I love Ken Robinson, and think he makes a lot of really good points in the talk above. I think he’s right that the systems of education that I have encountered (English National Curriculum & International Baccalaureate) can squeeze out individualism, talent and passion in exchange for all students meeting mandatory minimums in the areas of knowledge & skill that policymakers believe society values.

I was recently teaching about organizational structures and the impact they can have on the culture of a business. We were looking at the employee handbook for Valve, a video game company, that has (or claims to have) a flat organizational structure, where employees aren’t answerable to layers of management, and can really flex their creative muscle. This, Valve claims, removes the organizational barriers that prevent people putting their creativity to work – the kind of barriers that obliterate 99% of their value as employees.

It was a nifty little case study, but one of my students asked an interesting question: “Schools are supposed to be about developing our creativity, aren’t they? So why don’t we have this kind of structure?” They bounced it around a little, talking about how students weren’t employees (true) and that we weren’t comparing like with like (also true), before another kid took us back to the first quote we read as the real answer to the question:

“Hierarchy is great for maintaining predictability and repeatability. It simplifies planning and makes it easier to control a large group of people from the top down, which is why military organizations rely on it so heavily.”

The success of every school I have ever worked in is measured by the outcomes at the pointy end, and those are almost always exam results. Most schools (especially those that find themselves ranked in public league tables) want to see modest, sustainable, upward trends to their results year-on-year. This shows not only improvement, but stability. To get this as headteacher, you build a culture of rigidity – you don’t employ the teacher who turns up to interview looking like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, you look for the steady pair of hands who’s going to improve your value added scores – because that’s the only yardstick you’re measured by.

Flourishing is a nice term, but it can’t be measured in a meaningful way (and certainly not to contribute to league tables) so instead we stick to what we know: a 99.4% pass rate, with 84.8% of grades being A* to C is very impressive. These are the results from Greenhead College, the #1 Sixth Form college in England, and a place with far higher student suicide rates than the national average.

All of this being said, I think it’s quite easy to lament the state of education today, and forget the enormous strides made over the last century in developing levels of literacy, numeracy, etc to the point they are currently at. His point about revolution over evolution might be overstated a bit – we definitely seem to be at a bit of a crossroads, but even a serious shift in approaches to schooling (which is what he really meant by education) could be described as the next stage in its evolution.

Great talk.