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Roland Martin - Issue #57

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Free Minds and Achievement for all
 

Roland Martin

June 27 · Issue #57 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Free Minds and Achievement for all

The birth of Free Minds
Out of all the educational initiatives, big and small, which we have been working on at Freemen’s, I’m probably most proud of our Free Minds programme.
It was born out of a desire to address the government’s removal of the AS qualification at the end of year 12, sending A levels back to the model with which most of my generation grew up; that of three, in some cases four, A levels examined at the end of year 13 as a summation of two years’ study.
I was fortunate to become Head of a school that had not yet decided where to land on the programming of the new A levels, so we were able to be creative and a little bit radical.
As I had been made Head of General Studies in my first teaching post, I had some idea of what I thought would work well, what was essentially missing from the well-rounded education we hoped to offer for all. And so, the seed was planted - it needed quick feeds and plenty of nursing if it was to get off the ground in time. I was fortunate to have in my employ at Freemen’s a Head of Religion, Philosophy and Ethics who was not only capable of setting up the delivery of the programme, but who I could see was also passionate about the kind of liberal arts / holistic education that such a course would offer. Together with members of the Senior Leadership Team, we forged on and were able to implement our first Free Minds course in September 2017.
Implementing Free Minds
The practicality of introducing Free Minds, to sit alongside A levels and marry with the already existing EPQ course at Freemen’s, was made viable by placing high value on its teaching. Teachers were asked to submit plans if they wished to teach a unit to students. The only caveats were that they had to be passionate about their offering and that it fitted into one of the faculty/study headings we’d devised. The next step was for our timetablers to meet the challenge of timetabling Free Minds first, not as an afterthought, but as a crucial element of each proposing teacher’s job. Not everyone came forward, of course, but there have been some lovely surprises, surveying what goes on in these classes. Our Lower Sixth has learned about Global Conflicts in the 21st Century, Electronics for the Curious, Six Key Moments in Western Art, the EU and the Referendum and even How to Start Your Own Country, to name but a handful of the courses on offer.
The programme is divided into Faculties, from which students choose strands, something which I liken to a Trivial Pursuit cheese wedge holder. 
  • FOUNDATIONS: Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, Classics
  • WORLD: Geography, Business and Economics, History, Psychology
  • LANGUAGE: English, Modern Foreign Languages
  • SCIENCE: Maths, Sciences, Computing
  • ARTS: Drama, Art, Music
Delivering Free Minds
I haven’t been able to get around  lessons in action  because I’ve been teaching the course myself,  so I speak in part from my first hand experience as a facilitator, and in part with the insight of my colleagues, rather than as an impartial observer! The course director did a comprehensive questionnaire to all who have been engaged with the course which has given us some useful data to ‘tweak’ Free Minds next year.
The significant point that both students and teachers have commented on is the difference in style of teaching. Free Minds is deliberately structured around a small seminar/tutorial format (groups of six or seven are the norm) which leads to a different engagement both with teacher and with content. The point, of course, is to prepare students for the environment that many of them will experience at University and the grading system that we use is based on University Degree Class rather than A Level grades.
Colleagues have clearly enjoyed the opportunity to teach some hobby horses. I have been engaging with Shakespearean Tragic-Comedies this year though next year hope to provide an overview on the Age of Enlightenment, something that I was fortunate to engage with at University when York seconded a brilliant Deputy Curator from The British Museum for a year, (now) Professor Malcolm Baker. The point of the course for teachers, is to teach those courses that examination boards do not allow; the point for students is to provide a broader scope to their knowledge and experience.
Free Minds graduation
We were privileged to welcome Professor Sonia Blandford to Freemen’s last week to celebrate and challenge our Lower 6th graduates as they were awarded certificates to conclude their studies and a series of university type grades for their various components. It was good to mark the summation of the students’ hard work and to celebrate what has been a successful inaugural year. 
Freeing Minds
Professor Blandford has been named in the top 500 most influential people by Debrett’s and a 2016 Woman of the Year for her pioneering work as a practitioner and game changer in the world of education. She spoke to our young people about the value of education, the potential obstacles facing future leaders and specifically why they should be looking to help close achievement gaps in relation to socio-economic background. If the arguments weren’t emotive enough, the economics behind the drive should be.
If your son/daughter was in the audience that morning, they might have tried to recall the following facts from her talk, the findings from research into the gap, why it exists and what can be done to address it. 
  • One in five children and young people are living in poverty or are diagnosed with special educational needs, the educational gap for both groups are 40% below national expected outcomes for all.
  • In 2014, 120,000 13-year-olds were at risk of becoming Not in Employment, Education or Training, this group collectively stand to lose £6.4 billion over their lifetimes (Impetus, 2014:.4).
  • If all children and young people facing economic disadvantage received high-quality early education the gap in achievement could be closed by as much as 20‐50%
  • Children and young people not achieving their potential has a long-term legacy effect on society, which could represent a cost to the UK economy of £77 billion a year. 
That last point had a particular resonance for Economics and Business students present. 
The solutions that her charity - Achievement for all - offers to tackle these facts are to: Include every child; improve the life chances of every child; develop teams of significant adults and services to support all children.
Backed by PwC’s research and data, with intervention in place over the last six years, she demonstrated how the programme is working, particularly in primary schools, where their work has ensured that vulnerable children surpass expectations; in secondary education, they are so far meeting the average for these vulnerable children, coming to the party a little later. Over 4.500 school/college/nursery settings have been involved, all manner of significant partners have emerged - including Microsoft quite recently, coming on board to support and evolve their learning hub, The Bubble - to try and ensure that every child is included, no-one gets left behind. 
And any pop-cultural references I may be implying  there is most certainly to Lilo and Stitch rather than Five Finger Death Punch. Not sure whether there’s mileage in a Free Minds module there. 
What Professor Blandford left hanging as a challenge to our students and staff was to somehow incorporate - or enhance - the ethical strand of Free Minds. We’ve certainly been moved by some of the recent feedback from students about their volunteering work and aspirations. There is little more inspirational about my job than seeing young people as a force for good.

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