Mass education across the UK is arguably one of our greatest achievements historically. Our idea of modernity bought with it an education for all and the introduction of compulsory schooling. However, by its very definition, mass schooling tends to cater to the mass majority, whilst others fall through the cracks of the current systems.
There are numerous studies that demonstrate how we all learn in completely different ways. Writing, reading, and listening might work for some to take in information, but for others interactivity and two-way communication is key. Some can learn independently for extended periods, comfortably sitting still in their chairs at their desk and performing routine tasks. Others find sitting still to be uncomfortable, and need shorter activities with regular movement, changing environments and engaging stimulus. In other words, within a class of 30 there will be young people with different ways of optimised learning, which cannot be accommodated by setting one task for the entire class to complete simultaneously. They will always invariably suit one way of learning over another and therefore only fully engage a section of the classroom.
Delivering education flexibly
Artists like myself who use non-formal workshop techniques in schools can address these needs in ways that current school systems are unable to practically accommodate. Our workshops are able to be interactive while also incorporating movement, seating, and activities of varied length – allowing for both stimulated group interaction and independent working. This means we can have various activities and accommodations running at the same time, during the same two-hour session. One of the most important parts is adapting the lessons on the spot to suit student’s needs as the workshop unfolds, and to be flexible in delivery.
Classrooms would benefit from being able to adopt similar approaches – offering multiple activities that encapsulate a variety of learning styles and engagement techniques while simultaneously adapting to students' individual requirements. More varied educational techniques like this would allow students needs to be met, and result in fewer students being failed by educational systems.
Flexibility and adaptation are the keys here, and they shouldn’t be limited to the classroom. The same should be applied to the policies and rules the school enforces. Schools always have blanket rules and guidelines in place that each student must adhere to, whether this be regarding uniform, school facility use, lateness, or any number of other areas. Recent years have seen some of these policies make headlines due to parents' grievances and perceived pettiness of some school rules. Again, this one-size-fits-all approach to policies have been designed to be applicable to everyone, without considering how some will fall through the cracks in the application.
Some rules are necessary to ensure chaos does not ensue, but equally some rules could benefit from being more flexible and applied on an individual, case by case basis. This would be less ‘one rule fits all’ and more adapting as needed. The problem with one set of rules for all students is that sometimes such rules – when applied in specific circumstances – can completely circumvent common sense. Sometimes individual judgement should be used, which could then change a student’s whole experience of the schooling system and secure their success.
One example is the numerous reported instances of where the child was sent home for their skirt or trousers being ‘too short’ despite being unable to find clothing that would accommodate the school's rules  . Other examples include disabled young people who are frequently penalised for low attendance despite it being the result of illness or hospital visits  . Similarly, students are penalised for uniform choices or failure to bring in the necessary forms, despite this possibly being beyond their control – their adults could be experiencing financial hardship, or the child could come from a troubled home. There are any number of circumstances that could be in play, but an inflexible policy doesn’t allow for those considerations.
A system strained
Unfortunately there are a number of issues with our schooling systems which makes implementing these ideas nearly impossible. For one, our schools are already ridiculously overcrowded, with more students than ever filling our classrooms while also seeing a reduction in the number of teachers to support them. This makes accommodating individual needs more impractical as there simply isn’t the capacity to offer that support.
Equally, there isn’t enough space in a school to accommodate areas for movement or immersive techniques. Classrooms are packed to the brim with tables and chairs with few other interactive or less formal spaces on offer except for the drama, dance or P.E departments.
Similarly, teachers are already stretched for time when planning one lesson for 30 students, let alone having time to adapt this to 30 changing needs. The workload is already eating into their evenings and weekends. The flexibility and customisations mentioned above requires even more preparation, which non-formal workshop facilitators can accommodate in their working hours, but teachers simply can’t.
Finally, exams and tests are really only set up to accommodate specific learning styles, which in itself leads to schools favouring certain teaching methods in order to gain the results they require in their league tables. Ultimately, students whose learning styles differ from those favoured for exam results can become neglected and therefore unnecessarily slip through the cracks.
To implement the strategies outlined in this article, schools would need much more funding to provide the teaching and individual support staffing required. At the moment schools are vastly underfunded which means it is currently not possible to make such ideas reality. More funding to provide varied educational techniques, flexible learning and more individual accommodation of needs would save students from slipping through these sybeing disadvantaged by these systems.