The debate goes on - RSA

The debate goes on

Blog 2 Comments

I found the responses to the last post really interesting. Peter’s argument as I understand it is that the real gap is not between the state and private sector but between parents who provide the right background for their children and those who don’t. I agree with this but it underlines why I worry.

My personal view is that the state-private divide doesn’t just separate children; it can also mean that some schools take for granted the engagement of parents (after all they haven’t paid all that money only to be passive consumers), while for others it is hard to get any more than a tiny minority of parents involved.

Caring, involved parents aren’t just an asset for their children; they are more likely to be part of the broader life of the school. So here again private schools have an embarrassment of riches while state schools in poor areas have unviable parent schools associations and unfilled parent governor vacancies.

Beth’s question about how to scale up local initiative and commitment is a huge one. Time and again promising local projects fail to replicate when they are scaled up because they lack the commitment and vision of those who began the initiative or because public funding comes with the wrong strings attached. In the end this is one of the strongest arguments for decentralisation.

I am interested in seeing if the RSA can do anything around strengthening relationships between parents and between parents and schools. Maybe we can learn something from Book Start Plus.

Suzanne, I agree that getting the very best teachers to go into and stay in the state sector is really important and I think Teach First is great.

There are loads of issues I wish I had time to write about.

For example, is it true - as a company advisor told me the other day - that large retail companies now face a squeeze between customers demanding ever greater levels of corporate responsibility and aggressive but largely anonymous investors and corporate raiders seeking to take advantage of any company that deviates from an exclusive focus on the bottom line (one of the issues we want to look at in a planned project called Tomorrow’s Investor)?

But I should really focus on the big change programme in the RSA. We heard yesterday that we had got some really helpful funding from NESTA to enable us as we seek to turn the RSA Fellowship into a network for civic innovation.

The funding means we can put a team in place to work on the substance, the people and the offline and online support for an early set of RSA Fellows networks.

The hard work starts here but as I go round the Fellowship – the weekend before last I was in Scotland - I am still getting really positive feedback about the idea of putting the Fellows and their commitment to change at the heart of the RSA.

So a bitty blog I’m afraid. This will only go to confirm the prejudices of Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur – How today’s internet is killing our culture. He is speaking here tonight in the first of our impressive autumn series of lectures. It promises to be a lively debate (check out his spat with Emily Bell from the Guardian). If you want me to ask any questions on your behalf please send them in.

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  • Dear Matthew,

    I wonder how many of us recognise the world that you describe? In our small corner of the world (Ipswich, Suffolk), the state schools tend to outperform the private schools, who tend to be populated by pupils from neighbouring LEAs.

    However, what does happen here is that the state schools manipulate their catchment areas to ensure that they acquire the parents that they want.

    Is this a picture recognised elsewhere?

    With best wishes,


  • The aims of education in schools are changing, with the relationship between parents and schools right at the heart of it.

    In Demos' recent publication 'Their Space', the authors point out that many young people (not all) have high level skills in digital communication, information gathering, creative production, and developing new digital applications. But they don't get them from school. Instead they are acquired from the use of technology at home supported by family members and their peers (on and off-line)

    This set of skills and knowledge are at the core of our future economic success, but rather than have schools try to keep up with the pace of change to teach them, Their Space argues that they should build on them - supplementing and enhancing what young people already have with, for example, critical reflection.

    In this view of the future, a core duty of every school will therefore be to create far better links between formal and informal - school and home-life - to generate parental engagement, and help create succesful informal learning environments where they don't exist.

    Demos envisage schools giving resources to help informal groups to exist, running ICT classes in the evenings to help parents and siblings facilitate learning in the home, hardware distribution, and creating online spaces for peer to peer collaboration.

    If schools were to put as much effort into this kind of activity as they do preparing for end of Key Stage external tests, I wonder what results they could yield?

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