Stretching us all

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
It's not the register of the top 200,000 students that excites Martin Ripley, it's the way they could be linked to each other and to resources, transforming learning in this country

Students' wider learning is not always recognised. Learning often takes place outside school - for example, through a sports club, a hobby, an interest, even a GCSE taken early. But sometimes the school is the last to know about this. One child I spoke to recently told me that "learning" is what happens in school. Activities outside didn't count as learning for him, or for his school.

Increasingly, schools are being challenged to play a larger role in organising and facilitating out-of-hours learning. Learning opportunities might be available in other schools, colleges, clubs or societies. But for the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, not even this would go far enough. It has a compelling vision of learning, in which technology has a critical supporting role.

Under Every Child Matters policies, the academy is required to create a register of the top 200,000 students aged 11-19. That equates to 5 per cent of the student population and touches every school in the land. Creating the register is the easy part. The massive opportunity comes in imagining how it might be used.

The first part of the academy's vision is about learning in schools. It has called for a national campaign to improve the ways in which schools recognise learning. It wants to work closely with schools to:

* Develop systems that recognise the full range of learning, including outside school

* Enable progression planning - guidance, creation and tracking of personal pathways

* Improve provision by achieving a better focus on the needs of the top 5 per cent

* Match students with learning opportunities outside school

* Provide guidance so students (with teachers and parents) understand what's available

* Help individuals take control of their learning by supporting them as they make choices about what to learn, and helping them to understand better their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes

* Present records of learning for a variety of audiences

* Build a far better capacity in schools, colleges and universities to transfer information about students' interests and achievements.

This vision sets out a wonderful challenge. It's about learning, teachers and teaching. It's about the students and the adults that help them learn.

But achieving the step change that the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth is looking for also requires a step change in how we use technology.

Imagine how hard-wiring the country's top 200,000 learners might enhance learning. IT's likely a company like Rolls Royce, for example, would want to link with that register. Employees at Rolls Royce, linked to networked learners, could offer learning opportunities never yet seen in our schools.

Policy-makers and commentators would want to ask those 200,000 students their views on matters such as political apathy and engagement, or on assessment, or on their own learning.

I imagine that publishers would begin to fashion learning opportunities for those 200,000 students. And schools and educators from other countries would soon want to get in on the act, linking into an increasingly international, networked resource.

I also imagine that students would use the resource to organise their own learning - for example, by linking with other students who share similar interests and passions.

Now all of this is possible. The academy is well on its way to registering the 200,000 learners and the types of learning opportunities mentioned are already taking shape.

The technology behind what I have described is an e-portfolio system that links to information about learning opportunities. It must connect to records of achievement, it must be accessible to parents, and, most importantly, it must be the backbone of a student's learning, and owned and controlled by the student. To achieve all that, this world-class e-portfolio must be useful to the learner.

Of course, none of what I have described is exclusively the domain of the top 5 per cent of students. All students can and should benefit from the personalisation of learning that the academy for the talented is busy building.


* Students learn in and out of school. They learn formally and informally.

But it is at a great price that we focus on the formal learning and examination results.

Every Child Matters requires an end to this silo-based organisation of our children's lives, which, in a few tragic cases, has led to appalling consequences. For all children, there is now the opportunity to design a 21st century vision of learning.

* Professor Deborah Eyre, director of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth at Warwick University, has a passionate conviction that hard wiring together the top learners in the country will provide a massive national boost.

"Imagine completely taking the lid off children's learning," she says.

"Children from all schools in this country, as well as from other countries, will be able to work, learn and excel together!"

* Martin Ripley is an education technology consultant. If you are interested in the vision set out in this article - including the role of e-portfolios and wider learning - email him at

In the next Online (September 15) Martin Ripley and other key writers will look at the role of ICT in 21st century learning

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