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Bucking the exam factory trend – Real World Learning good for students and teachers, says report

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Real world learning offers lessons for all schools, says an independent report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), commissioned by the Edge Foundation and published today (7 June 2019).

Researchers conducted a study of real-world learning (RWL) in School 21 in Stratford, East London and XP School, in Doncaster, to examine the theoretical thinking, the common practices used and assess how well the model works.

While the emphasis in each school was slightly different – School 21’s focus is on oracy and XP School is characterised by its learning ‘expeditions’ – both schools employ the principles of Expeditionary Learning and share many qualities. Not least that they are both rated by Ofsted as Outstanding.

Edge Chief Executive, Alice Barnard, said,

‘Whilst radically different in some ways, these two schools share a commitment to prepare their pupils for the real world. Speaking to the articulate, confident young professionals who are their students, you can see immediately the impact of these approaches. We were delighted to ask NFER to provide an independent view. We will share these lessons which are helping us to support other schools through Edge Future Learning.’

The NFER researchers identified several common characteristics of the two schools:

  • An overarching whole-school ethos valuing authentic work relevant to the real world
  • An emphasis on the development of young people’s character, especially their communication skills
  • Open-minded, creative and collaborative leadership
  • Development and delivery of a broad curriculum via projects/expeditions
  • Awareness of and involvement with the local community
  • A strong emphasis on CPD with additional days for planning.

Tami McCrone, Senior Research Manager at NFER said,

‘Preparing young people to be successful in the world of work is important to help build their confidence and to equip them with the skills to make them employable. It was clear that the young people attending these schools were very aware of the real world and how their learning related to the workplace. They recognised that they were part of the community outside the school gates and their enhanced communication skills were noted by employers.’

In conclusion, the report acknowledges that both School 21 and XP are new and small schools which lend themselves to the design principles of RWL, but make recommendations to senior school leaders as to how some elements could be transferred to other schools.

  • Reflect on school characteristics and values and embed any revised principles and values
  • Encourage risk-taking – by students and staff
  • Consider how change could be progressively introduced eg by year group
  • Explore opportunities for external partnerships and real-world learning
  • Dedicate senior leader and staff time to build and nurture local employer relationships so students feel part of their local community and can see where their education fits into the working world
  • Expand time allowed for progressive CPD programme based on ‘teachers as learners’.

The report, School 21 and XP Real world learning, is part of Edge Future Learning, the Edge Foundation’s work with schools and colleges to spread innovation approaches, support schools and teachers to embed real-world learning into their curriculum and develop profound employer engagement and careers advice.

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