Axe lessons for projects

28th September 2007 at 01:00
Aspiring headteachers challenged to be radical and end the 'boring' 40-minute session

A LEADING education adviser this week called for the traditional 40-minute lesson to be scrapped, claiming pupils switch off in half the time.

Professor David Hargreaves also told over 40 aspiring school leaders in Cardiff that giving marks out of 10 for homework and asking pupils on-the-spot questions in class does not help learning.

Instead, the former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority from Cambridge University said "flexible" teacher-guided projects should replace conventional lessons, and marking should consist of comments only.

The outspoken academic, known for his attacks on government policy in England, addressed teacher candidates for a leadership two-year course organised by iNet (International Networking for Educational Transformation) and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust held at UWIC, the chosen centre for accreditation.

The programme is designed to fast-track ambitious teachers to headship. However the candidates, who were told they were the "next generation of school leaders", were challenged to make radical change from within their own schools in a bid to engage young people in the 21st century, most of who found the traditional timetable and lessons boring.

"Evidence tells us that the attention span of pupils is just 20 minutes, so why is it we continue to teach them in 40 or 50-minute lessons? The answer is that it is easier for teachers and heads to organise," said Professor Hargreaves.

"But when you look back 30 years to your own school days, it is always that rugby match or school play you remember because it was the end product of hard work and training a real life project."

The academic, a former education adviser to Tony Blair, gave examples of school-led innovation in England. One school had stopped the timetable and structured lessons every Friday and had instead introduced "flexible Fridays" in a bid to raise attendance. According to Professor Hargreaves, "it did the trick".

All of the candidates for the Developing Leaders for Tomorrow course have been teaching for less than seven years, some have as little as one or two years' experience.

The course was promoted as "giving aspiring school leaders a broad range of skills supportive of a personalised learning agenda in the context of Wales as a learning country". The programme is also intended to ease a shortage of heads, many of whom will have retired in five to 10 years.

All candidates will receive support from three cohort leaders: Wales-based leader Professor David Egan, ex-special adviser to former education minister Jane Davidson and professor of education at Cardiff School of Education in UWIC; Michael Griffiths, head of Cardiff High School; and South Wales-born academic Professor Alma Harris from Warwick University.

Mr Griffiths is already looking to introduce a day based on the "flexible Friday" approach.

"We are presently seeking feedback from pupils and parents," he said.

Leader, page 29

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