Enlightening students by enlightened teachers: 500+ Reasons to be Cheerful at All Our Futures, Rio De Janeiro, October 2013

Reasons 11 – 38.5: Enlightening students by enlightened teachers

Some might say, what’s the point of travelling over 5000 miles to go and see schools? They’re all the same everywhere aren’t they? Well, yes, in as much they are populated by people and invariably are housed in something resembling a building: so yes, they’re all the same. Much like the flora and fauna across the planet are all the same in the way they have thing in common: they’re alive.

But what the reductionist misses is the fact that schools and those who inhabit them – teachers, young people, parents, school rabbits – make complex ecologies in their own rights, complete with their own characteristics, flavours and behaviours. Whilst their commonalities are gratifying – the vast majority of them want the best for their young people – their differences and diversity are reasons to celebrate the spirit of the endeavour to prepare for their – for our – futures.

So far this week, our visit to Escola Nova in the suburb of Gavea, has shown a school with huge spirit of internationalism; walls, doors and school furniture remind the pupil and the teacher of their ongoing connection to their neighbours across South America as well as further afield. A classroom named Israel sits next door to a classroom called Palestine. The UK classroom sits upstairs above the theatre-gym space and promises pupils insights to Manchester, Cornwall and Norfolk. The Science lab has an ingenious way of connecting pupils to the physical world we inhabit by using the natural rock of the hillside the school is built on as the fourth wall of the classroom. When it rains, the rain streams down the rock into a channel which takes the water away: possibly the only classroom in the world where rain inside in the school is embraced. More at http://www.escolanova.com.br/

Equally intriguing is the Instituto de Aplicacao Fernando Rodrigues da Silveira CAP-UERJ, a school we visit later that day. Occupying some very unprepossessing building space, we hear that this is one of only two schools where research is a fundamental aspect of the teachers role: so much so that over 38% of teaching staff have PhDs. And this isn’t a result of unemployed doctoral students looking for work but a conscious policy by the school to keep offering their staff high quality on the job development. As a result, staff are infused with the importance of research and connecting this research to the work of the classroom. And given they teach both at the university and the school, they see themselves as both school teachers and university lecturers simultaneously: with the consequence that their pupils become both school pupils and university students – albeit from the age of 6 upwards. And the results of this enlightened policy of staff development is that the school is one of the highest achieving schools in Brazil – in an area which has huge levels of poverty and social exclusions to boot. More at http://www.cap.uerj.br/site/

So yes, all schools are the same in one way: but their differences are something to inspire and to teach us all, wherever we work.

More here too: http://www.aspirecreativeenterprises.com/ACE/aof_rio.html

More on our travel partners here: http://www.govie.co.uk/events/

Radical Sport, Communities and Education: 500+ Reasons to be Cheerful at All Our Futures, Rio De Janeiro, October 2013

Reasons 5 – 10: radical sports, radical communities, radical education

An inspiring visit today to meet Bernard Rangel at the Complexo Esportivo da Rocinha, located next to its neighbouring favela of Rocinha. Home of swimming, radical sports, futsal (a football style which is one reason Brazil is the best in the world) and judo, the complex draws its communities across the neighbouring Oscar Niemeyer bridge out of the favela to improve their sporting prowess, their health and and community. The kids can also get their teeth improved into the bargain through the mobile dental unit. More at http://sbrrocinharadical.blogspot.com.br/

The walk across the bridge into the favela leads to a chance meeting with DJ Zezinho, a local DJ who runs Rocinha Media School and DJ workshops for local kids – all using CDs and memory sticks as vinyl out here is way too expensive. So if you have any old 12” vinyl that could do with another outing on the turntables of Rocinha, please get in touch with him at: http://www.favelatour.org (he also organises tours of the favela too).

We’re talking with Bernard and his colleagues about presenting at All Our Futures and organising a visit to him and the favela for delegates who want to learn more about the ongoing Olympic support of community and radical sports in the city. More at http://faveladarocinha.com/site/

And finally: a completely new take (to me at least) on gyms, health and fitness for office workers: Laboral Gym. More at http://laboralgymindustries.blogspot.com.br/
The mind and body boggles.

More here too: http://www.aspirecreativeenterprises.com/ACE/aof_rio.html

More on our travel partners here: http://www.govie.co.uk/events/

Calling teachers interested in educational and cultural exchange in Brazil

Over the last two years, Aspire has organised international conferences for Principals and Head teachers from Bulgaria, India, Nigeria and the UAE to visit UK schools. We have also produced student exchange programmes for students from Nigeria, Serbia and Macedonia.

These events have been very powerful in establishing links between UK and overseas schools, developing educational exchanges, facilitating visits between partner schools and offering unique insights into our mutual educational cultures.

This year we are planning a similar conference in Brazil in conjunction with schools and universities there. To set up those programmes, I have been invited to visit schools in Rio de Janeiro between 20 and 28 May to participate in a trade and culture mission with schools, the University, teachers and other colleagues. More information is available at http://www.aspirecreativeenterprises.com/ACE/aof_rio.html

If you would like your school to benefit from my visit – e.g. by making links with schools, connections with head teachers and pupils, curriculum developments, CPD opportunities or other possibilities – then please get in touch to discuss how I could facilitate connections and exchanges between those schools and your own. I can be contacted at nick@aspire-trust.org.

What’s the point of school? Ask a School Ecologist.

What’s the point of school? Kids are socialites at 7, adults at 12 and doubting everything the teacher and the school stands for. Behaviour is questionable, deference is a quaint notion of a rose tinted past when teachers were head of the classroom and everyone knew and welcomed their places. Curriculum is irrelevant and has been superseded by the Internet where children work out of their own curriculum and syllabus, perhaps blindly, perhaps intuitively, perhaps guided by who knows what – certainly things we parents and teachers know nothing or little about.

These are desperate times when all our educational purposes, reasons and rationales have been thrown up into the air and scrutinised like never before. So what place the curriculum? The school? The teacher even?

These existential questions are common to teachers across the world; from urban comprehensives in inner city Liverpool, to rural schools across India to schools in the outback in furthest Australia. No matter where you look, the central questions are the same: how should schools respond to the rapidly changing nature of the world we live in? How can they prepare children for an uncertain today and an unknown tomorrow?

How should we envisage school change?

Changing schools is a problematic concept – some might say conceit – not least because of the hugely complex contexts that schools are part of. Changing a particular element of pedagogy, school management or children’s behaviour is not like changing a set of variables in a laboratory experiment. Schools are not slabs of complex industrial machinery which operate on the basis of ‘x’ inputs producing ‘y’ outputs in a methodological and predictable fashion. The problem, from a managerial perspective which likes control, predictability and accountability, is that people aren’t rationale, schools are not like factories and students frequently don’t necessarily behave the way the planners would like.

“There’ll no shouting in the new school!”

In the UK we saw a huge programme of building modernisation upto the most recent election in 2010. Entitled Building Schools for the Future, the programme was the largest capital investment programme for 50 years in England. Whilst there were undoubted improvements to many English schools, the changes the programme introduced had a number of startling unexpected consequences.

At the opening of a local new centre for learning near Liverpool (note how the language has changed from ‘school’ to ‘centre for learning’) the principal chastised her rowdy new pupils with the quaint notion that the new building they were about to enter would magically reduce the amount of bawdy behaviour in the corridors.

Her desire to ignore some uncomfortable realities about what it is to be a young person, teacher or indeed even human being meant that whatever the rhetoric of modernisation, there would always be “shouting down corridors” Whatever the architectural vision of the shiny new learning spaces, there will still be a desire of young women and young men to occupy different spaces when it comes to their ablutions, picking off of acne scabs and throwing cigarettes down the latrines. Whatever the politics of corridor decoration, posters will become magnets for other posters and there will always a school wag who has to make their mark on the pristine wall hanging.

Schools just don’t function like well oiled machines in factories but behave like organisms in cultural ecologies. They don’t exist in isolation from the wider world they inhabit, they are fundamentally uncontrollable and trying to change their ecological properties can often be a frustrating and challenging process.

Schools are ecological systems: not industrial plant

Teachers, parents and children tend their patch in their own specific and unique way. They may be more or less successful at this tending, but whether they identify themselves as Centres for Learning, Big Picture Schools, Round Square schools, Faith Schools or plain old fashioned chalk and talk classrooms, schools’ different pedagogical models can coexist within the same social or geographical context. Schools demonstrate a form of ecological diversity which mirrors the biological diversity of the lands they inhabit.

Seeing schools as complex ecologies allows us to assess school improvement agendas ina completely different light.

Complexity theory would suggest for example that the emergence of school league table winners causes the emergence of school league table losers. When schools are engaged in competitions for pupil numbers, or for positions on a league table, it is not as if they are running on an Olympic race track with competing athletes to see who can run 100m the fastest: this competition means that the ‘front runners’ are partially responsible for disrupting the state of the race track of those lagging ‘behind’. They may have started at the same starting gate (which is unlikely) – but the high achieving schools then manage to dig up the race track for those who are slightly behind them; leading to the winners winning by an even bigger margin than they demonstrated at the start of ‘the race’.

On the horizon…. Global School Ecologists

We think the time is right to develop models of change which acknowledge the ecological nature of schools and the education contexts they are part of: particularly in countries who have been looking to the West to provide models of school improvement and who may be seduced by the attraction of the schools as industrial plant metaphor.

We are developing training programmes which develop ‘school ecologists’: members of the school community who can describe and explain the myriad of different pedagogical characteristics which their schools demonstrate – and then help construct a future which is of benefit to the whole school community. ‘School Ecologists’ would learn to understand the signature ecological pedagogy of their school and the consequences of interactions between children, teachers, parents and culture. This may well provide us with new insights of what the point of school is in rapidly changing international times.

If you would like to be part of our Global School Ecology programme, please contact us at nick@aspire-trust.org

Conferência Internacional Todos os Nossos Futuros: Brasil

A natureza da educação está mudando rapidamente em todo o mundo. Novos currículos e novas abordagens de ensino e aprendizagem, as condições de mudanças sociais em que as crianças e jovens estão crescendo, os desafios técnicos e ambientais que todos enfrentamos: todos estes produzem pressões extraordinárias sobre os valores, os propósitos e o papel da educação para professores e alunos.

A natureza da educação está mudando rapidamente em todo o mundo. Novos currículos e novas abordagens de ensino e aprendizagem, as condições de mudanças sociais em que as crianças e jovens estão crescendo, os desafios técnicos e ambientais que todos enfrentamos: todos estes produzem pressões extraordinárias sobre os valores, os propósitos e o papel da educação para professores e alunos.

O programa é um evento sem fins-lucrativos, direcionado para diretores de escolas, professores, líderes e gestores educacionais, visando introduzir as práticas pedagógicas locais para profissionais estrangeiros no setor de educação, com o objetivo de criar uma rede mundial de troca de conhecimento em práticas de ensino e aprendizado.

Sob a direção da autoridade, reconhecida e nomeada, do Dr. Nick Owen, Aspire Trust gostaria de contar com a participação das melhores escolas e iniciativas educacionais do Rio de Janeiro para esse evento – além dos convidados especiais que irão falar sobre diferentes aspectos da sua experiência profissional ligada ao ensino e desenvolvimento dos jovens brasileiros. Precisamos do empenho de sua organização em receber três educadores por 4 dias consecutivos em Outubro de 2013.

Trabalhando juntos, promoveremos idéias originais e visões positivas para o ensino de crianças e jovens no mundo inteiro.

For further information contact me at nick@aspire-trust.org

Aspire up the Amazon: calling teachers interested in outdoor education in the Amazon and French Guyana

Over the last few years, Aspire has been involved in adult learning programmes which have focused on outdoor and forest education. These programmes have been very powerful in establishing links between UK and overseas schools, developing educational exchanges and facilitating visits by UK based artists to partners across Europe.

I will be visiting French Guyana in February to participate in the outdoor education programme, Environmental Education On : Amazonia In French Guiana, run by ICOFOR, the French Guyana based training organisation, Intermédiaire de Commerce et Formateur. The aims of the training programme are to:

* help the development of innovative practices in the adult education and their transfer between participanting countries;
* gain knowledge about Amazonia;
* learn methods for teaching different subjects “out of the classroom”;
* encourage international exchanges as well as future co-operation between participants.

On the north-­east coast of South America, between Surinam and Brazil, French Guyana is a fascinating and wild country: a green paradise par excellence. It is almost entirely covered by thick Amazonian forest and criss-­crossed by wide rivers. Almost half of its eight million hectares of French Amazonian are a protected environment, 90% covered by forest.

If you would like your school to benefit from my visit – e.g. by making links with schools, connections with head teachers and pupils, curriculum developments, CPD opportunities or other possibilities – then please get in touch to discuss how I could facilitate connections and exchanges between those schools and your own. I can be contacted at nick@aspire-trust.org.

Poetry on the Hoof: Feeding frenzy (How Schools Devour Each Other)

The feeder primary school feeds
the secondary school which feeds
the universities or the workforce.

The feeder primary school is fed by nursery schools
who, in turn, are fed by child minders, nannies or parents and finally
the cradle or the grave.

Such is the feeding chain:
Each school is fed by or feeds another.
Each school is but a source, or consumer, of food, of pupils.

The feeding frenzy of schools upon other schools and upon each other
is the ecology of winners and losers,
victors and collateral damage.

Whilst no-one wants to be fed upon,
we’re happy to muscle into the feeding trough:
slake our appetite on lesser mortals.

All Our Futures: International Education Conference at Hull University Welcoming Speech

Hull has been the City which helped me makes send of the turbulent times that had been going on in the English education system since 1997.

I was a relative newcomer to working in schools in 2002 when I joined the Aspire Trust. My memories of primary and secondary statutory education were mixed – a disrupted primary education, marred by parental disputes and continued house moving was followed by a secondary phase which was altogether more stable and safe and provided a context which allowed me and many of my school friends to look back in pleasure at those halcyon school days. Not quite ‘the best days of our lives’ but not far off it we all agreed when we met some weeks ago on a school reunion which took us back to the site where we had met some 40 years back.

But my friends and I were in one sense a privileged few. We had the benefit of having passed the state’s 11+ exam which allowed us then to be accepted at the local grammar school. Others though in our class were not so fortunate. Whether this was due to their being less academically inclined, less prepared to comply with the demands that primary schools made in those days, or just had a bad day when it came to sitting the test, their failure to pass that exam at such a young age meant that they were parcelled off to the local comprehensive school.

Whilst they too may look back at their time in secondary school as being the best days of their lives, we shall never know; that splitting of us at 11 years old made sure that we followed different educational paths, established different social networks and altogether had vastly different expectations of us. It was expected of us that we would be prepared for university; other our friends (who our parents talked about in hushed tones as somehow having ‘failed’ something) were prepared for the world of work – which in those days meant some kind of vocational training in retail, industry or perhaps even the armed forces.

In those days there was a definite split in the English education system – the academically capable went to grammar schools, those who weren’t, didn’t. Those who went to grammar school were prepared for university and careers in the professions; those who didn’t, weren’t. Those who went to university and the professions were prepared to run the country; those who weren’t, didn’t.

This split at 11 year old was – and to a large extent, still is – a reflection of the bipartheid nature of the English education system. This system still perpetuates today the polarity of the academic versus the vocational education in this country.

There are many other awkward and contestable polarities in our education system which you will no doubt encounter this week in your visits to our schools in Hull. The pressure for children to achieves versus the desire for them to enjoy their education; the need to behave within a certain type of socially acceptable behaviours versus the desire to ensure every child’s education should be about recognising them as unique individuals complete with their own dreams and desires; the pressure to train children for the work place and to gain employment in a real job versus the pressure to prepare children for life long learning and the vagaries of the future; the pressure to educate children in order to maintain social norms and to protect cultural values versus the pressure to educate to change the social norms.

These polarities are no doubt echoed in your own schools – and this is why we have called this conference, All Our Futures. It is clear to us that the challenges and joys we face in education here are the same challenges and joys that you face; whether this be dealing with the impact that a dysfunctional family can have on a five year old boys dreams, or witnessing the eureka moment when a 15 year old girl can play Beethoven’s Appassionata piano sonata all the way through for the first time.

Of course, our contexts are vastly different, our languages and cultural practices sometimes hard to fathom. No amount of conferencing will ever be able – nor should it ever endeavour to be able – to wipe away those differences and pretend that we can easily transport one set of educational tips and tricks to a far off land. Providing education is not like selling burgers at MacDonald’s.

Sometimes we may look at each other this week and realise that there are huge oceans of difference between us which can never be bridged. But we hope that our similarities and our common concerns will eventually bind us together this week in search for some solutions for the common good of all our children.

I hope that in our second All Our Futures conference that our mutual work, our shared conversations and our mutual presence will enable us to see ourselves as part of larger human jigsaw picture in which we all, like smaller jigsaw pieces need each other to fit together to provide a reflection of the human race as a whole.

I hope that we can paint a picture for our future generation of children and learners and that they can say that their futures started with All Our Futures here, today.

All Our Futures: International Educational Study Visit to Liverpool in partnership with the British Council Bulgaria

All Our Futures is Aspire’s annual conference for international head teachers which will take place in Liverpool between 4 and 8 March 2013. The event aims to introduce pedagogical practices which are being applied at various levels in English schools by providing participants with exclusive, intense immersive experiences in schools and do generate unique, high quality insights into teaching and learning.

We are delighted to announce that this year, All Our Futures is being produced in partnership with the British Council in Bulgaria: so we will be particularly looking forward to meeting Head teachers from Bulgaria and the wider Balkan region and introducing them to our schools in Liverpool.

Further details are here:


and photos of the visit here: