Beyond the new hoizon

The Academic

Learning Beyond the Classroom, to be published tomorrow, is being hailed as one of the key education books of the decade. The 25-year-old author, Tom Bentley, adviser to Education Secretary David Blunkett, puts the case for schools without walls, arguing that learning that best equips children for life takes place outside a curriculum-based system. Here, four educationists give their views

Tom Bentley's book could not come at a more important time. Educational research is under attack. If we are not careful, into the intellectual vacuum will flow punditry and commonsensical solutions - the familiar, fallacious and failed remedies of the past.

This book is firmly rooted in the present and the future. It starts and finishes with evidence. It draws its inspiration from cutting-edge research and innovative practice in schools and communities. Are these two sources related? The proof positive is in Bentley's demonstration that there is nothing as practical as good theory. The test of good practice does not rely on whimsy or nostalgia but on the application of rigorous evidence and state-of-the-art knowledge.

We know from research that effective schools are made in the classrooms. But we also know effective learning is largely determined by what happens beyond them, and never more so than in society of the 20th and 21st centuries. This leads not to a pessimistic conclusion but to a challenge: to create a bolder, more imaginative, more inclusive education system.

There are significant lessons here for practitioners and policy-makers. There are implications for study support; for New Opportunities; for beacon schools; for education action zones; for pre-school and early-years education where lifelong learning is seeded and rooted.

The final section of the book is entitled "The Road to the Learning Society". That road, as we know, is paved with high rhetoric. But that in no way diminishes the importance of the vision. It is a vision that will be realised at the highest levels of government, as well as in schools, if there is an openness to ideas, however much they challenge cherished prejudices and powerful self-interests. I, for one, will sleep more easily in the knowledge that Tom Bentley is advising our political masters.

John MacBeath is director of the Quality in Education Centre at the University of Strathclyde

'Learning Beyond the Classroom: education for a changing world' will bepublished on October 24 by Routledge in association with Demos, Pounds 15.99

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