Education think tank Demos recently published promising research that supports ASDAN’s methodology. Demos undertook a two-year pilot programme, concluding that giving students greater control and independence to lead collaborative projects during school hours helps tackle educational disengagement.
The project, which targeted Key Stage 3 pupils in four secondary schools across England between 2013 and 2015, tested whether ‘co-production’ could encourage at-risk students to re-engage with learning.
Co-production seeks to involve users in service delivery and design and has already been proven in health and social care sectors. Demos set out to explore whether the concept could be extended to education in order to test whether it could transform what it calls an ‘emerging engagement crisis’ in English schools.
Students were given the opportunity to work with teachers and school staff to set their own learning goals and undertake projects outside of lessons that would make positive changes to the school environment. The results showed increased confidence in the students, the development of soft skills, and better relationships with teachers.
ASDAN’s methodology is a form of co-production. Like the Demos project, we require students to take more control over their learning by allowing them greater freedom to choose the challenges they undertake.
Our successful Key Steps programme, also aimed at Key Stage 3 students, gives learners the flexibility to choose challenges from a wide range of modules on PSHE and citizenship as well as the chance to undertake activities outside the classroom. Students can show their interest in or commitment to a particular area of learning by linking a series of shorter activities to create a ‘deeper learning’ challenge. Learners can receive a certificate for completing 30, 60 or 90 hours of activities. As part of the course, students develop skills in teamwork, learning and coping with problems.
The national curriculum is too formal and rigid for many students. Teenagers are not best known for their willingness to comply and if they are not being given flexible learning options, many will opt out, become disengaged and end up getting left behind. This undermines their life chances and it harms our economy if schools are producing young people who lack confidence, motivation and key skills. Leaving space in the curriculum for young people’s interests, allowing them greater freedom about what they learn, and awarding certificates for achievable goals will help tackle rising levels of disengagement. More must be done to ensure young people go on to become lifelong learners who know how to develop new skills in the workplace and take responsibility for their progress.