January 14, 2009

The Alternative School: a mainstream model

The Alternative School "Why should I learn Algebra...? I have no intention of ever going there." Billy Connolly had a point.

Schooling, despite the concentration on curriculum and assessment reform in recent years, largely still hasn't tackled the main issue: meaningless (to young people) pedagogy. It's not the fault of teachers, of course, but of those who "manage change" not managing to give enough time for teachers to think about what they would do differently from the last 400 years. One day extra a year for "the biggest innovation in curriculum in a generation" is to ridicule the enormity of the task in hand.

Cue The Alternative School (TAS), a non-profit initiative for those kids who don't 'get' regular schooling, and is arguably doing already what most schools strive for and don't quite attain across the board. Their new blog gives a flavour of some of the activity they have been up to, and their latest post features a superb film starring some of the young people involved in the programme. One to keep an eye on and learn from as things develop more in the open with their new blog.
Bunking Off - The Alternative School from Kirsty Anne Pugh on Vimeo.


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This is excellent work! And it makes its point, too. It's time the sausage machine was stopped and education was redesigned to suit the needs of the children in the light of the demands of an adult life. Poor lads!

I’m sorry Ewan but I can’t share you enthusiasm for anything (not matter how well meaning) which so pointedly and clumsily portrays teachers as negative stereotypes. The attempt at balance by showing the drama teacher is simply silly and was just swamped by the weak, incompetent maths teacher. It does no one any good, least of all those children the film purports to care about, to validate the clichéd excuses that children have trotted out for generations to account for their unwillingness to study. Learning isn’t easy, no one has any kind of right for it to be fun, it takes a lot of effort, commitment and determination to become good at it, and that is what all great teachers tell the children they teach.

A few years ago in conversation with the headmistress of the school, which in my experience (which is considerable) is the most outstanding school I have seen anywhere in the world, she complained sincerely and articulately to me about the poor standard of writing her girls produced. Why, because she knows her job is to make sure her pupils strive at everything they do, to be not just good at it, but superb. I don’t care where a child starts from, my only interest is in where they get to. A teacher’s job is to show them what excellence looks and feels like, and to make them believe they can attain it. It is irresponsible, unprofessional and plain damaging to a child to reinforce their weaknesses, however they are manifested.

I don't agree with the harsh words of Joe Nutt. Not 'caring about' is one thing, but not taking in consideration is another. Children with certain social of behavorial problems should not clumsily be called unwilling or lacking commitment and determination.
I'm not argueing that teachers should be social workers. But it sometimes takes more than ordinary teaching skills to get children to believe in their own posibilities and opportunities and realise their full potential.
Any educational alternative that get's the job done, without reinforcing weaknesses, should be welcomed.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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