My Trip to Denmark - November 2016
I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Denmark for an International Education Conference entitled 'Togetherness as Motivation - a 21st century skill?' In addition to the day of the conference we had the privilege of visiting four educational establishments.
The Headteacher of Ollerup Folk High School telling conference participants about the facilities the school offers to young people from the age of 18 (and adults up to the age of 80+) mainly connected to sport and dance.
The start of the guided tour of The Independent Academy for Free School Teaching
The conference took place at The Independent Academy for Free School Teaching. This is where students (who must be aged at least 20 or over) are trained for five years to teach in a Danish Free School. We enjoyed a tour of the Academy on the evening before the conference, guided by an extremely enthusiastic second year student teacher.
Ole Pederson opens his speech with a quote from Aristotle: ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all’
Ole Pederson, the head of the Academy, welcomed around 200 conference participants from over thirty different countries to the conference. He talked about the concept of 'Togetherness' as it is perceived amongst the Danish culture. Children are brought up to think 'we' rather than 'me'.
The conference looked at 'Motivation' in schools and if 'Togetherness' is a productive tool in helping children to achieve. Different researchers presented their findings. One aspect that came up repeatedly was the effect of peer group pressure particularly in schools where there is ingrained competiveness (as in England). The way individual teachers deal with marks and grades also affects pupils’ motivation. Comparisons were made between different countries.
John Mason (English Teacher at the Academy) and a panel of experts discuss togetherness as motivation within education.
The conference made several references to the English way of doing things in schools, such as continually testing children in subjects which are measureable. These results don’t only affect the individual children but a teacher’s ability is judged by the grades his/her pupils receive too. For this reason many teachers in England over-focus on preparing children for tests rather than developing other important life skills, and developing a love of learning for its own sake. In our country children suffer a great deal of anxiety leading to many mental health issues, and teachers also suffer from increased stress levels. In Denmark the children are regularly assessed on an informal basis by teachers who know their pupils well in order to inform their teaching, but testing is kept to a minimum, and skills that cannot be easily tested (such as social skills and creativity) are deemed invaluable.
The educational establishments we visited all work on the basis of working together cooperatively rather than competitively, to consider the needs of others rather than focusing too much on the self!
The day after the conference we visited two more educational establishments. The first visit was to Vesterskerninge Friskole, a school for students aged 6 to 16. The school employs teachers trained to work in free schools and is run by a board of parents who appoint the teachers and are responsible for making decisions about the school. There are many such free schools in Denmark. They receive 75% of their funding from the government and the parents raise the remaining 25%.
Happy children at Vesterskerninge Friskole
The school assembly was a relaxed, happy event.
Our final educational visit was to Rysling Efterskole a type of boarding school unique to Denmark. This is where students aged from 14 to 17 spend either one or two years to prepare them for adult life whether they choose to go on to employment or further education. Denmark has about 245 efterskoles and approximately 20% of all Danish teenagers attend one. In addition to continuing their education they are expected to clean and cook together for the benefit of their community.
Megan and Anna showed us around. They said they really love being at the efterskole.
In the eyes of many Danes, a year at an efterskole is much more than a school year. A majority come to see it as the best year of their lives. It is a ‘journey of self-discovery’ that both in academic and personal terms prepares young people for adult-hood. It is commonly said that ‘one year at efterskole equates to seven years of human life’. Published by Efterskoleforeningen.dk 2016
My trip to Denmark was certainly enlightening. One of the greatest differences between English and Danish schooling is that of mutual trust and respect between pupils and teachers; the Danish teachers can stand back to aid the development and independence of a child; whereas in England in many schools the teacher is in the position of ‘controller’ and doesn’t offer pupils the same level of trust. Human Scale Education’s flagship school Stanley Park High in the London Borough of Sutton is something of an exception in English secondary schools, and when you know that the headteacher’s inspiration to build a school in such a way came after a visit to Denmark, you can begin to understand why.
Sir William Burrough - October 2016
I have been in education for over fifty years and have seen many fads and fashions come and go, but I truly believe that warm and positive relationships are at the heart of all rich learning. So when Robin Precey asked me to become a trustee of Human Scale Education, I was both delighted and saddened. Saddened because the world of education needed reminding that children need small-scale units in which to thrive and flourish, and delighted that I could be part of an ever-growing voice, which promotes the primacy of relationships and the agency of children over political diktats and short-term fashionable educational trends. Here at Sir William Burrough every conversation matters, and we have millions of them: child to child, child to teacher, teacher to parent, teacher to teacher. A never-ending stream of human discourse, exchanging ideas, and appreciating, challenging, celebrating learning and living together.
We deeply believe in the principles of “Ubuntu” promoted by Desmond Tutu, which acknowledges the power of community and authenticity, and is the essence of being human - “I can only be really me, if you are really you”.
Zulu tribesmen do not greet each other by saying “hello”, instead they say “Sawubona” which means “I see you”. In Human Scale Schools everyone is seen and everyone is known.
For further information, please refer to the Sir William Burrough case study on this website.
Trustee Blog - September 2016
Welcome to the first of our Blogs. These will be produced on the last day of each month, with each of the nine trustees taking their turn. Being Chair, I am first up.
Human Scale Education has been on a bit of a journey – the phrase ‘rising from the ashes’ being particularly apt. Its founding in 1985 was inspired by E.F. Schumacher’s classic text ‘Small is Beautiful’ which argues for small working units in industry as a means of personal fulfilment, productivity and environmental sustainability. Schumacher placed people at the heart of economics; Human Scale places children at the heart of education by emphasising the primacy of relationships and by embracing radical pedagogy.
After a very successful period during the eighties, nineties and noughties, the charity lost its way, got in financial difficulty and was on the verge of shutting the doors for the final time. Led by Robin Precey, and ably supported by a few of the old guard - Mike Davies, Mary Tasker and Kate Hickman - the charity reformed about three years ago. Its practical manifesto, developed thirty years ago, is still valid today and it is worth restating here. HSE suggests the following eight key practices that schools might follow. These practices are facets of educating on a human scale and were planned originally to represent the eight sides of a fifty pence piece. They are:
- Small size. Schools of learning communities of 250 to 300 students.
- Small teams of between 4 and 6 teachers, learning mentors and learning support assistants who will see no more than between 80 to 90 learners each week
- A curriculum that is thematic, cross disciplinary and holistic.
- A timetable that is flexible with blocks of time that makes provision for whole class teaching, small group teaching and individual learning. Teacher planning and evaluation timetabled.
- Pedagogy is inquiry-based, experiential and supported by ICT.
- Assessment that involves Assessment for Learning approaches of dialogue, negotiation and peer review and develops forms of Authentic Assessment, such s portfolio, exhibition and performance.
- Student voice involving students in the learning arrangements and organisation of the school.
- Genuine partnership with parents and the community.
Human Scale is now in a much better place. We have started to redevelop our website www.hse.org.uk and opened a Twitter account @HumanScaleEdu and a Facebook Page. On the website you will see that we have two conferences planned at our Lead School, Stanley Park High www.stanleyparkhigh.org.uk. At our first conference on Friday 18th November 2016 there is the opportunity for one representative of secondary schools in Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire, as well as the London Boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Richmond, to see human scale practice in action. The second conference is still in the planning stage, but will take place on Friday 19th May 2017. In addition, we have set up a packages designed to support schools interested in developing human scale practice. These can be found on both of the websites above.
As the ironically titled ‘Schools for Everyone’ White Paper clearly demonstrates, these are extremely challenging times for education and you have to question whether any consideration is given to the needs and wellbeing of our children and young people. Rest assured, Human Scale Education will continue to fight their corner for a better now and a better future.
Back to top