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"It's school, Jim, but not as we know it."


OK. So nobody actually, said that in Star Trek, ever. Nor did they say "Beam me up, Scottie!" But it doesn't matter. It's a nice bit of popular culture that I can hitch my wagon to for the purposes of today's thoughts.


There's a concept in Geography, more particularly in Development Studies, which is called intermediate or appropriate technology. A kind of halfway house between the kind of kit we have in more economically developed countries (we used to call these MEDCs, but I think there is a trendier word for them now) and less economically developed countries (LEDCs). A cow for a guy who couldn't afford (or maintain, or understand, or drive) a tractor, so he could plough his field more quickly; a bicycle for a midwife in rural Tanzania who could see three or four times as many patients as she could on foot, but who couldn't drive (or afford, or maintain, or understand) a car and probably couldn't find a road to drive it on anyway. That sort of thing. These things transformed millions of lives. But they weren't complicated or expensive. Nor did they get countries into massive debt. They were stepping stones.


We need an intermediate technology solution for schools right now. If, for 'guy who couldn't afford a tractor' you read 'teenager who hasn't got broadband at home' you will get the idea. A model for school in 2020-21 and beyond which can transform millions of pupils' lives. A stepping stone. One that means we don't all have to be packed into school buildings like sardines but which also means we can go on learning.


Two places that I frequented last year helped me to crystallise my ideas: the health club at my local Holiday Inn and the Extended Learning Centre (ELC) where I was, briefly, Data and Exams Manager in Coventry. Both are places with a long membership list. Both can only accomodate a small percentage of those who require use of their facilities at any particular point in time. But, as organisations, they work well.


There are people on hand in both places to point me in the right direction - personal trainers in the health club and key workers in the ELC. There are scheduled classes if I want to go to them - Zumba in the health club and English Literature in the ELC (I learned more about Macbeth sitting in on Maureen's English lessons than I did in years of study at Eton). There's expensive equipment that I can use to work towards my goals in both places - state of the art treadmills in the health club and computers and reliable Internet connections in the ELC. Surely, if I can improve my health by dropping into the club a few times a week, I can do the same for my education by dropping in to the 'Learning Club' as well? It would be "school ... but not as we know it", and we wouldn't have to be herded around like flocks of bewildered sheep all day. What's more, we could manage our own time when we weren't at Learning Club, go to places like museums, art galleries, concerts, lectures and conventions wherever we liked. We would learn by 'guided experience'. I like that phrase. I've just invented it, I think.


Now, I am well aware that this throws up more questions than it answers. This isn't going to work for primary schools. It would be like letting a toddler loose in the weights room at the gym - somebody would drop something on their toes and get hurt. But I think it has its merits for Key Stage 3 and beyond; for those who could reasonably be expected to look after themselves for short periods of time on the days they weren't due in 'Learning Club'. Pupils would still check in for face-to-face lessons a few times a week, only it would be English, Maths and French instead of Zumba, Pilates and Yoga. We'd still need teachers, but we wouldn't need so much space. And we could make do with much less kit than we have in secondary schools right now.


I want to develop this idea some more with people who have experience of alternative provision ... and, ideally, of health clubs as well. So I'll be setting up a group chat on Facebook for the 'Classroom After the Storm' group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1520015751509686). If you would like to be in on the chat, please 'join' our group by following the link above and we'll fix a time that works for everyone. We would love to hear from you.















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