RSA Academy – let the success continue

November 23, 2010 by
Filed under: The RSA 

Yesterday was a proud day for the RSA. Our President, Prince Philip, officially opened the new building of our RSA Academy in Tipton. Indeed, as he himself noted, this was the second time he had ‘opened’ the school having visited back in 2009 when the school officially came under RSA governance.

Our inspirational Principal, Mick Gernon, got the proceedings off to a great start by telling us that the school is now in the top one percent of performers in terms of improvement in pupils’ overall attainment. After some words from our President pupils then showed us around the new buildings which, as well as their many other qualities, were custom built to enable the teaching of our Opening Minds curriculum.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Academy is to see such a nationally prestigious institution based where it is. As I said in my previous blog, I am a great fan of the West Midlands (despite West Brom’s terrible form) but I’m sure I won’t be insulting anyone if I say that few people would have associated an area like Tipton, in the black country, with cutting edge innovation. As well as providing brilliant education, the Academy is both transforming expectations among pupils (all last year’s sixth formers who wanted to went to the universities of their choice to do the course of their choice) and changing the way a community sees itself and is seen from outside.

There was however one small cloud overt the proceedings. This week – in fact tomorrow – will see the Coalition’s schools white paper. In this we will find out more about how Michael Gove intends to reconcile his commitment to devolving more power to schools and teachers with his somewhat prescriptive views about what should be in the curriculum and how it should be taught.

I don’t have any problem with the idea that every pupil should acquire key areas of knowledge – although I think we should avoid the mistake that beset Kenneth Baker’s original national curriculum; swamping teachers with content they have to cram into the curriculum. But I also believe that knowledge can be taught through a competencies based curriculum such at the RSA’s Opening Minds. Yesterday, in the lessons we observed, the pupils were acquiring lots of knowledge but not through chalk and talk but by through working together in groups on projects structured around key competencies.

The RSA academy is a success story and I believe the  Society is poised to play a bigger role by working with more schools to offer engaging, demanding and innovative learning within intelligent institutions. So I, like many other champions of broadly progressive education, will be hoping that Michael Gove balances his own preferences for learning with the need to allow a wide range of successful practice in schools.



  • Paul Nash

    I was fortunate enough both to have attended yesterday’s opening and to have undertaken a very small amount of voluntary work with one of the Academy’s entrepreneur projects. I also have the advantage of knowing the school in question in a former life so I can speak with some knowledge.

    The young people I have had contact with were amazing. Their confidence in themselves was a joy to behold. The place is very impressive on two counts. Firstly it is designed around what it is intended to delivery and that makes a palpable difference. Secondly it is making a difference in an area of the Black Country that has had significant challenges over the years.

    Note, I’m not talking about just the financial investment which is significant but the approach and the results of that approach. My view? Well done and let’s see it implemented in other places where they face similar challenges.

  • Carl Chinn

    I think that the benchmarks that teachers are required to follow now (at least in America) are sort of a double edged sword that I think you’ve touched on in your 21 CE animation. We’re socially influenced by the presence of important intellectual ideas circulating but that there is also an autonomous side of consciousness that may not always be interested in the material being covered in the benchmarks.

    As you also noted in your animation, education is crammed into the first quarter of our lives so that we can graduate our institutions and start making money faster but as another RSA animation by Dan Pink points out, people who are given fiscal incentives for cognitive tasks, do poorer at them and combining this fact with the developmental psychological stance that reinforcement works better when an immediate reward is given rather than a promise of one later which was also in an RSA animation, it can be seen that benchmarks can only do so much in regards to getting students to actively engage the material that these benchmarks are throwing out there.

    As a graduate student, I am only now beginning to engage the material I’m learning outside of class and half of that is only because I’m in control of the classes that I’m taking. I think it would be interesting to see some sort of a system whereby the students are given some measure of autonomy when considering their education. I’m sure that if we weren’t all in a rush to get out of school and get a job that we would probably expand our educational lives throughout our lives in their entirety.

    I really enjoyed the 21 CE enlightenment speech and look forward to seeing more of your work!

  • oldandrew

    I’m just reading chapter 2 “The Rise and Fall of Progressive Education” in Diane Ravitch’s “The Troubled Crusade” about post war education in the US. Apparently project work, groupwork and breaking the disciplinary boundaries were very popular in the US in the 1940s.

    “cutting edge innovation” my arse.