The buzz is about getting personal

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Sir Cyril Taylor's trust seemed set for infinity and beyond this year, report Joseph Lee and Warwick Mansell

With 2,000 of the country's most go-getting school leaders attending, it is not surprising the Specialist Schools Trust chose one of this year's buzzwords as its theme: personalisation.

But two seminars, taking place simultaneously, showed how difficult it may really be to share control of education between teachers and pupils.

In one, Tom Clarke, the trust's associate director, set out the teachers'

vision of the workforce in 10 years' time. He embraced the new with rhetoric which steered a path between the Third Way and Buzz Lightyear.

"Beyond one-size-fits-all to a new orthodoxy," he exclaimed. And "Beyond right and left to a new consensus."

"To infinity and beyond!"

On the subject of teaching assistants, he rejected "mono-skilled paraprofessionals in hierarchical boxes", preferring "multi-skilled learning teams" which would be part of a "joined-up vision of school organisation, new technology and personalised learning". Assumptions were overturned.

"We want to go beyond having teachers and learners in the same room, to a situation where the place where teaching happens isn't necessarily where learning happens, with lead presenters on a regional, national and global level," he said.

It conjured up the vision of the country's last Latin teacher, sitting in a lonely control room in the year 2014, beaming out declensions to millions of youngsters at their laptops.

How different all this was from the seminar across the convention centre, which revealed the results of a survey asking children what they wanted from education in the future. Their answers: a robot teacher and the use of interactive whiteboards which pupils could "sit on".

Such demands may prove to be a personalisation too far and were notably absent from Education Secretary's Charles Clarke's speech, which ignored these issues to focus on incentives for schools to become language colleges.

What would pupils have made of the rest of the conference? They are often told that their achievements should be celebrated to build their self-esteem.

So it would have been obvious to them why the speech by Sir Cyril Taylor, the trust's chairman, should be preceded by a video about the man himself.

Headteachers appeared on screen to give speeches of effusive thanks of the type usually only seen in Oscar ceremonies, interrupted by images of Sir Cyril smiling next to the Prime Minister or handing out awards. Confidence thus boosted, Sir Cyril offered to autograph copies of his new book outside the hall.

Young people may also have learned some important lessons about diversity from the designer Wayne Hemingway, who told how he took revenge on stuffy authority by appearing at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall in a women's business suit.

Some ill-drafted rules prevented them refusing him entry. That was out-of-the-dressing-up-box thinking: it is not necessarily to be recommended.

A talk about television may have grabbed the attention of pupils. Heather Rabbatts, managing director of 4Learning, the education arm of Channel 4, showed clips of Jamie's Kitchen and The Salon and laid out her vision of how TV can inspire pupils in new subjects or careers.

At least, that is what she seemed to say in a speech that was gripping mostly for students of jargon. "Deeper granularity", anyone?

News 18; opinion 2; letters 28

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