Media release: Visionary educationalist urges radical rethink of secondary education

The Government’s multibillion pound Building Schools for the Future programme offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for school development and renewal, but are we simply re-housing old problems in new buildings?
Following on from his Channel 4 Dispatches programme, ‘The Children Left Behind’ (2008), former head teacher James Wetz challenges the existing orthodoxy of large schools and Academies and proposes a radical blueprint for the future of secondary schooling in a new book published today by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Urban Village Schools.

“After more than 30 years working in state education, 16 of these as a head teacher of two large secondary schools, I am convinced that the current design and organisation of many secondaries thwart our best efforts to support young people and institutionally exclude those most in need of academic enrichment,” he said. “Urban Village Schools is an urgent call for us to set aside preconceived notions and think deeply about what will work best in the interests not only of those currently marginalised but of all young people.”

Drawing on the testimonies of young people, theories of attachment and child development, and international examples of human scale education (a vision of schooling based on the premise that teachers cannot teach children well unless they know them well), James Wetz explores the factors that promote successful learning and applies them to school organisation and design – with the help of award-winning architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.

The result is the Urban Village School – a practical, coherent, cost-effective model that could replace the current provision of large secondary schools. Based on the principles of human scale education, an Urban Village School would put relationships between staff and pupils at its heart, accepting no more than 375 pupils in all (although several schools could link together to benefit from the economies of scale), and organised so that staff teach only 75 pupils a week (compared to the 250 a week common in large schools).

Every pupil would have access to an “attachment worker” to support their progress and make links with families; the school day would be from 10 am – 6 pm (taking account of research into the biorhythms of adolescents); all “homework” would be school work, done in school hours with support from teachers; and there would be a radical approach to staff training and development. The Urban Village School would foster a powerful sense of community and a stronger commitment to academic rigour for all young people.

Andrew Barnett, director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch, said: “For the past three years the Foundation has been supporting the introduction of human scale practices into selected secondary schools, convinced by growing evidence that students learn best in small-scale settings. Urban Village Schools may seem to offer a utopian vision, but in fact James Wetz’s ideas have already attracted interest from local authorities, academy leaders, parents and community groups eager to translate them into practice. We hope this book plays its part in encouraging the development of an education system that enables all young people to fulfil their potential and contribute to our society.”

About the author

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress | Two Thirds Design