Schools do not exist in a vacuum: they are part of a community, often in a network of schools, and overseen by local government or similar authority. Their learners will eventually seek to take up places in higher education or in employment. This means that lasting, impactful change is best implemented in the larger system. We propose that the components of this larger whole be thought of as an ecosystem, rather than a hierarchical series of superstructures imposed one on top of the other.
Because we are focusing on a general design here rather than specific implementation, this chapter will discuss the elements of this ecosystem in generic terms. We will outline how each element can support our new direction for learning, and how they should interact if the transition is to be successful and sustainable. The specific details of any particular implementation will need to be adapted to local conditions and governance.
The specific desired outcomes of the learning journey must be determined through mechanisms that include all stakeholders. That means making the goals explicit to students, teachers, parents and caregivers. Since the end goals of high school education will almost certainly change, similar discussions outside the school must engage local employers, industries and higher education establishments with our vision of the new type of learner as a more desirable employee, entrepreneur, community member and student in higher education.
Components of the Learning Ecosystem
Each school, or group of regional schools, should be overseen by a committee of stakeholders representing parents and caregivers, primary, higher and further education professionals, community groups and leaders, student voice and local employers. This local oversight is essential to our goal of linking schools tightly with the communities in which they exist. This Partnership Council, together with the school itself, helps determine the school’s unique “flavor,” pushing, challenging, and supporting learning within that community.
The council takes responsibility for ensuring that the school is running well, maintaining its autonomy, protected from inappropriate government or school board interference and delivering the kinds of learning opportunities for which it was established. The council will also help establish and provide critical feedback on the appropriate school calendar and day structure. Though the rich variety of local contexts and requirements prevents us from making explicit recommendations, this will almost certainly differ from the structures presently in place – though not necessarily from the structures that have been recommended.
In 2012 the RSA pointed out, that in the UK, the case for school-based curriculum design “seems to have been won. Politicians and headteachers appear to agree that the nationally prescribed body of knowledge contained in the National Curriculum should provide a minimum entitlement, but should not define everything that is taught in schools.”74 In the UK, the national curriculum was only meant to take 80% of time in school, providing a minimum requirement. The remaining 20% was intended as time directed by the school working as an autonomous body, focused on giving wider experience, often directed by aspects of the local community. In a 2011 review, Tim Oates, Chair of the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review, reported that this “vital” distinction has been generally lost.75 However, where it applies, schools appear to be more successful, according to an OECD analysis.76
“Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, says the much lauded transformation of the Finnish education system came “at a reasonable cost.” So reasonable, in fact, that 98% of the cost of education at all levels is covered by government rather than by private sources.”