Fellow brings real world working to the heart of the education curriculum

Published: 30 Jun 2015

Author: Phil Avery
Fellow brings real world working to the heart of the education curriculum

Philip Avery, Director of Learning & Strategy for Bohunt Education Trust, has recently returned from his third, and final, fact-finding tour, this time to the Netherlands; the first two visits were to the USA and Sweden.

This research opportunity was funded and supported by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, and resulted from his research proposal being selected from many others submitted across the UK. Phil wants to learn about different approaches to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) education and Project Based Learning:

"We hear a lot in the media about the need for more engineers, for our students to be more 'work ready' and for our education system to improve. I wanted to go and see what others are doing and how they are answering these challenges. In doing so I found lots of great ideas, but also I learnt that maybe we're looking for some of the wrong things.

We are currently looking for more able students to go on to be engineers when we should be ensuring that every student leaves secondary school 'STEM literate'. By looking for more engineers we ignore, to an extent, that quality counts; we don't just want more, we want more British engineers who have creative, quirky minds that can come up with transformational ideas, not just superbly engineered products. Finally, schools need to be asking 'what can we do for them' not just 'what can they do for us' when thinking of linking with businesses".

Phil is yet to write up his project, this will happen over the summer, and so his final conclusions aren't yet fully formed; however, there are already certain themes emerging.

Without a simple, clear vision for the sort of learning and learner that a school is looking to develop the best technology and the best learning environments will become distractions rather than aids; in Sweden, where the government pays for every child to have a tablet or laptop, this initiative has seen every sort of impact from hugely positive to negative.

Businesses, universities and schools need to build in depth, long term partnerships, not interact through one off 'inspiration' events; in Ohio universities and businesses work in schools to accelerate interested students through to apprenticeships and free degrees by the age of 18 and in doing so have reduced staff turnover by 45%.

Teacher training is crucial and we need to think broadly about how we do it. Priorities could be Initial Teacher Training for engineers that qualifies them to teach multiple STEM subjects as well as 'STEM lessons' and a STEM Masters programme that challenges teachers to introduce the Design Process in to a range of subjects, encourages the introduction of 'STEM lessons' and improves the quality of tuition in the various STEM subjects.

"I visited some really innovative programmes and was particularly impressed by the ambition of schools like High Tech High in San Diego, the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and Metameer in Boxmeer. These were schools who had a clear vision for education and weren't afraid to follow it even if it didn't link directly to exam results. These schools regarded themselves the experts in education, they were committed to innovative and yet rigorous education and the students were achieving more than you would think possible: work experience that involved training UK teachers in Project Based Learning, patents to improve wind turbines and improvements in the manufacturing processes of the petrochemical industry".

Phil hasn't been waiting for the end of the visits to start trialling and implementing what he has seen. One of the schools within the Bohunt Education Trust is Bohunt School in Liphook, one of the top 20 non-selective schools nationally and TES School of the Year in 2014. The school prides itself on innovation as shown by its immersion language programme where students are taught a third of their timetable in either Spanish, French or Mandarin. Phil has been working to implement a STEM curriculum within the lower school that builds sustainable partnerships with industry, uses Project Based Learning and focuses students on the process of learning, rather than just the end product:

"What British schools do really well is classroom craft; there were few places I went where the quality of explanation, the differentiation and the rigour were better. However, too often, education that combines not only content, but skills, creativity and a focus on process are confined to after school. We wanted to bring STEM, real world working and education that will inspire students about STEM subjects to the heart of the curriculum so it can be enjoyed by all, rather than leave it for those that are already motivated".

The work is already starting to be noticed, as shown by Phil speaking at the Sunday Times Education Festival recently and being invited to a Telegraph round table event on how businesses should interact with schools.

Neil Strowger, Headteacher of Bohunt School said:

"As an Education Trust we have a vision for education that is far wider than just outstanding attainment and part of our ethos is that innovation is the day job. Furthermore, we are constantly looking to challenge our values and beliefs so that we continuously improve. Therefore, we were very keen for Phil to make the most of his Winston Churchill Fellowship and we will now be supporting him to trial the ideas and publicise the results so that students well beyond Bohunt's walls benefit."

Contact Phil: pavery@bohunt.hants.sch.uk