Channel 4 Education Event

I’m liveblogging the Channel 4 Annual Education Conference.  To keep up-to-date with the happenings of the day, please keep refreshing this page.

9:58am Janey Walker, Head of Education introduces the event and the ideas to be covered over the day.

10:00am Anders Hultin begins the day, discussing ‘the Swedish model’ (of free education).  Hultin notes that since 1992 the growth in attendance to free schools has been huge in Sweden – from 8,000 to 135,000 students.  But almost 3 out of 4 schools are owned by private, profit-making organisations.

This growth in privately owned free schools has been a grass-roots phenomenon, occurring independently from the bureaucratic systems. But it has resulted in a positive atmosphere for students, with higher satisfaction among students in going to school and better outcomes in terms of results.  The scale of growth from 1% to between 10-20% of all schools in Sweden has been a growth which has been consistent year on year.

Hultin speculates that in the UK such free school development could mean migration of 50,000 students year on year.  But there are two schools of thought about its success as a possible model for the UK.

Positives: Strong political determination, great demand for new and better schools, private sector struggling, reasonable application process and access to poperating funds, liberalisation of planning regulations

Negatives: parental running of schools could be problematic, requires govt expenditure as a profit motive is not permitted in the UK, it could be anti-competitive for existing schools, there’s possibly some resistance to promoting innovation and pluralism and the UK property market is itself highly complicated.

One success criteria from the Swedish system is the notion of liberalism on curriculum and teaching techniques. It may be very difficult indeed to sway opinion in favour of this model.

In the long run the Swedish model may improve results, but the Swedish model also supports other values, that may not be generalised but rather specialised to the interests of the community.  Clusters of schools can come together in the long run to provide economies of scale.  Hultin concludes: a system based on competition and free choice will provide something cheaper than what is on offer today.


– Were there any concerns about religious groups taking advantage of this method.

Hultin: religious schools were fast to establish but they are a niche market and they aren’t as common as you might think.

– What about profit-oriented schools?  What happens if a company goes bust?

Hultin: it’d be a huge problem if a school closes down, but poor schools need to close.

– How do companies make a profit?

Hultin: by running schools more efficiently, based on govt financing.  The lowest quality is where you spend the most money.  In profit-making schools, money is spent where there is demand and value.

– How do you align the local needs of the parents with the corporate needs of the organisation running the school?

Hultin: depends on the school. Market research on the demands of the area find those synergies.

– The pursuance of short term profits can result in fudging numbers and financial failure.  How do you avoid that?

Hultin: wouldn’t be surprised if the program will attract private investors than usual. There is a risk with profit-making organisations, but if there is a formal application and review procedure, education could be affected.  Hultin notes he wouldn’t put his kids in all of the new schools that have been established.  They don’t all match his values and some are too short focus.

– It doesn’t seem that there is much innovation. This is factory oriented, rather than adapt curriculum/teachers.

Hultin: wish I had the time to describe some of the pedagogies.  Most of the interesting innovation and development is going on in the free schools sector because they have the freedom to innovate.

– Given the variable quality in free schools what should be the accountability of schools.

Hultin: parents are the best to identify quality for their kids.  They need information to evaluate, but they should be able to make the choice.


10:30am Samira Ahmed now moves on to informal responses from Hultin’s presentation.  Three responses – Howard Jacobson, Lucy Heller and Stephen Heppell will respond.

Jacobson gives some background of his own teaching. His own difficult experiences, he says, are mild when compared with some of the responses of parents to education today.  Jacobson is disturbed by the notion of education always being comfortable and ‘validating the existence’ of current youth.  Children need to be taught that the nature of education is to ‘leave themselves’ – to be exposed to ideas and prospects that are outside their experience.  It is not merely a matter of vocational learning, but rather an opportunity to be culturally and socially enriched by different perspectives.  Education based on the principles of being consensual and fun is seriously flawed. Authority is intrinsic to education. That authority is fallible is no reason to be afraid of it.

Jacobson concludes that education is a birthright. What we are seeing now in this rise of ‘comfortable learning’ is disinheritance.

10:45 Stephen Heppell says he is exhilarated by where we are at the moment.  The model of incrementalism and managerialism has been desperately stultifying.  Heppell says he has enormous faith in teachers and parents to do better in education.  We’ve seen radical transformation since the end of the 20th century, where children can undertake concentrated, steady learning instead of being managed and directed by school bells and periods ending.  Collegiality and mutuality has begun to emerge as a characteristic of education.

Heppell says there has been a huge cultural shift recently in how positive education can be. The challenge is to ensure we don’t fall back in to that age of managerialism.  The passion for learning, scholarship and ambition need to be maintained rather than reverting to a period of KPIs from the last century.

We don’t often ask: how good can our children be?  We ask how good our school can be.  Heppell says C4 can focus attention on how good our children can be. In a broken world, which we might just be in, nothing is more important than that question.

10:50 Lucy Heller takes the stage.

Heller says that one of the advantages of coming last is that she gets the chance to reflect on all points. Heller says there is an opportunity for change.  A department for education is useful.  Education is miserably failing our children.  So many children fail to get even the most basic 5 GCSEs including English and Maths.  Given the budget plan to cut 25% spending in the public sector, there is a risk that education will be badly affected.  Not sure that the rise of the free school initiative will address underperforming schools and children who are most disadvantaged.

Heller says she trusts parents up to a point.  Parents who have had a poor experience of education don’t feel that they can have an investment in education.  Many parents don’t want to run schools.  They want an accountable school and they want someone to run it.  if running schools were easy then there’d be a lot of people doing it.  Heller wants it to be clear that there is an art – not a science – to running a school.  The whole of EU procurement is based on ticking boxes and following a process, not making a choice.  But for education there needs to be choices made for the value of schools.  Measurement – for the purposes of accountability – needs to be carefully crafted to ensure it doesn’t become another version of KPIs.

11:00am – Questions from the floor.

[JJ’s comment: I’ve been madly liveblogging so am not going to record every question… will just take notes on important points.]


11:30 Sam Coniff and Naomi Jane are up talking about what you did learn at school and never needed.  Naomi Jane founded 4WD to encourage young people to gain skills for their lives. Sam Coniff runs Livity – an organisation designed to make marketing and corporate environments useful for education.

The first thing that needs to be learned (and isn’t) is information deficit.  Students need to be able to understand how to access and process information you don’t know.  The consequence and relevance of where information can be useful is highly important.  This is something that can be addressed by teaching sources and methods for engaging with information, and exploration on contexts for use.  It’s not a matter, necessarily, of teaching all contexts and all ideas, but rather, facilitating discovery of these sources and contexts.

The relevance of education is particularly important for a growing sector of NEET – Not in Education, Employment and Training – youth. We need to accss and provide a context for engagement.  Consequential learning is valuable for understanding the options available to them and the options for future development.

The second thing that isn’t taught in schools (and needs to be) is creative expression. Limiting creativity in the classroom limits creative problem solving. It’s technically as important as maths.  It should be encouraged throughout the curriculum.

The third thing that is needed is peer-to-peer learning.  Many students are emotionally affected by happenings outside the classroom. Trauma management is often piecemeal.  The effects of the world on the learning of the child needs to be considered and facilitated.  Then there is an opportunity to channel entrepreneurial spirit into business, rather than offending.

Young people have limitless potential, but where teachers and institutions have limited expectations of pupils, then their fate is sealed.  Young parents produce ‘TINYs’ which become ‘At-Risk students’ who become ‘NEETs’ who then are between 200-400 times more like to be young offenders and young parents – and the cycle continues.

We can work to combat educational irrelevance through consequential learning.

12:10pm Marc Lewis ascends the stage, beginning with his own colourful background.

Lewis says that the model for reform of the ad industry can be used in other sectors.  As a sector, the ad industry is profit-oriented.  But if the industry doesn’t have sympathy for the cultural spectrum of its audience, then it fails to influence them.

In his school he has taken private investment to create scholarships for students to be educated on the advertising sector, and to start their businesses.  The curriculum for the school is written by the industry rather than academics.  There are no teachers – just mentors who write content in to the curriculum wiki.  They use case studies as a basis for learning and they give feedback to students on the basis of performance rather than on assessment tasks.

This method of industry nurturing and sponsorship is paramount to connecting with the communities the advertising sector wants to reach.  But it can be adapted for any industry.  All it takes is investment from the very communities that are likely to benefit from the investment.

12:20pm Questions from the floor

– How do you get these fantastic initiatives into the mainstream?

Conniff: Don’t know. Model is about meeting needs of the excluded rather than focusing on the included.

Lewis: Diversity doesn’t just mean using minority groups.  It’s about using shared spaces and programs that encourage people from any home to meet together and work and play to make a more integrated society – otherwise you just make more walled gardens

Jane: More of a dialogue than an easy answer.  Need to meet more and use case studies to demonstrate value to mainstream.

– How do you find people to interact with the young people you work with?

Conniff: we only use mentors, not teachers. We only use practitioners.  We do create curriculum.  We have a profile where we have people volunteering their services.

Jane: we focus on ripping apart the limitations which are applied to the ambitions of young people. Mentors come to us as people who share that vision.

Lewis: we found that getting a job wasn’t needed as a unit, but curriculum on how to get your first promotion.  There is a journey beyond getting a job.  when we see that the learner has understood the fundamentals, it’s important to challenge their boundaries.


12:35 Matt Locke comes to the stage to identify some of the highlights of the past year for Channel 4 in the education division.

Locke says that he got depressed in the first session but because of the rhetoric.  He was much more inspired by this next session – people who didn’t know what was right or wrong and stand from up high and make decisions about what others should do, but rather they got their hands dirty and helped foster curiosity.

At Channel 4 Locke feels projects have tried to do just that.  Starting with Science of Scams: was phenomenal to see the response to debunking of paranormal.  1066 is a SXSW winning game and broadcast series, but the game has just gone on and on.  Smokescreen was to teach teens what happens when you put information online.  Got some great feedback on the data matching outcomes from data sharing.  Then there was Bookstash – an app which lets teams share their love of books.  Finally there are two games just launching – Trafalgar Origins – a game that puts you in charge of missions around the time of the Battle of Trafalgar.  Similarly 303 Squadron game is designed to teach about World War I and II history and the notion of navigation.

Locke says that getting teens’ attention is getting harder.  But games give very high engagement.  In terms of search response, attention given through blogs and sharing of experiences is vital.  While celebrity endorsement may be useful, but frankly, social media savvy users is far more valuable than mere celebrity.  There’s also a feature of innovation versus familiarity.  sometimes learning experiences are more effective when the game play is familiar.

Locke asks the crucial question: how do we encourage and measure deep learning?  How do we design experiences that pique curiosity but also lead people to make active changes to their lives and to the issues about which they are passionate.  Locke says we need to be continually curious.

12:45 – LUNCH – Back later folks!


13:55 Alice Taylor begins the afternoon looking ahead to projects in education for C4 in the next year.

Taylor begins by talking about the tribes of users of C4 product.  She notes these tribes change on a very regular basis.  She also describes the vehicles for education – games, games+tv, apps+tv, apps.

The first project she demonstrates is a graphic novel,  Alien Ink. She notes that in spite of the characters being girls, that boys were picking this up, and that graphic novels are very accessible. She then describes Bookstash as a resource for kids to share their own experiences of books rather than general public expectations of what should be read.

The next project is Privates – a sexually transmitted disease education resource based on games and video which goes live in July. Also in July, The Curfew is a politics game designed to teach about public security and policy for a highly interventionist government (borderline fascism).

[JJ’s comment: The Curfew looks all kinds of awesome]

Battlefront II is also launching in July – new tools for the old concept.  But fabulous engagement from kids. Finally in July, Super Me is a site focused on mental health, with videos and games with stories about self-belief, confidence and positive thinking.

Then in September, Cover Girl is a media literacy game focused on informing girls about the construction of female images.  Can airbrush models, create stories, etc, in order to show your people that media is a faked sector. Also in Septemner Ada is a girls/science game.  This is based on a post-apocalyptic future, as a result of climate change/warfare. Then there’ll be a Science of… game like Science of Scams, but focusing possibly on Attraction.  This will be with Derren Brown again.  Finally for 2011 there’ll be a MiniMO, Afterlife, on death and beliefs.

In the game space C4 is also doing work on Territories, a Facebook game, Browken windows (crime prevention), a PC game, and a couple of others on mental health and citizenship.

Next year, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and happiness or mental health will be the focus of the programmes.  In terms of technologies, there’ll be more visualisation of data, mobile playspaces, etc.

Taylor says she wants to access teachers and the curriculum, but they focus on accessing teens and developing content to engage their interests rather than deriving works from curriculum.

14:25 Tom Chatfield is up talking about the inclusion revolution.  Chatfield says he seems games as engines for learning.

He begins by noting that play precedes culture – that it is experienced even in the animal world.  But there is a moment where conservative educationalists stop valuing play and believe learning must be formalised.  But play is universal and clearly valued in debate and discovery in mathematics.

The video games industry is already a US$50 billion industry.

If people are not participating they cannot succeed.  As Woody Allen says, 80% of success is showing up.  Trouble is that so much education is out of reach because young people have already been excluded.  With games, it’s possible to access those young people who have been otherwise excluded. Play is still at the front line of engaging young people with technology.  If we can tap in to play, it’s possible to pursue educational content.

Play and games have also transformed the notion of ‘failure’.  It has gone from being something that has not been achieved to something that has not yet been achieved.

Many conventions in technology and indeed in all aspects of society are counter-intuitive.  But games enable intuitive experimentation.  You’re ‘failing’ thousands of times a minute, but you are also learning what is possible.  Play then transforms failure into opportunities.

Finally, games take us on journeys that we would not otherwise take.  Because we can design worlds that can facilitate triggers for human memory and processing.  US military used Doom platform and mapped the territory to all US embassies of the world so that armed forces could learn about the spaces in which they would play the game.  In Assassin’s Creed II, as you fly over places in the game, details of the buildings of Rome used in the game come up.  Tourism is up in these regions as people explore the spaces in which they are playing.

Chatfield concludes that games enable everyone to participate:
Anyone can use;
Everyone wants to use;
Nobody is left behind.

14:50 Petra Boynton is up to talk about what we want from sex and relationships education (SRE).

We’re living through a very uncertain period about SRE.  Sex Ed isn’t statutory.  NICE currently doing consultation on SRE, due mid July.  There’s also a review of sexualisation which came out earlier int he year.  So there’s a preoccupation of a ‘problem’ about sex education but not a clear path for delivery of content and what should actually be in SRE.

Boynton notes that kids do have questions about sex and reltionships.  And SRE does in fact reduce early sex and teen pregnancy, STI proliferation, etc.  Parents do actually support sex education when it is packaged and explained appropriately – in terms of content, including communication, health issues, consent and exploitation, etc.

Problems with SRE are focused on inconsistent delivery, teachers are not empowered and there is little evidence-based content.  Parents, teachers and healthcare workers are often uninformed or their experiences are limited.  Further, many young people are excluded from sex education.  And because much existing sex ed is focused on sex and not relationships, the value of the information received is not as useful, because it’s not contextualised.

[JJ’s comment: there’s a discussion about parents not really being teribly informed about sex – agree with this utterly, but think it goes much further thn sex ed. Just because parents have had sex and have kids don’t mean they are informed. Similarly, just because people have a kid don’t mean they have a clue about parenting.]

Much media reporting is deliberately provocative and focuses on fault for issues like multiple abortions and the extent and style of sex education delivered to young children.  It’s counter productive.

There is also the issue of sexualisation and the blaming of women for sexually provocative behaviour.  Young people want to learn about relationships, communication and techniques.  They are asking for content. Our challenge is to work out how to get what they want to them.

[JJ’s comment – now questions from the floor, but not covering. I’m disappointed with how few people are here at this conference.  Education has got to be one of the most important issues today and this event is providing useful information and opportunity for engagement.  It’s a darned shame more are not here. ]

15:20 Martin Bright, former political editor of New Statesman and education editor of the Observer, and now a teacher of journalism in university, is up talking about creative industries education.

Bright says that the creative industries are likely to be the instrument of economic recovery.  Growth in creative industries is double that of the rest of the economy.  Employment may well be equivalent to the financial sector in the course of the next few years.

Bright’s view is that we need to start teaching young people that with a desk, a phone and a fast broadband connection, you can set up a business and become an entrepreneur.  This is how New Deal of the Mind was started.  But this kind of approach needs a few caveats. It still needs money and reputation to truly grow a business.

Policy decisions have now removed some of the initiatives to support education about creativity, and this is potentially going to affect the development of the creative sector.  We need now to think about how we can bridge the gap between employment in the creative sector and educational institutions and informal learning.  More of these projects may help support the growth of the sector.

15:50 Rachel Wolf is up as a keynote, discussing the Swedish school system again and on the New Schools Network Charity.

Wolf notes that in the US, there are some extraordinary schools in very poor areas, where socio-economic backgrounds were being challenged and students were gaining results to enter Ivy League universities.  She noted that her observation of these schools was astonishing, and the quality of education was profound.

She describes the Charter School Centre, which gave operational help into setting up sustainable Charter schools.  She noted that the Centre didn’t set curriculum, but rather the business process and the issues with dealing with poor communities.

On her return to the UK, Wolf set up the New Schools Charity to do a similar job to the Charter School Centre, in assisting the needs of poor communities to set up new, free schools.

The new Coalition government has enabled the setting up of new schools.  But people who wish to set up these schools need to be able to demonstrate demand, they need to show that they are not peddling extremist content,and they need to show that the business model of the school is viable.

The New Schools Network is helping people prepare these applications to government to bring to life the dream of customised educational experiences for parents who are otherwise beholden unto the postcode lottery for school zoning.

16:15 Zenna Atkins mounts the stage for the final session of the day. She notes that nothing she says is the view of OFSTED.

She says she is here to talk about the future of UK education.  One of the big changes she identifies is the power-shift towards the consumer or customer. Consumers are more informed, but there has also been a shift in terms of accountability and the power of parents in the classroom.

She tells the story of her son with a riot in the classroom, which her son videoed. There is a power shift in favour of evidence, and teachers are being videoed, or at least monitored by students.  Everyone has the same access to materials.

There is also a shift towards parent responsibility.  Parents can now look and see the results of all exams down to the averages on question results in schools compared with the national average.  This puts some pressure on teaching particularly where a class or a school is identified as under-performing.

the other shift worth exploring is the growth of technology use and adoption. The most obvious change in technological engagement with education is through games.  She describes Nintendog and Football Manager as mechanisms for learning.  We are going to learn differently.

The most important aspect of learning is the relationship between student and the teacher.  But good teachers need not fear these power shifts and technology shifts, because for good teachers, these instruments will enhance what they are teaching.  2-dimensional text based learning is not dying,but it is at least being augmented by video content.  Further, handheld learning is a vehicle for understanding.  Yet extraordinarily, some schools are banning mobiles on entry.

Won’t talk about policy drivers, but it feels like the policy is recognising the value of new school models.

But there’s another shift that is worth recognising is the reputation of education.  There are serious questions about the credibility of education which doesn’t prepare young people for vocations, and indeed for basic literacy and numeracy.  50% of parents didn’t get 5 GCSEs with English and Maths. Yet we tell students that if they don’t get 5 GCSEs then they are a failure.  We confuse the brand of education.

Final shift in education is the notion of there being no money and that cuts are going to mean front line education services will change. We need to look at ways we can deal with these cuts.  We need to look at innovation in economies of scale – partner arrangements with business, insourcing, efficiencies and cost analysis within the business.  Reengineering of business models are required, but these should be related to the outcome for the learner.  Finally we need to extract untapped value in education systems.  If parents spent 15 minutes a day discussing the content of their education during the day, then you knock 2 years off the costs of education.  Parents do need to engage more with the educational processes.  The Tesco self service model needs to be applied to education.

Kids need global, community driven, and collaborative learning.  This should be the future of education.


There are questions but I’m closing here.  It’s been a good day and I hope this liveblog has been useful.  Night all!

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