Yesterday was a proud day for the RSA. Our President, Prince Philip, officially opened the new building of our RSA Academy in Tipton. Indeed, as he himself noted, this was the second time he had ‘opened’ the school having visited back in 2009 when the school officially came under RSA governance.
Our inspirational Principal, Mick Gernon, got the proceedings off to a great start by telling us that the school is now in the top one percent of performers in terms of improvement in pupils’ overall attainment. After some words from our President pupils then showed us around the new buildings which, as well as their many other qualities, were custom built to enable the teaching of our Opening Minds curriculum.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Academy is to see such a nationally prestigious institution based where it is. As I said in my previous blog, I am a great fan of the West Midlands (despite West Brom’s terrible form) but I’m sure I won't be insulting anyone if I say that few people would have associated an area like Tipton, in the black country, with cutting edge innovation. As well as providing brilliant education, the Academy is both transforming expectations among pupils (all last year’s sixth formers who wanted to went to the universities of their choice to do the course of their choice) and changing the way a community sees itself and is seen from outside.
There was however one small cloud overt the proceedings. This week – in fact tomorrow – will see the Coalition’s schools white paper. In this we will find out more about how Michael Gove intends to reconcile his commitment to devolving more power to schools and teachers with his somewhat prescriptive views about what should be in the curriculum and how it should be taught.
I don’t have any problem with the idea that every pupil should acquire key areas of knowledge – although I think we should avoid the mistake that beset Kenneth Baker’s original national curriculum; swamping teachers with content they have to cram into the curriculum. But I also believe that knowledge can be taught through a competencies based curriculum such at the RSA’s Opening Minds. Yesterday, in the lessons we observed, the pupils were acquiring lots of knowledge but not through chalk and talk but by through working together in groups on projects structured around key competencies.
The RSA academy is a success story and I believe the Society is poised to play a bigger role by working with more schools to offer engaging, demanding and innovative learning within intelligent institutions. So I, like many other champions of broadly progressive education, will be hoping that Michael Gove balances his own preferences for learning with the need to allow a wide range of successful practice in schools.