What do you remember about school?

Nicola Mason

“What do you remember about school?”. I wonder if I ask you that now, what would you say? I imagine that you may mention a teacher who made you feel seen or helped you to find your sense of self or your passion. I believe that enabling young people to be heard, to develop a sense of self, to find their passion is one of the purposes of education. I also truly, madly, deeply believe that education is the way that we will change this world for the better.

Changing the world can definitely start at home. Young people from School 21 recently went to campaign for free school meals to be provided in every primary school in support of a Bill introduced by Zahra Sultana MP; in Newham we are one of a handful of Boroughs in London who do this already for every child up to the age of 11. The feedback about the contributions of the children made me proud: they were eloquent, passionate and asked incisive questions. The education that we provide at School 21 allows young people to develop this zest for change, a sense of self and collective efficacy that they can, indeed, make a difference in the world. We are passionate about doing this through our Oracy, projects and Real World Learning programmes.

As I reflect on just over a year working with Big Education and leading School 21, I can whole-heartedly say that I’ve been ‘Big Education-ed’. I’ve found my people, in school and out. I feel that I can be part of making a difference. I hope that this will make those teachers who made a difference to me back in my school days proud.

In my career I’ve been privileged to teach in a range of schools: from an outer London grammar, a comprehensive in a coastal area with high deprivation, to two British international schools. Teaching internationally gave me a great opportunity to see, and to lead, where the constraints of the UK education system are not in play – where schools become great school through deep levels of critical self-reflection, where student progress is evaluated with strong use of value-added measures that do not perpetuating underachievement like progress 8 measures are at risk of. In the UK state sector, we can certainly learn from this freedom to allow our imaginations to fly without these perceived constraints.

I have recently been lucky enough to represent Big Education and School 21 at a Deeper Learning conference, a coalition of organisations sponsored and organised by the Edge Foundation to do exactly that and to look at education differently. The coalition brings great minds together across the education sector – state and private, UK and international: Bill Lucas, author of books such as ‘Educating Ruby’, and a recent report on Creative thinking in schools across the world, Cowes Enterprise College who have developed a curriculum to maximise their coastal location and prepare young people for careers that matter in their local area, High Tech High – famous for pioneering work on Project Based Learning, Bedales School who have been long running ‘Bedales Assessed Courses’ alongside a smaller, core set of GCSEs – amongst others.

The momentum for change is growing; it’s exciting, and it’s coming from lots of different angles.

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