In the most recent RSA Journal, I read with interest the piece on competition by Margaret Heffernan – particularly, the part that describes an experiment designed to engineer a 'super flock' of hens. To see whether increased competition would create higher levels of production, geneticist William Muir pulled the top egg-producing hens out of a regular flock and put them together. After just two generations of this new flock, the results were remarkable - six of the super hens had been pecked to death by the remaining three, whilst the original flock was performing better than ever.
This experiment suggests that if you only value the so-called ‘cream of the crop’ you are probably missing a trick or two. Societies need variety and balance in order to function healthily – you simply can’t have everybody doing the same thing, no matter how valuable it is deemed.
The article got me thinking about our education system and the levels of competition and selection. My own experience saw my peers divided into two camps at age 11: clever, and not so clever. Even for those who weren’t required to take the dreaded 11+, academic pressure remains a dominant feature of school life. Certainly, an element of competition can be motivating, but just as the ‘cream’ ought not to be scooped off the top and isolated at their own expense, nor should the rest feel their particular strengths have no value to society.
Many of the RSA Fellows I’ve met over the past year have been teachers, and all were unequivocally passionate about the difference a good education can have on the trajectory of a person’s life. Whatever the challenges in the classroom might be, Fellows have a wealth of ideas about where improvements can be made that will potentially transform the confidence of their students.
One such teacher is Jo Taylor FRSA, who, having participated in Teach First’s leadership programme, has gone on to co-found Wall Display - an education project which has recently applied for an RSA Catalyst grant.
"As a teacher I saw how much of a difference an engaged parent could make to their child's aspirations. I also saw how hard it was for parents to be involved in their child's education. I wanted to create a way for them to see the great things their children were doing."
With children from disadvantaged schools, parental disengagement can be a big problem because if the parent had a bad experience at school themselves, they may be less inclined to encourage their children to participate. Many of these parents may have become disengaged because they did not perform well in exams, and with the continual emphasis on exams and grades, it’s increasingly important for teachers to find ways to celebrate the diversity of students’ skills and ensure they do not become disenchanted with learning altogether.
Wall Display has addressed this issue by creating an online platform for teachers to share their pupils’ work in such a way that it displays the creativity and individuality of the work whilst pushing it beyond the boundaries of the classroom.
“Students can get really demotivated producing amazing work which nobody ever sees, the idea is that Wall Display provides them with an audience for what they do in school."
When teachers post work from students, members of the general public can give badges to work they like and other teachers can offer feedback.
I think this responsive aspect of the project is critical because if your teacher does not like your work, it might feel like theirs is the only opinion that counts. Wall Display’s strength is that it allows an array of opinions to reach the students - an experience which is far more representative of life after school.
Jo spoke about the progress of the project at a recent RSA Engage event, and asked other Fellows to get involved in the following ways:
- Do you know a teacher or school who might like to use Wall Display?
- Do you know anyone who works for Ofsted or an education body?
- Do you know any business leaders who are passionate about education?
If you’d like to know more about Wall Display, help Jo or get involved then you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find out more on their website.
The RSA has partnered with Teach First for seven years, and we are able to offer a reduced rate of Fellowship for all Teach First participants – contact Alex Barker for more information.