'Give pupils more say on education'

24th November 2006 at 00:00
Freedom to influence school life is at the heart of personalised learning, says former QCA chief

A revolution in teaching which gives more power to pupils is needed if the Government's agenda of personalised learning is to succeed, says a member of the review group that is due to report next month.

Pupils need freedom to choose their curriculum, the ways they are assessed and even their own teachers, said Professor David Hargreaves, the former chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, who has been working on the Government report with Christine Gilbert, the Chief Inspector at Ofsted.

Personalised learning is one of Labour's big ideas in its attempt to break from what it sees as the monolith of comprehensive education. So far teachers have been uncertain about what it means or say they are already doing it.

Money needs to be invested in training if teachers are to have the skill to make personalised learning work, Professer Hargreaves said.

He has been working on the concept for two years for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Its annual conference in Birmingham next week will cover the work completed so far, including a framework and examples of schools' implementation.

Professor Hargreaves said: "In the last two years we have cracked the back of it. It was time to bring people together. We are now much clearer about what we are doing."

He has now designed a strategy which gives pupils greater control over the kinds of education they receive. It is being distributed to schools in a series of pamphlets.

Examples include children giving feedback on their lessons and pupils forming part of the interview panel for prospective new teachers, an idea supported by Lord Adonis, the schools minister.

Another school has introduced "stage, not age" setting, which means children of the same ability but in different year groups take lessons together so teachers can more closely focus on their needs.

Professor Hargreaves said: "Tony Blair has talked about transforming education, not improving it, and I think that is right. But the transformation can only take place at grassroots level, not from the top down as in the national curriculum.

"Two years ago the challenge to the profession was to move towards personalised learning. Now we are doing it in schools and the ball is back in the Government's court. We will see how they respond."

He does not think personalised learning should form part of Ofsted inspections but wants inspectors to judge schools on whether they are investing in their teachers' professional development and training.

"Christine Gilbert's involvement with Ofsted and personalised learning means she could have an immense influence on how all this develops," he said.

"More money is needed for professional development. Industry spends much more time and money on developing staff. How can we innovate if we don't have the same priorities for spending?"

Professor Hargreaves played down concerns raised by some unions that personalised learning will lead to more work for teachers. "It's about working smarter, not harder," he said.

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