RSA urges school shifts

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
BRITAIN'S Schools should move away from the rigid 9am to 3.30pm attendance model and three-term year and stay open all year round, according to a discussion paper published this week by the Royal Society of Arts, writes Biddy Passmore.

Teachers would work shifts and pupils would agree their attendance arrangements with their teachers within a publicly-known framework.

Compulsory schooling would include distance learning and online contact between school and home.

The report, by Valerie Bayliss, former head of youth and education policy at the Department for Education and Employment, says Britain's 19th-century education system, with school attendance patterns devised for an agricultural society and the teacher seen as the fount of all knowledge, simply will not meet the needs of the 21st century.

"Unless the nature of schooling changes," she says, "all 'post-compulsory' education will need to be remedial," developing all the information-handling and team-working skills that schools have failed to foster.

School is increasingly adrift from the rest of children's computer-filled lives, she says. Most schools have computing facilities that look like those of small companies 15 years ago.

"Children at school are not gaining experience in the kind of environment they will meet as adults. They can see, very clearly, that schools differ from life beyond in being 'technology-poor'."

Ms Bayliss also condemns the recent emphasis on whole-class teaching for reinforcing the rigid, traditional model of the classroom, with the teacher releasing a controlled flow of information to the pupil. This becomes irrelevant in the computer age, when pupils can gain access to much more information at school.

"Teachers must be ready to say they don't know the answer to a question, but will find out; they must become experts not so much in knowing the answers but in knowing where to find them."

Redefining Schooling: A challenge to a closed society is available from Lesley James at the RSA, tel. 0171 930 5115.

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