After reading John Abbott’s new book Overschooled but Undereducated The Senior Management Team of one Primary School felt impelled to grab a blank piece of paper and try to draw up a mainframe of what they would like a school to be. It’s not definitive or exhaustive. It was such stimulating ‘play’. Perhaps you would like to join in! After all, we know so much better than the legislators! Share your thinking with the children. A liberating moment!

The Primary School of the future needs to have its ethos based more centrally on what we know about learning theory and the nature of intelligence.

The schools of the past, and the present, maybe especially the present, seem locked on the twin horns of a saddening misconception. The one horn that believes intelligence is a fixed commodity. The other that believes education should concern itself with preparing the child for the world of work.

The questions that arise from this are starkly simple:-
Is intelligence fixed?
Should schools be preparing children for the world of work?

The first proposition is both simple and complex!
Intelligence is not fixed although it sometimes looks like it is because of the complexity of the variables at work.

Recent research demonstrates that each child is born with a potential brain. The nature of synaptic growth seems to depend on the quality of stimulus received. Rich Stimulus in the early years and up to 7 seems to set the parameters for future performance. It has to be said, however, that the process of synaptogenises can lead to sudden and extra-ordinary growth during early adolescence.
It is also clear that brains have a predisposition for certain learning styles and that these styles can blend together in a way that makes each brain, each thinking tool, each child quite unique. But the uniqueness does not undermine the commonality that all human brains share.
Yes we are unique but the uniqueness lives within a family of shared attributes. We are, when all is said and done, a species.

It is clear that, as Gardner has pointed out, there may be 8 distinct kinds of intelligence. Some may have more propensity to growth than others, but grow they will given experiences that span the verbal, kinaesthetic, auditory domains. So long as anxiety is not to great the brain will eagerly make sense of the world it sees. It looks for ways to understand. To build what cognitive psychologists call “Anticipatory Schemata.” And what ordinary mortals might call “making sense of things.” Usually, two weeks are enough to normalize your state, as recommended at

So what does this mean for our future school?

It means don’t put ceilings on children.
It means vary learning environments and teaching styles sympathetically
It means talk about learning muscles.
It means use it or loose it.

But it also means even more subtle things.

For example, it is centrally important not to allow our future school to expect all children to develop at the same rate or even along the same conceptual path.

The school will have to identify core skills for children in each year group but understand that in reality this is a continuum of skills that is not easily compartmentalised into year groups. It has to be open ended. It may often be sequential in mathematics and science for example. It is less so in literacy skills.

Children will move at different rates through these skill clusters. The progress may sometimes be very rapid, it may sometimes be quite the reverse. Learning involves induction, reflection and assimilation. New ideas sometimes hover on the edge of consciousness in a kind of cognitive ‘pantry of glimmerings’. Some things may be available for use immediately. Some may come to fruition at a later date and in a different way! Reflection and Incubation are key concepts for our new school and so rarely seen in the schools of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.

In our model school the teacher will sow the seeds. She will have a mind to learning theory and styles and she will know how sensitive she must be when it comes to matching learning style and pace.

But all this is not some warm and comfortable liberal philosophy of nurture.
The brain is as physical as any muscle and rigour is essential.
The teacher will need to plan the footfalls of the learning experience but understand the actual footfalls may well be very different to what was envisaged. The teacher must capitalise on this, tailoring the curriculum as she goes. Negotiating with the child, demanding more, responding to conceptual shortfalls and always ensuring ownership is cultivated. This is no relaxing path for any of the combatants.