We need not see this in a negative light since, as I point out in my latest book, The Next Learning System, we can learn how to devise better and cheaper learning arrangements from the example of these trailblazers, whilst recycling schools into all-age, year-round learning centres.
These developments do, however, put the activities of David Blunkett, Tim Brighouse and Chris Woodhead in their place as wasting time and money trying to make the present obsolete system of mass schooling work. In other countries more forward-looking visions are to be found. I heard the Minister of Education for South Africa, Professor Sibusiso Bengu, give an inspiring address at the Co-operative College, Stanford Hall, Loughborough, during the conference on "Democratic Discipline, Democratic Lives: educating citizens for a changing world". Professor Bengu noted a key characteristic of democracy as being "the absence of domination". So let us say goodbye and good riddance to the Office for Standards in Education.
Professor Bengu explained how the idea of school governing bodies "are transformed to become fully representative of the major stakeholders - students, parents, teachers and the other workers in the school," and that this was now law in South Africa. Early childhood practitioners in the audience were thrilled to hear that the best of nursery and infant practice, (the "plan, do and review", or interactive approach) was to be the basis for the system in South Africa.
He also talked of the need to move to a "learner-driven curriculum". "Democracy in education does not just end with the way the school is managed or governed . . . these are meaningless if the real essence of schooling, the learning process, is not democratised." So that means goodbye and good riddance to the mind-rotting, domination-ridden national curriculum.
Bengu seemed to be exploring the same territory as Tony Blair, just before he became Prime Minister, when he said "the revolution in business I will, over time, take place in education, too. We will move away from a system that assumes every child of a particular age moves at the same pace in every subject, and develop a system directed to the particular talents and interests of every pupil."
Of course, this is precisely what home-schoolers do. After 20 years of researching home-based education, as well as other forms of democratic education, my only fear is that if we do not move quite quickly now to the next learning system, home-schoolers will become a new elite of people educated to respond to the demands of a rapidly changing society, whilst the mass will have been schooled for obsolescence.
My question to Tony Blair is: "What are we waiting for?"
PROFESSOR ROLAND MEIGHAN, 113 Arundel Drive, Bromcote Hills, Nottingham