What If #Kunskapsskolan Happened in English Schools?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Every teacher knows what’s best for children, so why aren’t we doing it?

Imagine having your preconceived ideas about teaching and learning challenged? How students learn and how schools can operate, even after 25 years in the classroom? Well, this happened to me last week. I saw ‘student agency in learning’ taking place – and with vulnerable students too!

Kunskapsskolan (pronounced Kuns-Kaps-Skolan), translated from Swedish as the knowledge (kunskaps) school (skolan) is highly personalised approach to education pioneered by The Swedish School of Knowledge – part of an international network of schools around the world with around 5,000 students.

Once admired by Michael Gove, Kunskapsskolan is an educational model which consists of several different building blocks, together forming a whole to help each student in the best possible way. I have no doubt that this post will make many teachers and politicians squirm, but this is happening in an English state school today – I have seen it – and it’s working! They have good progress 8 scores too.

Better The Devil You Know

For years, I’ve worked in a state school system where testing, exams, ability setting and grading teachers has been the default mode for me as a teacher. As a deputy headteacher, I even then imposed these ideas on my colleagues. So, what’s changed you ask? Well, for starters, I’ve had a great deal of time to think about what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years, more time to read, research and widen my lens by visiting a large number of schools.

When you are working within a system, it’s often a “better the devil you know than you don’t” approach and attitude. You do what you are paid to do, unless you are a head teacher who has the power to change and is brave enough – without the OfSTED machine biting back – to facilitate those who work within a school to genuinely do things differently.

If not, we carry on as normal.

Preparation For The World

I don’t think our schools – on the whole – are preparing children for the realities of life. Of course we are educating students about core knowledge; problem solving skills; the art of debate; decision-making sex, drugs and rock and roll peer-pressure and so forth. But, with unprecedented levels of mental health, we need to ask why we also have the highest levels of exclusions in our English schools.

I’ve spoken with thousands of teachers over the past six months who do not believe in the assessment of learning culture we are currently promoting and are working within. Tens and tens of taxi driver-parents who don’t look back fondly on their time at school, nor truly understand what makes a school successful or not.

A no-excuses culture? Yes, but what about creating a school system in which everyone left having loved their time at school – and enjoyed what was taught?

What If?

What if every teacher believed in the assessment models being used to test students? e.g. SATs

What if we taught students how to manage money? A question an experienced individual asked me last week, embarking into the profession via Now Teach – a teacher training programme for experienced career changers looking to reapply their skills to the classroom.

What if we placed social, emotional and mental health at a higher priority than examination outcomes?

What if we allowed children to choose their own subjects to study?

What if we encouraged students to use technology instead of banning mobile phones in the classroom?

What if schools had the funding and staffing resources to support the most vulnerable students?

What if students and schools were not penalised because a set of examination results were not what as expected? Instead, staff and student voice was at its highest?

Coaching and Structures

In practice, Kunskapsskolan model has a strong structure in place behind the scenes, supported with coaching for all students. Students follow a curriculum as normal, but as they progress throughout the school, they are taught how to manage deadlines and start to reach a place where they can float between subjects, deadlines and classrooms – managing their own learning. Note, teachers and support staff are always present and intervene where support and challenge is needed, as well as supporting specialist teachers helping students sit examinations.

The most heartwarming aspect of my visit, was observing eleven and sixteen year olds working together, self-regulating behaviour, emotions and problems. As the pupils move throughout the school, they have their own workspace – it was as if I was observing students in their future place of work, each with a desk and ‘in and out’ tray, a timetable and pots and pots of pens! Electronic devices were also everywhere, but used ‘as and when required’ to support learning – like a sweetie shop classroom, but without the sweets being eaten.

Students, together with their coach, set goals to work against. These goals are monitored weekly and change as a student’s development progresses. Individual evaluations and conversations take place with a coach every week, where a student plans their time and studies so that they can reach their goals.

Kunskapsskolan, we equip our students with the tools to communicate, to think critically and to work in teams. We realise each individual’s full potential by allowing everyone to find and develop their unique set of skills.

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