By | June 8, 2018

I am speaking this weekend at the Cambridge Festival of Education, probably the most optimistic education festival in the world!

Creating the Flamingo 50

There are 14 fabulous workshops so I suspect I may be in a room with a handful of people. But what a task that handful will have – to create the Flamingo 50. The 50 things every child should know, have done or be able to do by the time they are 18.

We will be drawing on the first 6 months of Every Child Should – interviewing children, young adults, parents and teachers on what a rich and rounded education entitlement looks like for every child; and reviewing this year’s100 plus charity, think tank and corporate papers each making the pitch for the one essential thing that every child should learn.

This is our first exercise in working with a group of clever people to move from 100s to 50 – and the resulting Flamingo 50 will wing its way off to take the debate to its next level.

We have reviewed some great cultural passports (here and here) from schools and – given our focus on the 500 000 children who possibly a need rich and rounded entitlement the most – we have looked at the very best in inclusive practice.

Any of the things on the Flamingo 50 are almost certainly to be hard to argue against. So, whether it is taking kids up on the deck of a rocking boat to feel the wind in their hair while also learnng to manage risk (Rae Snape) or music for all in every school (Mark Lehain) or our original ‘10 things’ few resist many of the individual items.

Delivering an entitlement to enrichment in every school

But there has been push back against creating an entitlement to enrichment, to trips and to a broad portfolio of activities.

These arguments fall broadly into 5 areas:

Developing resources, partnerships and learning to support entitlement

And, of course, key in a time of underfunded schools – there is a widely held view that a lack of financial, human and other resources is limiting the ability of schools to offer a rich and rounded entitlement. So alongside developing the Flamingo 50 the workshop is looking at practical advice on how to create partnerships, funding and space to build school capacity to answer questions on what free resources your particular school might be able to draw upon (education charities have over £1billion of funding a year – there are places to go for help!)

Knowledge rich v enrichment

But the 5th resistance to creating a rich and rounded entitlement is the one I want to challenge ahead of the event.

There is a view that trips, learning outdoors, school councils, volunteering or school plays; learning to light a fire or shoot a bow and arrow, to debate or to wrestle, to make mud pies or gooseberry fool are somehow frivolous. Many are – say it quietly – fun. They are not delivered in a didactic manner. They involve movement. They don’t always focus on direct instruction. Lots don’t seem to immediately link to exam outcomes. There is a view they are approaches to learning that are somehow ‘less than’ direct instruction or counter to ‘knowledge rich’.

Which is, frankly, flamingo poo.

This is an excellent summary of what many mean by knowledge rich curriculum. And to be honest I think it would be a struggle to find many educators who didn’t agree. It’s certainly how I learnt curriculum design during teaching training (a long time ago).

Of course we might disagree which actually is the best of knowledge to form the basis of the curriculum (more from dead white straight able men anyone?) and the subjects and domains that form the framework for the curriculum (physics over computer science; MFL over sign language GCSE; history over drama – these are fundamentally questions of class and personal preference rather than having any basis in academic or career thinking – and let’s stop pretending otherwise).

I suspect we also disagree about the balance between the different types of knowledge. Emily Seber described this wonderfully in her TES article today; that to get content knowledge we need a combination of procedural and personal knowledge alongside ‘facts’ (propositional knowledge). Understanding and the ability to apply knowledge comes from a combination of these things.

But the fundamental principles of a knowledge rich approach are sound. And lend themselves to a range of experiences (wait while I refer to experiential and a small explosion happens somewhere in education land). These experiences reinforce and weave into an entitlement to an enriched school offer that builds cultural, social and community capital and supports the development of procedural and personal knowledge. And while extra-curricular is great, for equity many of these experiences should take place during the school day.

The Snail

So let’s take the real life tale of the children studying Matisse’s The Snail. The year 5 class studied the picture. They learnt the propositional knowledge attached to the picture – who Matisse was, where he lived, what influenced him. They recreated snail images. Went hunting for snails. Explored the Fibonacci sequence (as an aside to be clear that anyone who says art is the only place for beauty really never studied numbers).

These were multiple approaches making connections between different domains. Building on minibeasts in EYFS, contrasting colours in year 2, French words in year 3. They explored. They moved about. They cut and pasted with glue and with computers to make their own images. They worked in groups with one child as leader giving instructions on where to put things developing their oracy and team work and listening skills (and replicating the way that Matisse instructed his staff in creating the image).

The creative and enriching set of activities supported – indeed drove – a knowledge rich curriculum. There was teacher direct instruction. There was child centred learning. It was sometimes from books and sometimes touching real stuff in the mud.

But the real moment of learning, the point at which it all came together, was the visit to the Tate.

For many children this was their first visit to an art gallery. That they were supported by the teacher to know how to act and to how to behave was important but also the teacher engendered a sense of entitlement that this space was as much for them to own as anyone else. That they belonged and could come back anytime. This – showing children a world outside of their own and giving them the skills and sense of their rights of access is surely part of the purpose of education – part of the development of personal knowledge and social capital? And this alone was worth the trip.

But it wasn’t what they took my breath away.

It was the moment the children walked into the room.

Because this is the image of The Snail that they had been working with. From a book or projected on a screen.

And this is the picture in The Gallery.

They literally (yep I am using that word) breathed in and paused. It was so (deliberately) unexpected. It was a moment of surprise and awe. And then the words came tumbling out at once. The questions. The excitement. The interest. And the realisation that art galleries weren’t boring. That books aren’t enough. That this was their space they could learn in and from.

This is what we mean by an entitlement to rich and rounded.

So. Flamingos on the day and those who are with us virtually. What are our 50 magic moments of awe? What are the 50 experiences that we need to ensure that all children and young people have? And how do we work together to make sure that all children and young people have an entitlement to a rich and rounded set of experiences that build social, cultural and community capital for life?