’s prolific writings were driven by his inexhaustible conviction that the world could be a better place and an education could be more efficiently and effectively gained. He was unwilling, unlike so many of his contemporaries, to bow to the orthodoxy of the times.

As a youngster Roland had been a gifted footballer and made the books of his beloved West Bromwich Albion. He spent his National Service with the Royal Signals Regiment. Later, he worked for the army as Lieutenant Colonel in Malta. He nearly trained to be a vicar, but became a humanist. His politics were originally Liberal then finally Green, his market views were co-operative and mutual, underpinned by an adherence to democratic ideals. He loved jazz and would regularly frequent festivals and concerts. He was self-taught on the keyboard and loved playing for his own pleasure. His sense of humour made him a joy to work with. He was always full of interesting and provocative ideas

A fortunate minority are able to make a difference to lives and influence this world for the better. Roland was such a man. He was a truly unique and imaginative educator and thinker whose absence from the educational landscape will be sorely missed.

Peter Humphreys. Chair / Trustee / Director Centre of Personalised Education,

Professor Clive Harber. Emeritus Professor of International Education, University of Birmingham,

Paul Ginnis. Independent educational trainer, consultant and author.


D.Soc.Sc. (University of Birmingham),    

Ph.D. (University of Birmingham),    

B.Sc. (Sociology) University of London

L.C.P. (Licentiate of the College of Preceptors),

Cert.Ed. (University of Birmingham)


Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (F.R.S.A.)


Editorial Work:

An Editor of Educational Review since 1973,

A Founding Editor of the British Journal of Sociology of Education,

Co-editor of Social Science Teacher 1975-9


Various appointments have included:

 External examiner to Exeter University School of Education for B.Ed. Education Course Work and Teaching Practice.

External Examiner for B.Ed. to various universities and Colleges of Education for Sociology of Education.

External Examiner to University of York for Undergraduate Courses in Education.

External Examiner to the Open University for Education Course E208 and Ph.D. work.

Examined over 25 Ph.D theses in UK and overseas.


Publications – Selected List

Books and Edited Collections

 Meighan, R. (ed) (1973) Sociology and Teaching, special edition of Educational Review, Summer

Meighan, R. and Doherty, J. (eds) (1975) Education and Sex Roles, special edition of Educational Review, Summer

Meighan, R. (ed) (1978) The Learners’ Viewpoint, special edition of Educational Review, Summer

Barton, L. and Meighan, R. (eds) (1978) Sociological Interpretations of Schooling and Classrooms: A Reappraisal,     Nafferton Books

Meighan, R, Marks, A and Shelton,I. (eds) (1978) Perspectives on Society, Nelson

Barton, L. and Meighan, R. (eds) (1979) School, Pupils and Deviance, Nafferton Books

Barton, L. and Meighan, R. and Walker, S. (eds) (1980) Schooling, Ideology and the Curriculum Falmer Press

Meighan, R. (1981) A Sociology of Educating, first edition Holt Rinehart Winston

Meighan, R. (1986) A Sociology of Educating, second edition, Holt Rinehart and Winston

Meighan, R. and Siraj-Blatchford, I. (1999) A Sociology of Educating, third edition, Cassell

Meighan, R. and Siraj-Blatchford, I.  (2003)  A Sociology of Educating, fourth edition, Continuum

Meighan, R. and Harber, C (2003) A Sociology of Educating, fifth edition, Continuum

Meighan, R, Harber, C. and Roberts, B. (eds) (1984) Alternative Educational Futures Holt Rinehart Winston

Harber, C. and Meighan, R.(eds)(1984) Political Education In 1984, special edition of Educational Review, Summer

Harber, C. and Meighan, R. (eds) Ideas for Teaching Social and Political Studies, Association for the Teaching of Social Sciences

Meighan, R. (1988) Flexischooling   Education Now Books

Harber, C. and Meighan, R. (eds) (1989) The Democratic School: Educational Management and the Practice of Democracy, Education Now Books

Meighan, R. (ed) (1989) Parents and Education: A Wider Agenda of Possibilities, special edition of Educational Review, Summer

Meighan, R. (ed) (1992) Learning from Home-based Education, Education Now Books

Meighan, R. and Toogood, P. (1992) Anatomy of Choice in Education, Education Now Books

Meighan, R. (1993) Theory and Practice of Regressive Education, Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (1994) The Freethinkers’ Guide to the Educational Universe, Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (1995) The Freethinkers’ Pocket Directory to the Educational Universe, Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (1995) John Holt: Personalised Education and the Reconstruction of Schooling, Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (1997) The Next Learning System: and why home-schoolers are trailblazers, Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (2000) Natural Learning and the Natural Curriculum, Educational Heretics

Meighan, R. (2002) The Next Learning System: pieces of the jigsaw, Education Now Books

Meighan, R. (2002) John Holt: Personalised Education instead of ‘uninvited teaching’ Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (2004) Damage Limitation, Trying to Reduce the Harm Schools do to Children, Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (2004) Comparing Learning Systems, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Counterproductive, Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R. (2007) John Holt, Continuum Books


Book Contributions

 Meighan, R. and Chambers, P. (1971) The Structure of Teacher Education, in Tibble, J. (1971) The Future of Teacher Education, Routledge Keegan Paul

Meighan, R. (1978) Joint Proposals for a Social Sciences ‘A’ Level: Is an Integrated Social Sciences ‘A’ Level Possible?  Ch.7 in Whitty, G and Gleeson, D (eds) (1978) Sociology: The Choice at ‘A’ Level, Nafferton Books

Meighan, R. (1978) Consultation and Educational Ideologies: Some Issues Raised by Research into Children’s Judgements of Teaching Performance,  in Barton, L. and Meighan, R. (eds) (1978) Sociological Interpretations of Schooling and Classrooms: A Reappraisal,  Nafferton Books

Meighan, R. (1978) The Pupil’s Point of View in Meighan, R, Marks, A and Shelton,I. (eds) (1978) Perspectives on Society, Nelson

Rutherford, D. Fielding, R. Meighan, R. and Sparkes, D. Towards Democratic Teaching and Learning? in Benjamin, T and  Massey. (ed) (1979)  Improving University Teaching, Fifth International Conference papers, University of Maryland Press

Barton, L. and Meighan, R. Schools, Pupils and Deviance, in Barton, L. and Meighan, R. (eds) (1979) School, Pupils and Deviance, Nafferton Books

Boardman, D. Fitzgerald, A. Meighan, R. and Rutherford, D (1980) Innovation and Evaluation in PGCE Methods Courses, in Alexander, R.(ed) (1980)Current Developments in the Postgraduate  Certificate of Education  S.H.R.E.

Meighan, R. Brown, C. (1980) Locations of Learning and Ideologies of Education : Some issues Raised by         a Study of Education Otherwise in Barton, L. and Meighan, R. and Walker, S. (eds) (1980) Schooling, Ideology and the Curriculum Falmer Press

Meighan, R. (1982) Planning the Content of Teacher Directed Social Science Courses in Gomm, R. and McNeill, P. (1982)  Handbook for Social Science Teachers, Heinemann

Meighan, R. (1982) Individual Study Folders in Gomm, R. and McNeill, P. (1982) Handbook for Social Science Teachers, Heinemann

Meighan, R. (1982) Organising a Social Science Resources Bank in Gomm, R. and McNeill, P. (1982)  Handbook for Social Science Teachers, Heinemann

Meighan, R. (1984) Flexischooling in Meighan, R, Harber, C. and Roberts, B. (eds) (1984) Alternative Educational Futures, Holt Rinehart Winston

Meighan, R. (1987) From Home-based Education to Flexischooling in P.Toogood (ed) (1987) Flexischooling Dialogue in Education Publications

Meighan, R. Harber, C. and Meighan, J. (1989) Democratic Practice: A Missing Item on the Agenda of Teacher Education in Harber, C. and Meighan, R. (eds) (1989) The Democratic School: Educational Management and the Practice of Democracy, Education Now Books

Meighan, R. (1991) Small School Jottings in P.Toogood (ed) (1991) Small Schools Education Now Books

Meighan, R. (1992) Never Too Late To Learn To Educate in Meighan, R. (ed) (1992) Learning from Home-based Education, Education Now Books

Meighan, R. 1992) The Strange Case of Democracy in Action, in Ginnis, P. (ed) (1992) Learner-managed Learning,  Education Now Books

Meighan, R. 1993) Home-based Education and the Re-appraisal of the Role of Parents as Educators in Smith, F. (1993) Parental Involvement in Education, ITS Nijmegen

Meighan, R. 1994) Part Six Education and Schooling comprising three chapters, pp 291-335, Natural Learning, Approaches to Education, and Choices in Education in Natural Childhood: A Practical Guide to the First Seven Years, London: Gaia Books 1994

Meighan, R. and Meighan,J. (1995) The Preparation of Prospective Teachers and the Strange Case of Democracy in Action in Harber, C. (ed) (1995) Developing Democratic Education pp 44-52, Ticknall: Education Now Books

Meighan, R. (1996) The Implications of Home-based Education Effectiveness Research for Open Schooling in Evans, T. and Nation, D. (1996) Opening Education: Policies Practices and Technologies in an Era of Globalisation, London: Routledge

Meighan, R. (2000) Alternatives for Everybody, All the Time, in Miller, R., (ed) (2000) Creating Learning Communities, Brandon, VT, USA: F.E,R,Inc

Meighan, R. (2001) The Role of Education in a Democracy in Clarke, P.B. and Foweraker, J. (eds) (2001) Encyclopaedia of Democratic Thought, London; Routledge

Meighan, R. (2008) Restructuring Education – so it works for kids and society in Priesnitz, W. (ed) (2008) Life Learning: Lessons from the Educational Frontier, Toronto: The Alternate Press

Meighan, R. (2008) Personalised Learning and Democratic Learning Co-operatives in Webster, M. (ed) (2008) Personalised Learning: Taking Choice Seriously, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press

Meighan, R (2013) Learner –Managed Learning in Farenga, P. and Ricci, C (2013) The Legacy of John Holt. Holt, GWS, Medford, MA


Meighan, R. (1973) Sociology and Teaching: A Reappraisal in the Light of Current Trends in the Sociology        of Education in   Educational Review 25,3. 1973

Meighan, R. (1974) The Concepts of Authoritarian and Democratic Regimes and Classroom Discipline in Dudley Educational Journal, Spring 1974

Meighan, R. (1974) Some Reflections on the Social Studies Curriculum Guidelines in Social Education, March 1974

Meighan, R. (1974) Children’s Judgements of the Teaching Performance of Student Teachers in Educational Review 17,1. 1974

Davies, L. and Meighan, R. (1975) A Review of Schooling and Sex Roles in Educational Review 27,3. 1975

Meighan, R. (1977) The Pupil as Client: The Learner’s Experience of Schooling in Educational Review 29,2. 1977

Meighan, R. (1977) Pupils’ Perceptions of the Classroom Techniques of Post Graduate Student Teachers, in British Journal of Teacher Education 3,2. 1977

Meighan, R. (1978) A Pupil’s Eye View of Teaching Performance, in Educational Review 30,2. 1978

R.Meighan and M. Roberts (1979) Autonomous Study and Educational Ideologies: A Review of some Theoretical and Practical Issues  with Special Reference to the Schools Council General               Studies Project in Journal of Curriculum Studies 11.1. 1979

Sharma, S. and Meighan, R. (1980) Schooling and Sex Roles: The case of G.C.E.’O’ Level Mathematics, British Journal of Sociology of Education 2.1. 1980

Meighan, R. (1980) Parents as Educators: A New Teaching Force?  Educational Review 33,2. 1981

Meighan, R and Reid, W. (1992) How Will the ‘New Technology’ Change the Curriculum? In Journal of Curriculum Studies 14,4 1982

Meighan, R. (1984) Political Consciousness and Home-based Education in Educational Review, Summer 1984

Meighan, R. (1984) Home-based Educators and Education Authorities: the Attempt to Maintain a Mythology, in Educational Studies 10,3. 1984

Harber, C. and Meighan, R. (1986) Democratic Method in Teacher Education, for Political Education Teaching Politics 15,2.  1986

Harber, C. and Meighan, R. (1986) A Case Study of Democratic Learning in Teacher Education in Educational Review 38,3.  1986

Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (1986) Democratic Learning in Teacher Education: A Review of Experience at One Institution in Journal of Education for Teaching 12,2.  1986

Meighan, R. (1987) Comment on Concepts of Democracy in Journal of Education for Teaching 13.1.  1987

Meighan, R. (1988) Other Ways from ‘Otherwise in Education Now No.1. 1988

Meighan, R. (1988) Training Teachers for Democratic  Practice in Education Now No.2. 1988

Meighan, R. (1989) Parents and Schools: Alternative Role Definitions in  Educational Review  41,2. 1989

Meighan, R. (1990) Flexischooling: New Blueprint for Education in Education Now No.7.

Meighan, R. and Meighan, J. (1990) Alternative Roles for Learners with particular reference to Learner as Democratic Explorer in Teacher Education Courses in The School Field  Vol.1 No. 1,1990

Meighan, R. (1991) The National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools USA in Education Now No. 11, 1991

Meighan, R. (1991) Parents as Educators: A Focus of John Holt’s Work in Education Now No. 12, 1991

Meighan, R. and Meighan, J. (1991) John Holt and Two Visions of Learning in Early Years Education Vol. 12 No. 1, 1991

Harber, C. and Meighan, R. (1991) Democratic Practice in Social Studies Teacher Training in Social Science Teacher Vol. 20 No.3, 1991

Meighan, R. (1991) The Message from Home-based Education: The Way Forward is Flexischooling in Green Teacher Autumn 1991

Meighan, R. (1994) Some Principles of Educational Reconstruction a three part article in successive editions of Education Now News and Review (1994) and reprinted by Education Now as a booklet in 1995

Meighan, R. (1995) Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications in Educational Review Vol.47, No. 3  pp 275-287 (1995)

Meighan, R. (1997 – 2002) Pages from Natural Learning Magazine additionally found on the Educational Heretics Press Website:

Meighan, R. (1997) Natural Learning in Natural Parent Magazine December 1997

Meighan, R. (1998) Dyslexia and the obsession with literacy in Natural Parent Magazine February 1998

Meighan, R. (1998) Parents as researchers in Natural Parent Magazine March 1998

Meighan, R. (1998) Educational Superstitions of our time – Shakespeare, Maths and Handwriting in Natural Parent iApril 1998

Meighan, R. (1998) Where does the bully mentality come from? In Natural Parent Magazine June 1998

Meighan, R. (1998) Learning systems in Natural Parent Magazine June 1998,

Meighan, R. (1998) What is a good teacher? in Natural Parent Magazine Sept/Oct 1998

Meighan, R. (1998) A superstition called socialisation in Natural Parent Magazine Nov/Dec 1998

Meighan, R. (1999) Wanted! A new vocabulary for learning in Natural Parent Magazine Jan/Feb 1999

Meighan, R. (1999) Purposive conversation and effective learning in Natural Parent Magazine March/April 1999,

Meighan, R. (1999) Back to the future? In Natural Parent Magazine May/June 1999, under the title of Putting children in their place

Meighan, R. (1999) The superstition of school ‘standards’ in Natural Parent Magazine July/Aug 1999
under the title of How your child can be a deep learner

Meighan, R. (1999) You become what you read in Natural Parent Magazine Sept/Oct 1999 under the title of the writing’s on the wall

Meighan, R. (2000) The question of damage limitation in Natural Parent Magazine Jan/Feb 2000 under the title of How to survive school

Meighan, R. (2000) Natural’ curriculum or National Curriculum? In Natural Parent Magazine, March/April 2000 under the title of The natural curriculum

Meighan, R. (2000) Head Teachers, leadership and courage in Natural Parent Magazine, May/June 2000, under the title of What kind of head teacher do you want for your children?

Meighan, R. (2000) Grandparent Power? in Natural Parent Magazine, July/Aug 2000

Meighan, R. (2000) It’s not what you learn, but the way that you learn it  in Natural Parent Magazine, Sept/Oct 2000, under the title What sort of children do we want?

Meighan, R. (2000) Interview with John Adcock in Natural Parent MagazineNovember/December 2000 under the title of: School’s Out

Meighan, R. (2001) Learning centres instead of schools? In Natural Parent MagazineJanuary/February 2001 under the title of: Parents are doing it for themselves

Meighan, R. (2001) Beans in a jar and the domination of the peer group, in Natural Parent Magazine March/April 2001 edition under the title of How many peers make five?

Meighan, R. (2001) Instead of fear, in Natural Parent Magazine May/June 2001 edition under the title of In place of fear

Meighan, R. (2001) Are children people?  In Natural Parent Magazine July/August 2001

Meighan, R. (2001) Boulevard of Broken Dreams in Natural Parent MagazineSeptember/October 2001 edition under the title of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Meighan, R. (2001) Interview with Jan Fortune-Wood in Natural Parent Magazine November/December 2001 under the title of A different way.

Meighan, R. (2002) Why Dick and Jane are learning fascist tendencies. In Natural Parent MagazineJanuary/February 2002 under the title of Why Dick and Jane are learning to be bullies.

Meighan, R. (1999) School Britannia in Education Today and Tomorrow, Vol. 51, 2, Autumn 1999

Meighan, R. (1999) Home or Away? in Times Educational Supplement Millennium Edition, 31st December 1999

Meighan, R. (2004). Restructuring Education in Life Learning, Nov/Dec 2004

Meighan, R. (2005) Some Educational Superstitions of Our Time in Life Learning, March/April 2005

Meighan, R. (2005) An Education Fit for a Democracy in Life Learning, July/Aug 2005

Meighan, R. (2005) Publishing Your Own in Life Learning, Nov/Dec 2005

Meighan, R. (2006). Which Way for Learning? Part One in Home Education Journal, Vol 1. Feb.2006

Meighan, R. (2006). Which Way for Learning? Part One in Home Education Journal, Vol 2. May.2006

Meighan, R. (2007). A Film-based Study of Home-based Education in Home Education Journal, Vol 6. May 2007

Meighan, R. (2007). Home-based Education and the Problem of the Competence of Inspectors, in Home Education Journal, Vol 7. Aug 2007

Meighan, R. (2007) How Others See Us – an Animation in Home Education Journal, Vol 8. Nov 2007

Meighan, R. (2008) A Kind of Treason in Home Education Journal, Vol 10. May 2008

Meighan, R. (2009) Book review: Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor-Gatto in Journal of Personalised Education Now (Centre for Personalised Education), 10, Spr/Sum 2009

Meighan, R. (2009) Recycling Schools 1. Invitation, Choice and the catalogue Curriculum in Journal of Personalised Education Now (Centre for Personalised Education), 10, Spr/Sum 2009

Meighan, R. (2009) Book review: Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor-Gatto in Journal of Personalised Education Now (Centre for Personalised Education), 11, Aut/Win 2009

Meighan, R. (2010) Eighteen Superstitions in Education in Journal of Personalised Education Now (Centre for Personalised Education), 12, Spr/Sum 2009

Meighan, R. (2011) Edmond Holmes and Pink Floyd, Winston Churchill, John Holt and Others in Journal of Personalised Education Now (Centre for Personalised Education), 14, Spr/Sum 2011

Meighan, R. (2012) Flexischooling, a Personal History in Journal of Personalised Education Now (Centre for Personalised Education), 16 and 17, Aut/Win 2012

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Rethinking Educational Technology Scenarios

April 11th, 2014 by Peter

Our good friend Dr Tim Rudd at Brighton University has been leading a project based around Critical Perspectives on Educational Technology. One outcome has been a document Rethinking Educational Technology Scenarios


The second link is to the ‘resources’ page on their blog – this has the scenarios as well as related resources from our ‘critical perspectives on educational technology’ research related activities.


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What is successful learning? Paul Henderson.

March 31st, 2014 by Peter

 Now your appetite is whetted with the prior post Paul gets straight into successful learning… he argues an entirely natural process - a guaranteed natural consequence of having a healthy brain stimulated in a natural, nurturing and information rich learning environment. Schooling has undoubtedly lost sight of this completely.

What is successful learning?

Breathing is something that lungs do; pumping is something that hearts do; learning is something that brains do – it’s that simple! The idea that a healthy brain needs any sort of artificial intervention to be kick started into working properly is an odd idiosyncratic notion, but this bizarre convoluted idea seems to be the standard convention on which schooling is built. Because of this strange internationally accepted idea, the suitability and efficiency of the conventional school learning process may often be likened to the process of defibrillating a perfectly healthy heart in order to enable successful beating, or the process of hooking up a perfectly healthy young person to a mechanical ventilator in order to enable successful breathing. It may seem crazy to a rational evidence based thinker, but the notion that learning needs to be enabled by schooling is the globally accepted conventional norm. For example, as part of a recent educational reform, one of the primary purposes put forward for its new national curriculum states that it has a capacity to ‘enable all young people to become successful learners.’ Really? Surely such statements are either the result of careless wording or are based on a false assumption. Let’s hope it is merely the former since the latter appears to assume that schoolchildren start school without having successfully learned how to walk, talk, feed/dress themselves, run and play etc because, having had no experience of the curriculum before entering school, they will not have been enabled to successfully learn these things or anything else for that matter. From a rational evidenced based perspective the whole notion that a curriculum has the capacity to enable all young people to become successful learners is clearly incorrect, yet it has been emblazoned on posters on the walls of practically every classroom and staffroom of an entire nation. A curriculum may enable some people to learn some things, but it will never have a capacity for all young people to become successful learners because all young healthy people are already highly successful learners before they go anywhere near a school, and of course not all young people attend school.

It is well understood that learning starts in the womb, and the fastest rate of learning, indicative of highly successful learning, happens under the age of three. The fact of the matter is that, just as children are well able to breathe successfully by the time they enter schooling, they are also well able to learn successfully without the need for any ‘enabling’ curricular intervention. Perhaps I’ve got the wrong end of the stick and what is meant by school learning is actually formal learning; not the sort of informal learning utilised when learning to walk and talk. If that is the case then Benjamin Bloom’s 2 sigma research shows that conventional classroom learning is significantly inferior to one-to-one tuition and research from MOOCs also shows that they are significantly more efficient than conventional classroom learning. This evidence leaves conventional formal classroom learning in third place behind one-to-one and free online tuition. This evidence comes from mainstream academic research, not from those researching alternative learning. When alternative learning research is considered it is revealed that (on average across a range of core subjects and thanks to the developed world’s ubiquity of technological and other sources of information) home educators outperform their school peers by over 30 percentile points! Given this evidence, it is hard to justify from a rational evidence based perspective how any conventional formal classroom learning could ever be regarded as relatively successful, whether the interpretation of success is informed by traditional, progressive or alternative thinking.

Of course formal learning institutions will always be needed for learners to fulfil their self defined aims and to sit the exams required to gain certification in their chosen areas of interest, but they are not needed in order to make people learn things that they are not interested in merely to prove that they are learning something. Traditionalists might say that young people must demonstrate that they have learned prescribed compulsory core subject learning intentions which are scientifically defined and measured in order to establish whether they have learned anything or not. This is a very old fashioned idea based on the concept that the brain needs to be coerced into learning things, and the only way to tell whether it is learning things is by prescribing a list of things for it to learn then measuring how much of these things that it has actually learned. A former chief inspector of schools in England, Edmund Holmes, once put it like this;

” In nine schools out of ten, on nine days out of ten, in nine lessons out of ten, the teacher is engaged in laying thin films of information on the surface of the child’s mind and then after a brief interval he is skimming these off in order to satisfy himself that they have been duly laid.”

Using this traditional process, those pupils who can demonstrate that they can learn the prescribed list of things in the best prescribed manner earn certificates which enable them to take up the best positions in society, thus society is efficiently served with the right people in the right positions. The only problem with this model is that it does not serve the needs of individual learners very well because learners are asked to demonstrate their abilities in ways that are heavily biased towards the cognitive domain and linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences, alienating the majority of learners and squandering vast reserves of human talent in the process. The knock on effect of this is that, in squandering so much talent, it really does not serve the needs of society very efficiently at all. Conventional schooling is a diabolically inefficient model based on old fashioned false assumptions about learning, but it is the one that has been accepted and adopted around the world in order to educate children. Governments desperately try to compete with each other by trying to make their schooling systems more efficient without realising that trying to make schooling more efficient is like trying to make the process of defibrillating healthy young hearts more efficient. The reason that schooling doesn’t serve its function very well is not because it is inefficient. It is because it is entirely the wrong process. Making it more efficient will just make things worse. Evolution has ensured that human brains are hard wired to learn, just as hearts are to beat and lungs are to breathe, therefore traditional schooling is not necessary in order for young people to make the best of themselves through their interests, pursuits, passions and proclivities, or for them to learn how to survive within their information rich communities on a need to know basis. Conventional compulsory core subject schooling is not only unnecessary, there is plentiful evidence to show that it is actually harmful to the natural learning process by inculcating dependent learning and atrophying creative abilities; it is not a process that should be made more efficient; it is one that should be phased out altogether and recycled into a learning system fit for the 21st century.

“But what about scientifically measurable learning outcomes,” cry the traditionalists. “We don’t know if young people are learning anything if we can’t measure the extent to which they have learned what we have prescribed for them.” Such thinking is based on the false assumption that the brain is not hard wired to learn. Healthy people naturally define their own learning intentions and success criteria. The extent to which these criteria are met naturally and continuously forms new learning intentions, thus the natural learning process proceeds as a dynamic and continuous lifelong process. To interrupt this continuous natural process at an arbitrary time interval in order to contrive the realisation of a theoretical construct known as a compulsory learning outcome is to debase and derail the natural learning process that evolution has forged through hundreds of thousands of years.

“Nonsense;” the traditionalists exclaim. “Everybody clearly knows what is meant by successful learning. Those that get straight ‘A’s are successful; those that fail their exams or drop out of formal learning altogether are unsuccessful. This is the criteria for success as indicated in national and international league tables and is clearly and unambiguously understood worldwide.  Those trying to peddle alternative ideas about successful learning are nothing more than shady and shoddy snake oil salespeople who know nothing about the true nature of learning.”

If this interpretation of successful learning is true then dropouts from formal learning such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and the founders of both Google and Yahoo are all unsuccessful learners, as are people who never went to school such as Mozart, Yehudi Menuhin, Louis Armstrong, the Queen of England…or those who were partially home educated such as Winston Churchill. The list of highly successful autodidactic, self educated, home educated or partially home educated people is staggering, yet in the traditional view of successful learning they are all unsuccessful learners. If the traditional interpretation of successful learning is true, and only a minority of people achieve straight ‘A’s, then conventional intra curricular schooling can never be an environment that produces successful learning for most people, whether the interpretation of successful learning is informed by traditional, progressive or alternative educational philosophies. Given the irrefutable evidence, perhaps it is the case that those who still hold on to old industrial revolution  interpretations of successful learning have imbibed way too much of their own snake oil!

Human beings were born to learn and will learn in a highly efficient and suitable manner as long as their learning is informed, resourced and supported in a natural way. The highly unnatural process that conventional intra curricular schooling often uses to bring out the best in learners may be likened to the process of spray painting an orchid in order to bring out its natural colour.

The engine of successful learning does not require any jump starts from conventional schooling to get it going or to enable it in any way; it starts quite naturally in the womb, all by itself just as evolution intended, and is already working super efficiently and rather magnificently by the time young people reach the normal age for starting school. What is successful learning? Just as successful breathing is a guaranteed natural consequence of having healthy lungs, and successful beating is a guaranteed natural consequence of having a healthy heart, overwhelming and irrefutable peer reviewed rock solid scientific evidence conclusively proves that successful learning is a guaranteed natural consequence of having a healthy brain stimulated in a natural, nurturing and information rich learning environment.

Paul Henderson, March 2014.


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The Learning Sweet Spot: and how to find it. Paul Henderson

March 31st, 2014 by Peter

The first of two pieces from our good friend Paul Henderson. In amongst all the blogosphere and sound bites it’s good to share the considered thoughts of astute writers and educators.  Paul is a former Physics teacher

The Learning Sweet Spot: and how to find it.

Achieving optimal learning conditions for every young person is the holy grail of education. Finding such educational nirvana, if it exists, would surely require the resolution of a myriad of counter balancing or contrary philosophies and ideologies. It may seem an impossible task to balance and reconcile all of the often contradictory, contentious and multidimensional ideas affecting education and learning, but education is so important that it has to be worth trying. It may even be the case that all of these ideas can be interpolated, approximated, and rounded to a general and easy rule of thumb, in the same way that the highly complex set of variables affecting general well being can. There have been a million-and-one self help books written on health and happiness involving a zillion-and-one fad diets, exercise regimes and pop-psychology theories, all filled to the brim with scholarly references to recent research studies, but it all boils down to the general rule of thumb of eating a balanced diet and getting a reasonable amount of exercise, sleep and social/community interaction in whichever way suits best. Can a similar common sense rule of thumb guideline be found for education? That is what this piece aims to explore.

Some of the most important contentious, divergent, contradictory or differing educational issues which would need to be resolved in order to arrive at a general guideline for optimal learning are;

1.        Progressive versus traditional learning. The debate on this is over and the result is that both are needed. If you want to teach soldiers how to march, or any group of people how to perform any specific task with military precision, using learner centric techniques would quickly descend into a somewhat comical farce – traditional techniques are far better for these types of activities. If you want to teach anything that is personally meaningful and has anything remotely to do with self-motivation, self-discipline and working in groups to collaboratively arrive at creative solutions as part of fulfilling the aims of a larger organisation or purpose, then progressive learning techniques are essential. Finding the right balance between progressive and traditional learning and knowing when to utilise each philosophy is very important.

2.        Mastery learning versus pace. In 1984 the world renowned educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom, defined his two sigma problem which showed through a series of carefully controlled experiments that learners taught one-to-one using mastery learning techniques achieved results two standard deviations better than similar learners taught in classrooms using standard classroom learning techniques, meaning that “the average tutored student was above 98% of the students in the control class.” Studies from MOOCs have shown that mass learning can significantly improve on standard classroom learning when a combination of mastery learning and immediate feedback formative assessment is utilised. It must be remembered that MOOC learners are highly self-motivated volunteers, not conscripts. One-to-one or small group personalised learning wins out overall because it can utilise an individualised bespoke mix of blended mastery learning (where new concepts can be introduced before previous ones have been completely mastered as long as the unmastered concepts are consolidated and mastered within the learning of the new material – thus gaining mastery and pace).

3.        Asynchronous versus synchronous learning. It has been noted in unschooling and democratic free school alternative learning environments that the natural learning process appears chaotic to the outside observer. It seems to progress in fits and starts with learners flying ahead in some areas while others seem to stagnate for long periods of time then jump forward abruptly. Asynchronous learning is also a characteristic of the way gifted people learn and has been noted as a key ingredient in successful learning from studying detailed data from the individual learning maps utilised in MOOCs. This evidence suggests that learning environments which are adaptable enough to facilitate asynchronous learning have significant benefits over those that utilise age-stage locked or any other type of synchronous learning. Asynchronous learning may be linked to readiness, in that individuals naturally develop in an asynchronous fashion and therefore some people may become naturally ready to accomplish different things at starkly different times in their development rather than at prescribed age-stage-locked stages.

4.        Formal and informal learning. Almost every time the word ‘education’ is used in the media or in general conversation, what is really meant is formal learning. A more inclusive and accurate definition of education might be ‘the means by which a society transmits its culture, values, principles and knowledge in a way that can be learned.’ The vast majority of learning that informs most professional and personal identities came from informal or ‘on the job’ learning (even people in highly technical jobs often find that practice is very different from theory), therefore to conflate any kind of formal learning such as conventional schooling with education is a big mistake that most pupils, students, parents, teachers, educationists (or should I say schoolists?) and the secretary of state for ‘education’ make on a daily basis. It is well understood that the fastest rate of learning happens under the age of three and learning actually starts in the womb. If education has anything to do with learning then it is a huge mistake to conflate schooling with education and much, much more credit should be given to informal learning or natural life learning, which is where most of our formative learning experiences occur throughout our lives, no matter how many formal learning certificates we accumulate. Sometimes more importance is given to formal learning because of the correlation between formal learning achievements and income. This is often used to imply that there is a causal relationship between the two, however the fact that there is no correlation between a country’s educational world ranking and its GDP per capita proves that the correlation between formal educational achievement and earnings is not directly causal and is more likely to be associated with a complex web of confounding variables, one of which may well be the significant positive influence that natural informal autodidactic learning has on successful formal learning. It is inevitable that a high proportion of those who gain academic certification in areas of study that lead to high income jobs have the good autodidactic learning skills required for tertiary education, therefore a more plausible explanation for the correlation between formal learning achievements and income is that it is due primarily to good autodidactic learning skills. In other words highly driven self-motivated individuals often do well whether they achieve formal academic certificates or not, however many of them realise that they have to go down the formal learning route at some point in order to gain the certification required to fulfil their self-defined aims. Saying that there is a causal relationship between formal learning achievements and income is like saying that driving licences cause people to drive because everyone who drives has one. There is a100% correlation between those holding a licence and those driving legally on public roads but licences do not cause people to become successful legal drivers. The vast majority of drivers taught themselves how to drive, by utilising a balance of formal and informal learning sources in the form of friends and family taking them out with ‘L’ plates on and some private lessons. It is not learning sources or the acquisition of certification that causes successful learning; it happens entirely due to the efforts of the individual learner through actively seeking out and engaging with learning sources, formal or informal, with optimal learning occurring through utilising the most suitable and efficient balance between the two. Classroom learning is a factory model industrial revolution solution to mass formal learning. MOOCs and the like are a 21st century information revolution solution to mass formal learning which has proven to yield results one standard deviation (a significant amount) better than conventional classroom learning. If the learning sweet spot is to be found by striking a bespoke individualised balance between formal and informal learning, is there any rationale for the existence of intra-curricular schooling in the 21st century except to provide a venue for candidates to sit the exams required for academic certification and for the ‘free’ childcare it provides?

5.        Formal Learning Strategies. The five strategies for formative assessment are a ready-made solution for optimal learning however a bias towards the cognitive domain and linguistic and mathematical intelligences is likely when they are utilised coercively merely to deliver a curriculum and achieve prescribed learning outcomes set out by exam boards.  This would only suit the minority of people whose aptitudes are similarly biased. Ironically such formal learning strategies are more likely to result in a learning environment adaptable enough to suit most people when they are applied in convivial voluntary or informal settings in which learners define their own learning intentions and success criteria, and then share them with their teachers/mentors who can then apply the strategies. Our brains have been prewired through millions of years of evolution to be naturally intent on learning how to make the best of ourselves through our personal interests, passions, aptitudes and attitudes, and by learning optimal survival strategies on a need-to-know basis. It is only in relatively recent times that governments have conceitedly hijacked our innate biological learning agenda by replacing our natural learning intentions with state prescriptions. That might be fine if politicians and schoolists know more than Nature and educationists do about the type of learning that has enabled the human species to thrive for hundreds of thousands of years – not so good for the future of mankind if they don’t! Healthy people don’t need public ‘servants’ to intervene in the way their lungs or hearts work so why is it all-of-a-sudden OK for the state to meddle with the way their brains work by prescribing what they learn and how they learn it?

6.        Low and high order learning. Bloom’s revised taxonomy of learning states that creating is the highest order of learning; therefore the pinnacle of any learning process ought to be for newly acquired knowledge and skill to be applied creatively. A common misunderstanding stemming from Bloom’s taxonomy is that creating is only possible when there is assessable linguistic (usually written) evidence that an agreed body of knowledge has been satisfactorily and fully learned at the lower orders of learning associated with a particular creative endeavour, according to prescribed criteria, before the creative process can begin. This contradicts instances where artists create intuitively. Intuitive creators don’t create out of a vacuum; they remember, understand, apply, analyse and evaluate what they are doing intuitively rather than in a way that can be easily verbally articulated for exam purposes. For example an intuitive musical artist may use their musical intelligence to evaluate a work in progress rather than their linguistic intelligence. They may even see the process of having to demonstrate their remembering, understanding, applying, analysing and evaluating in a verbal fashion (the process used to assess music candidates’ formal musical knowledge) as distracting and flow spoiling. In other words intuitive musical artists may have a highly developed musical intelligence but low levels of linguistic and logical mathematical intelligence which is why many of the most popular music artists of all time would in all likelihood fail a fairly low level formal standard musical assessment, yet their creative musical endeavours earned them international success, critical acclaim, fame and wealth. This begs the question: To what extent are standard written assessments fit for purpose?

7.        Convergent versus divergent thinking. Again, both are required but formal learning environments are all about convergent thinking, making them very unbalanced and not conducive to creativity. It is well understood that the creative process requires divergent thinking but studying for tests and exams requires convergent thinking, however if teachers could adopt a strategy for teaching through the test rather than to the test then perhaps learners could experience a more balanced and creative learning path. If you think of the teach-to-the test process as a lens which focuses learning in a convergent manner onto an assessment, which could be thought of as a focal point of learning, just as light is refracted by a lens to converge at a focal point then, just as light diverges after leaving the focal point, so too may thinking, if given the right conditions. Instead of summative assessments being a full stop in the thinking process perhaps they could be seen as a crossing point where convergent thinking turns into divergent thinking. This may be done by considering the learning gained through studying for a summative assessment as a creative tool kit with which learners, through the support of resources and mentors, can create. For example let’s say the criteria for passing an exam is that learners must demonstrate the ability to play a three minute song using six chords. To prepare for this exam learners must learn the skills required and learn to perform the song well enough to pass the exam, but rather than the learning experience ending with a solo performance assessment, what if learners were encouraged to think of their new found skill set as a creative tool kit with which to create entirely new music? After their exam, a period of time could be set aside for learners to take their new found skill set and project it forward in a divergent fashion in directions that only they can imagine, thus encouraging blue skies creative thinking. Cynics may say that this would only work with genuinely interested intrinsically motivated learners and not with those who are intent purely on gaining enough academic credits to allow them to proceed to the next stage in a course of study perceived to lead to a happy future in a well paid job – they may have a point.

8.        Flow – a delicately balanced mental state. Much has already been said of the desirability of flow in the learning process. Flow is the opposite of boredom. Experiencing flow is rewarding and experiencing boredom is punishing and it may well be that this innate punishment and reward stimuli acts as a natural self-regulating learning thermostat negating any traditionally perceived need for extrinsic behaviourist stimuli.

9.        Hierarchy versus anarchy. As Ken Robinson says, life is organic, not linear. So too is natural life learning which is a leaderless process not directed according to the prescribed criteria of any recognised authority. There will always be a need for an institutionalised formally certificated hierarchical approach to learning , which should always be available to those who wish to use it to further their self-defined aims but, if that approach is all learners ever experience, and the only reason for them to experience it is for the sake of experiencing it as dictated by social and cultural expectations, there is a real danger of their learning skills becoming institutionally dependant, which will do them no favours whatsoever if they ever to intend to spend any significant time living and learning outwith the hierarchical formal structures of institutions. Strictly hierarchical learning institutions are very good when it comes to implementing traditional teaching methods and learning content that requires convergent thinking and military style drilling and discipline; which may very well be the sort of ‘tough love’ environment that some parents wish for their children, but it doesn’t suit everybody and it doesn’t reflect the organic nature of life.

10.     The Cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains. Formal learning environments are heavily biased towards the cognitive domain whereas in life learning these domains can be far more naturally balanced to suit the needs of every individual. The bias towards the cognitive domain found in formal learning environments does not get the best out of most learners whose unique proclivities will usually be balanced more evenly across all three domains. By the law of averages people with natural aptitudes dependant primarily on the cognitive domain will be in a minority, therefore a learning environment tuned to suit this minority will not suit most people, and for the people whose strengths lie in the cognitive domain Bloom’s 2-sigma research strongly indicates that classroom learning cannot meet their needs efficiently relative to the efficiency of one-to one (or online) tuition. In other words, all things considered, conventional classroom learning does not even suit the minority of people that is statistically geared towards!

11.     Multiple intelligences. Everything that has just been said regarding the cognitive domain also applies to linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences. Consequently, from a multiple intelligences point of view it transpires, yet again, that conventional classroom learning does not even suit the minority of people that is actually geared towards!

12.     Attitude and aptitude. It is has been said that attitude plus aptitude equals altitude. This is a very true saying (as long as there are opportunities to gain a bit of lift!) and in informal learning environments learners have more freedom than they do in formal learning institutions to fully explore areas of learning biased towards developing their personal attitudes, aptitudes and passions through whatever balance of domains or intelligences suits them best.

13.     Coercion versus free will. Coercion on mass has a lot in common with fascism. Classroom coercion does not generally manifest itself in the stereotypical image of the screaming school teacher doling out punishment exercises every two seconds to miserable browbeaten children. The reality can be quite different. A lot of kids really enjoy school these days, and there are extremely gifted classroom teachers who can consistently teach engaging and flowing lessons period-by period, day-by-day, year-in-year-out, without ever raising their voice or using the school discipline system. These highly competent individuals seem to be able to cast a kind of magic spell over kids which appears to make them willingly learn state prescribed learning intentions almost without realising that they are doing it. Highly sophisticated behaviourist techniques utilise cunning tricks such as video game culture to manipulate students into gaining satisfaction by getting to the next level in their learning by beating the teacher in the game, but all the time playing into his or her hands. It’s all clever stuff and even though it’s not overt coercion, the use of kid friendly gaming psychology through gaining reward points through level ascension is still insidious ‘punishment by rewards.’ Coercion of any type, no matter how covert, is not conducive to deep and lasting learning and is therefore undesirable in any learning environment; persuasion, on the other hand, is often very useful. Just like traditional and progressive teaching methods, it is very important to know when persuasion can be productive. Coercing people to learn a prescribed curriculum that they are not necessarily interested in can often kill motivation, creativity and the ability to learn in an independent autodidactic fashion, but there are instances where carefully controlled and caring persuasion can be beneficial. For instance where self motivated learners are pursuing a passionately held interest in a very specialised and narrow field, sometimes their mentor may realise that pushing them slightly outside of their comfort zone will open the door to other areas of learning that learners may not even know exist but mentors know from experience tend to be strongly beneficial in gaining a deeper understanding of the original narrow area of interest. This is where a mentor, who really knows the personal proclivities of learners and their personal history and interests, can take what learners are passionate about and, through gentle nudging, can deepen and broaden learners understanding in ways that they themselves could never have done because of their lack of experience. Learning driven by free will enhances the natural learning drive, and careful mentoring can deepen and widen learners’ interests and passions, sometimes through strong persuasion, which over time learners begin to trust. Sometimes learners are stopped in their self-defined learning tracks because of fear of failure. In such instances a firm but supportive nudge in the right direction may not be what’s wanted, but it may be what’s required just to get over a perceived hurdle.

14.     Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Psychologists often extol the virtues of finding self-concordance through intrinsically motivated activity, yet all too often the type of motivation necessitated by an inflexible curriculum and assessment deadlines is extrinsic, sometimes with an overt utilisation of the crude behaviourist stimuli of punishments and rewards, and more often through a far more sophisticated ethos of positive reward driven reinforcement. Thus the balance found in the conventional classroom learning environment is often heavily biased towards extrinsic motivation, making it a highly unsuitable place to experience the virtues of finding self-concordance through intrinsically motivated activity.

15.     Libertarianism versus utilitarianism. Anything that is designed to have a formative influence on entire populations, such as an education policy, cannot be divorced from politics, which in-turn cannot be divorced from political philosophy. It would seem reasonable to adopt a utilitarian attitude to formal education which would advocate that resources and curricula should be designed to meet the needs of, and provide maximum happiness for, the maximum number of people. The only problem with such ideas, as Micheal Sandel pointed out in his excellent book and TV series, ‘Justice,’  is that utilitarian influenced policies designed to benefit the majority are often categorically wrong for the individual. While some may argue that the design for schooling may be politically reasonable and well intended, the reality of its impact on societies may very well be categorically wrong, not just for a minority of individuals but, as advocates of alternative learning have been illustrating over the last hundred years, for the vast majority.

16.     Totalitarian democracy versus liberal democracy. Any educational reform, initiative or policy designed to include ‘all young people’ or to leave no learner excluded (left behind) without any obvious alternative choices or opt-outs is totalitarian in that it is clearly and unambiguously intended for compulsory imposition on its stated target group in total, without exception. The things that governments decide to impose on entire populations are sometimes slightly odd. For instance in Germany you can drive your car any speed you like down the autobahn (potentially risking life and limb) but you cannot legally partake in the relatively harmless activity of home education. The German law banning home education was created during Hitler’s reign of terror. The idea of people learning and thinking for themselves was clearly not popular with Nazi law makers.  Oddly, even in this day and age, it would seem that modern day Germany regards home education as being more dangerous to society than high risk life threatening motorway speeding. It would seem reasonable to assume that a good indicator of a liberal democracy is one in which citizens are allowed to learn, think and behave the way they want to as long as it doesn’t harm anybody. Based purely on the harm it does to society, rather than home education, perhaps it is schooling that is far more eligible to be banned due to the tragic number of bullycide and abuse cases that have been associated with it since its inception.

17.     Specialist versus generalist. General exam board age-stage expectations and their corresponding intra curricular learning intentions are designed around what is achievable using classroom teaching methods. Benjamin Bloom’s 2-sigma research shows that the realistic expectations of classroom teaching are very far removed from what individuals are actually capable of achieving if they are motivated and have access to one-to-one tuition (or perhaps online virtual tuition such as Khan Academy or MOOCs which are freely available to all those with internet access and have been proven to be more efficient than standard classroom teaching). Classroom learning may suit learners who have a passing interest in the subjects they are studying in a general sense but the pace of learning most certainly would not suit those who have a special interest, unless provision can be made to study special areas of interest two, three, or even four years in advance of average classroom expectations – the knock on implication being that students studying subjects they have a special interest in could start studying them at degree level around two or three years earlier than would normally be expected. It may be argued that students can try out lots of subjects at school from a general interest viewpoint before specialising when they get to the usual ages for starting university, but that does nothing for those who find their ‘element’ around the age of 11 or 12.

18.     Educating versus instructing. The root meaning of the word ‘educate’ is to draw out, and the root meaning of the word ‘instruct’ is to fill up. Teaching may be regarded as the art of finding exactly the right balance between drawing out the best in learners and filling them up with the knowledge. The balance point varies dramatically depending on learning intentions (from military drills near one end of the spectrum to modern art near the other) and from learner to learner. Finding it is an art, not a science. Some may say that success is largely dependent on teachers’ scientifically informed and formulated teaching strategies, but outside of a controlled environment it is impossible to tell whether excellent learning achievements originate from formal learning strategies or from a smorgasbord of informal sources (online tuition, parents, carers, mentors, communities etc). It would be hard to deny that a rich informal learning environment offers learners significant advantages, and advocates of alternative learning often put forward strong scholarly and evidentially substantiated arguments that even the very best of formal teaching strategies utilising the very best of resources are the cause of dependent learning, poor intrinsic motivation and atrophied creative abilities.

19.     ‘Service providers’ versus ‘service users.’ A teacher once told me a story of some parents who got so dissatisfied with the service the school was providing for their children that they, getting no answers from the school, went to the media. When the director of education heard about it he called a meeting with the parents and bawled them out. He told them that if they ever went to the media again he would personally see to it that their children would be permanently excluded from every school in the entire region. The parents subserviently acquiesced to his diktat and the matter ended there. Who was serving who in this scenario? Some public servants have a very strange way of serving the public. It sometimes seems that conventional schooling, like our banking system, is deemed to be too big to fail, therefore when it gets it wrong and wrecks havoc in peoples’ lives we respond by meekly acquiescing to its further demands. It sometimes seems that the organisations and institutions we have created to serve us are now our masters, bringing to mind the classic quote from Frankenstein’s monster, ‘You are my creator but I am your master – obey.’ Conventional classroom learning continues on and on despite more than a century of some of the world’s leading thinkers exposing its tragic truths – perhaps too many people regard it as too big to fail; perhaps too many influential people enjoy the status quo which feathers their own nest at the expense of the tax payer. Perhaps the organisations and institutions designed to serve our needs but which appear to enslave us through our cultural compulsion to consume their mostly unnecessary products and services are here to stay. Do we have any choice other than to meekly acquiesce to the ever increasing demands of our so called ‘servants?’

The above list of contentious issues is by no means complete but it is enough for the purposes of this piece.


Finding the Educational Sweet Spot

It would seem that the educational sweet spot is different for every learner and is dependent on finding a balancing resolution point between many differing ideologies and philosophies. The best people to try to find that balance for young learners is undoubtedly parents, since they know their children best. In finding a balance between informal and formal learning some parents may decide to delay formal classroom learning for a year or two, others for six or seven years, or even as many as eleven years. It has been noted that home educated children generally integrate well into schooling at whatever stage they enter it, if they enter at all, which seems counterintuitive. Secondary school teachers say that if a child misses two weeks of schooling it will have a detrimental effect on progress, since end of unit assessments are often carried out every six weeks or so and the results of those assessments may be used to stream classes; so if a student misses the first two out of a six week course of study, he or she will most likely get a lower mark in the corresponding test since the learning leading to the test is often cumulative. This means that the first two weeks of a course of study may provide a foundation on which the rest sits and if the foundations are shaky, so too will be whatever sits on them. A low test score may in turn result in poorer end of term results and a placement in a lower achieving class, which in turn may lead to lowered expectations overall. This type of downward spiralling false academic labelling and subsequent knock on effects are not a problem in unschooling or democratic free school learning environments because they are adaptable enough for learning to progress with impunity in a far more natural asynchronous fashion.

Results from research studies on those in developed countries who have learned by means other than conventional classroom learning have clearly shown that formal learning environments are often essential if specific certification is required for learners to further their self-defined aims, but other than that are necessary only for the ‘free’ childcare they provide to working parents. If parents don’t need the childcare but still decide to send their children to school then they should be careful to make sure that their children use school rather than school using their children. It often seems as if schools use the results of all the tests and exams that their students sit in order to justify their own existence and politicians’ policies rather than pupils using schools to gain useful knowledge and deep learning that they can retain for more than a day or two after an exam. If all that learners need from classroom learning are the certificates to gain entrance to the university course of their choice at the age of 18 then home educators have shown that any classroom learning before the age of 16 is unnecessary from an educational perspective. Any preparation work leading to such exams can be easily done using a home-based educational approach. If learners decide to miss school altogether they can gain the prerequisite qualifications for university at a local college or take an entrepreneurial approach through starting their own business thus bypassing formal learning altogether.

After careful consideration of all of the above, what is the general rule of thumb for finding the optimal educational environment for your child? To find the educational sweet spot parents need to take a pragmatic open minded and inclusive approach to education rather than a subservient tunnel vision approach which excludes all educational options except classroom learning. Parents may feel compelled by our ‘comply or die’ culture to consume what everyone else is consuming at the same time and place that everyone else is consuming it, however there is a strong evidentially substantiated argument, consistently put forward by leading thinkers and academics over the last century, some of whom are regarded as amongst the greatest educationists of all time, such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Benjamin Bloom, Paulo Freire, Howard Gardner, Ken Robinson, John Holt, Peter Gray, Maria Montessori, Edward Holmes, Roland Meighan, Ivan Illich, Sugata Mitra, John Taylor Gatto, Wendy Priesnitz and their great many associates. They have all effectively said, some more explicitly than others, that conventional school classrooms are not optimal learning environments.

Perhaps the relative inefficiency of conventional classroom learning is its saving grace because it allows just enough wiggle room for some students to think for themselves despite the best efforts of schooling. But what if the dreams and aspirations of schoolists and politicians came true and the schooling process became 100% efficient and successful? What if entire state prescribed compulsory core curricula could be directly transferred to the brains of the world’s young people, in total, without exception, in a way that enabled 100% recall and achieved 100% scores for every candidate in every exam? This would make league tables and educational world rankings for such subjects redundant since every school from every country would achieve 100% in every subject. This might sound great to some people, but considering that the greatest advances, contributions and achievements from the greatest minds in human history all came from creative original thinkers with a diversity of knowledge and thought processes, perhaps the perfect state controlled homogenisation of human thought might not be such a good idea after all. If perfectly efficient schooling is not a very appealing idea then what is so attractive about the highly imperfect version of schooling that hundreds of millions of families currently buy into? Would it not be better to grant young people their rightful freedom to reclaim their biological destiny by making the best of themselves through their interests, pursuits, passions and proclivities? This would require the whole notion of compulsory core subjects to be abandoned in favour of making the study of all areas of learning equally and freely available to all learners on request. Surely a diverse voluntary, convivial and non-coercive educational landscape utilising modern and efficient methods of formal learning at the request of learners and catering for all sorts of different types of people ought to be the most suitable overall provision for optimal learning and diversity of thought.

Full-time mainstream schooling, democratic free schooling or part-time flexischooling may well be the perfect optimal learning environment for some children, for others it may consist entirely of unschooling or an individualised bespoke mixture of all of the above, but determining the exact right balancing point between formal and informal learning settings can only be decided by parents, in consultation with their children, having fully explored all of the options with an open mind. It cannot be determined by the state. It is parents’ duty, by law, to educate their children; not the state’s. This parental duty is too important to be meekly shied away from in deferential acquiescence to social, cultural and political expectations, which are often arrived at through groupthink or adversarial majoritarianism (as Alfie Kohn might say) rather than genuine fully informed consensus democracy, if such a thing truly exists.

As a general rule of thumb guideline, taking all of the above into consideration, it would seem that parents would do well to adopt an all inclusive pragmatic ‘whatever works’ approach to educating their children rather than following any exclusive traditional, progressive or alternative educational dogma. It is important to differentiate between a ‘whatever works’ approach and an ‘anything goes’ or a ‘follow the herd’ approach. The ‘whatever works’ approach means that families are granted their rightful freedom to actively seek out and fully exploit suitable opportunities and learning environments or sources that are truly in line with their children’s needs.

Sometimes conventional schooling gives the impression that it is offering a standardised budget priced ready meal approach to formal education instead of an approach more in line with bespoke wholesome home cooking utilising fresh local ingredients and tailored to suit individual tastes. Formal education, at its best, is supposed to serve learners’ needs; learners do not exist to serve the needs of schooling; children do not exist to serve the state; therefore when children reach school age the people more qualified than anyone else to really know what makes them tick should not subserviently and meekly acquiesce to the distant diktats of conventional schooling without first fully considering what educational options would truly and genuinely meet their children’s needs. Certain aspects of schooling such as instrumental music instruction and extracurricular activities do genuinely meet the needs of those who participate in them, mainly because they are voluntary, convivial and non-coercive; however such activities are add-ons and as such could be added to any alternative learning environment.

If conventional classroom learning, even at its very best, really does not meet the needs of most learners very well, then history has shown through its catalogue of failed educational reforms that the nature of institutionalised formal learning has never and can never be substantially changed by voting at the ballot box; history has also shown that immensely liberating and empowering change has come for millions of families living in information rich societies who have finally found their educational nirvana through summoning the courage to stand up for their children’s education by voting with their feet and cheerfully, triumphantly and successfully walking away from conventional classroom learning altogether.

 Paul Henderson, March, 2014.

This piece was written in memory of Roland Meighan, whose unique achievements as an author, academic researcher and publisher had a profound influence on the educational course of my own family. I hope that his legacy will be preserved, explored and enjoyed by countless generations to come.




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March 31st, 2014 by Peter

Check out Tom Bulman’s video School Report 


Hear from and talk with Tom at our Employability Learning Exchange

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JOHN ABBOTT – Battling for the Soul of Education

March 24th, 2014 by Peter

A document well worth reading, reflecting and acting upon. John continues to speak wisdom and common sense. A timely synthesis of much of his work. A great resource. Battling for the soul of education. John Abbott

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Citischool – Tom Bulman

March 24th, 2014 by Peter

Check out Tom Bulman’s video on Citischool Citischool – Milton Keynes

Hear from and talk with Tom at our Employability Learning Exchange

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