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Dreaming of a school without children...

A SCHOOL without pupils might be many teachers' idea of heaven. But if it meant schools being more like banks, would it be more like hell?

By 2030 the National College for School Leadership believes we may see schools with no pupils, lessons or classrooms.

But there is a downside to not having a bolshy bottom set Year 9 on a wet Friday afternoon: being a teacher could involve working in a place more like a bank than a school.

In this scenario, the school's only role would be as a learning "broker", assessing what people know and regulating teaching and learning. Pupils would study online, at home, or with other organisations. Staff at the school would be assessment specialists, whose main role would be to rate young people's knowledge.

The NCSL report out next week raises other future scenarios, based on social and political trends.

They range from the status quo to the apocalyptic. For example, the authors imagine a student strike in a failing north London borough that leads to the closure of schools and creation of an on-line "education collective" in which young people hold the golden share.

Heather Du Quesnay, NCSL's chief executive, suggested heads and schools needed to question time-honoured ways of educating children: "Headteachers are key shapers of the future, and they forget that. They feel disempowered because there is so much coming at them all the time.

"If we decide we want to retain a system where children attend school for 5.5 hours a day, we ought to think why we are doing it. Are we doing the best things for learning, or are they just residual habit?"

Tom Bentley, director of the think-tank Demos and co-author of the NCSL report, said: "It's very easy to find ourselves working within the established set of parameters.

"We should be having a wider public debate about what we expect of schools.

It's not necessarily the role of heads and teachers to accept traditional roles and make them work as well as possible."

"Unique Creation: Possible Futures," by Riel Miller, OECD, and Tom Bentley, Demos, will be available from April 3 at www.ncsl.org.uk or by telephoning 0870 001 1155

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