Beyond the new horizon;Book of the week;Books

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
The Head

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

Young people may not read this book, but they should be pleased that many of the rest of us will do so. In all the formal changes that have been made to the school curriculum over the past decade, students themselves have rarely been heard. So often this obvious starting point is included only as an aside or an afterthought.

Tom Bentley draws on a wide range of recent research evidence that has considered the student voice, expressing attitudes to learning and experiences of it. It is refreshing to be challenged constantly by the learner's perspective.

Bentley affirms the achievements of a host of initiatives and schemes, mostly beyond the school day, that have aimed to help young people recognise, use and develop their potential. He also considers the recent developments in our understanding of intelligence and learning. There are challenges here for all aspects of the educational system, formal and informal.

How can we help young people survive and thrive in an increasingly uncertain world? How do we engage the attention of such increasingly discriminating consumers against so many other distractions? The importance of interpersonal skills, motivation and adaptability, and the capacity to transfer what is learned to new contexts and problems has been recognised elsewhere. But how to respond to all this has been less clear.

In the "age of connexity" and complex systems, Bentley provides a conception of educational institutions as the hubs of an open learning network that can engage flexibly with the needs and aspirations of learners in their neighbourhoods. Common frameworks for assessment would ensure rigour and transparency.

Students would share responsibility for planning, organising and assessing their learning. Information and communications technology should be an environment for learning and a tool in pursuing it. The disciplines of thinking, reflecting, learning to learn and managing information would be present continuously, as well as experience of collaborative working. What is missing is any reference to the importance of learning from taking risks and developing the entrepreneurial spirit in both children and young people.

The evidence presented justifies the urgent imperative to have such creative educational experiences for young people in school and beyond. The student voice is clear and we must listen to it.

Mary Marsh is head of Holland Park School, west London

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