The Initiative has grown out of the British Education 2000 Trust, and so some understanding of that earlier organization is probably helpful. The Trust was established in 1983 by a group of influential businessmen, academics and community leaders who were convinced that the present structures and methods of education were not “adequately responding to the current and future rates of cultural, social, industrial and technological change.” I first became involved with the Trust the following year when, having been the Headmaster of an ancient Grammar School in the process of becoming a Comprehensive High School, I took leave of absence for nine months to study what might be more effective ways of achieving planned change to the curriculum, rather than simply responding to each and every curricular initiative as it occurred.
Some years earlier I had introduced Britain’s first fully computerized classroom, into a secondary school providing a terminal for each child. During both my Headship, and during the time I undertook the study, I was continuously struck by how little connection there appeared to be between the various components of a child’s learning, or for the preferred needs of the teachers . Firstly, there was little apparent connection between research into the nature of effective learning (and teaching practices) and what actually happened in classrooms. I was particularly appalled at the lack of serious in-service training for teachers, and the lack of awareness of the significance of new information technologies for children. I was amazed, and often horrified, at how little exchange of ideas there appeared to be between practicing teachers and the policy makers; each seemed content to talk among themselves, not to speak with each other. How had such a disconnected system come about, I asked myself, and what could be done about it?
In 1985 I proposed that these, and other issues, should be addressed within a common all-embracing agenda that should involve, as a pilot project, all six of the high schools of a single, relatively self-contained town of 35,000 people some 40 miles north of London. This was then adopted by Education 2000 as its “test bed” for the ideas which came out of the 1983 conference. Over a seven year period Education 2000 proposed that additional funds should be sought for such a project which would, over the first three years, be sufficient to release all teachers in the town for ten percent of their time to a most ambitious re-training program that would develop strategies which would focus on how to move from “teaching to learning.” This would involve, amongst other things, providing open access at all times to information technology by providing one computer for every seven pupils (at a time when the national average was 1 to 84).
This was intended to be predicated on the argument that such moneys should be used to develop the efficiency both of continuous learning for teachers; the integrated use of technology, and the development of a community as a genuine active partner in the provision of learning opportunities. It was expected that this would so change the role of the teacher that, in subsequent years, each school should fund at least a 10 percent teacher development program from its own resources, through a significant change of pedagogic practice. All this had to happen at a time when the very best that schools could expect was that their budgets would not be cut further; additional funds on a long-term basis were not a possibility. Very simply this program set out to show that there could be no significant change in pedagogic practice as far as the pupils were concerned until such times as arrangements were made for every teacher to have the opportunity and resource to become a continuous learner.
The program in hindsight probably started several years too late because, by the mid-1980s, political opinion in Britain was beginning to swing against what some wanted to denigrate as a return to “progressive education,” while many an academic wanted to assume that technology was little more than “a fad” of only limited intellectual significance, and probably best handled as a vocational skill for the least able. Public sympathy for teachers was waning, and public concern for a more “commercially appropriate” education system was increasing.
For the better part of ten years Education 2000 stood for a view of education, and an understanding of learning, that was highly attractive to energetic and thinking teachers, and to thoughtful business people, who frequently saw more clearly than others the way in which formal schooling works against the creation of enterprise, adaptability and flexibility. By 1988, with increasing pressure with every subsequent year, Education 2000 became evermore isolated by a whole series of legislative proposals made by a Government whose educational policy was increasingly to become prescriptive, centralized, and based on assumptions that originated in the 1950s. Teacher education courses were reorganized to focus far more heavily on subject content and classroom practice, at the cost of a hefty reduction in all aspects of the course dealing with educational theory, purpose and philosophy. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate was abolished as being too much on “the side of the teachers,” and replaced by a more rigorous assessment and evaluation system. “There is no such subject as education,” said Margaret Thatcher, “only subjects to be taught.”
The application of “market principles” quickly destroyed the concept of a community of learners that extended beyond the school and effectively turned each school against its “rival”; a preoccupation with the assessment of pupils as a way of monitoring teachers led to even more “teaching for the test,” and the relegation of information technology to that of a vocational skill.
Despite such a hostile political climate Education 2000 retained a considerable following from teachers and community leaders who were becoming increasingly distressed that their own professional autonomy was being continuously eroded. Over a ten year period some $13 million was raised by the Trustees to support such projects from more than 200 major foundations and corporate sponsors. For a number of years the interest of chief executives of such companies was sufficient to maintain an uneasy truce between the Trust and central Government with, it seemed, “the intellectual advantage” being with the Trust, but with the political directives and prescriptions being entirely with Government. Three times the Trust was invited to discuss these matters at Downing Street; I was asked to be the Keynote Speaker to the Annual Conference of the Confederation of British Industry, and once I was even asked to write a speech for the Prime Minister to deliver – which he didn’t!
Constantly I had to answer the charge that for pupils “to learn how to manage their own learning” was not some left-wing plot, predicated on sloppy thinking and a sense of Òdo-goodingÓ for people who simply weren’t up to the rigors of academic study. This reflected the reaction against what had been the over hasty implementation of Òchild-centered learning policiesÓ in the mid-1960s, associated in the minds of politicians with the American John Dewey and the English woman Lady Plowden. Their recommendations had been largely shaped by the intuitive experience of teachers, and work in the social sciences. The political climate of the late 1980s was, however, dismissive of the social sciences (and therefore anything pertaining to learning theory).