Free Schools in a Digital Age

Continuing with the Free School theme this week, there would appear to be three common reasons why someone would want to open a new school that’s publicly funded and operates alongside existing school provision even where there are already sufficient school places in the area:

1) You think you can do what schools are already doing but YOU can do it a lot better. (A good option for egocentrics and narcissists.)
2) You think schools should go back to the age when teachers all wore university gowns, pupils all learned to speak Latin and Greek, and every pupil achieved the highest academic grades. (Admittedly a fictional age, but no matter.)
3) You think that our existing school provision is based mainly on a 19th Century paradigm of learning and teaching and is failing pupils by focusing almost exclusively on a “standards agenda” that cares for little else besides preparing pupils for high achievement in traditional high-stakes tests and exams. You also believe that a different type of pedagogy is needed to equip children and young people for life in a fast-changing world that is unpredictable, challenging and potentially highly enriching in every sense.

In previous blog posts we’ve written about a Free School that belongs in the third category – School21 in East London:

Yesterday we heard on Radio 4’s World At One about a ‘progressive’ Free School that’s due to open in West London next year. The driving force behind this school is Ian Livingstone, a man who has accumulated various honours and enormous respect as a result of his success in the world of business and ICT.

On the radio he spoke persuasively about our “archaic” education system, and about his passion for “meta skills” – creativity, problem-solving, imagination, communication, collaborative learning, information processing, and various other “life skills”. He stressed the importance of relevance, engagement, play and enjoyment. He wants children to learn how to write code for computers and create their own games and applications. He pointed out that children are by nature playful and problem-solvers, and that children are able to learn a great deal about themselves as a result of active/collaborative/interactive learning. “Traditional” schooling concentrates on learning ‘facts’ about what’s “out there”. Successful individuals invariably have a proper understanding of themselves – their strengths & weaknesses, likes & dislikes – which of course change over time.

Livingstone Ian

Mr Livingstone spoke about his commitment to helping children to memorise essential information that enables them to function well in the world, but pointed out that in the digital age “facts” are freely available to anyone with a smartphone – in an instant. He’s clearly not in the camp that believes so-called “cultural capital” is an essential acquisition for everyone who wants to be considered “educated”. In fact as a leading light in the world of computer games he presumably has a hard time from people who dismiss gaming as a waste of young people’s time and energy when they could be reading the classics and participating in highbrow culture.

You can find out more about the educational ideas of Ian Livingstone in this article –

and in this video –

We wish Ian Livingstone well with his determination to put in place an exciting vision of learning and teaching for the 21st Century.
His YouTube/TED talk ends with this poem:

Don’t impose on me what you know,
I want to explore the unknown
and be the source of my own discoveries.
Let the known be my liberation, not my slavery.

The world of your truth can be my limitation;
Your wisdom, my negation.
Don’t instruct me, let’s learn together.
Let my riches begin where yours ends.

Show me so that I can stand
On your shoulders.
Reveal yourself so that I can be
something different.

You believe that every human being
can love and create.
I understand, then, your fear
when I ask you to live according to your wisdom.

You will not know who I am
By listening to yourself.
Don’t instruct me; let me be.
Your failure is that I be identical to you.

Humberto Maturana

Don’t instruct me, let’s learn together.” This is clearly a key idea for Ian Livingstone. For more on this theme please read these posts:

Education done to students. Traditional approaches to teaching and learning as well as the more recent “no excuses” model for schooling are driven by essentially paternalistic assumptions: Learning is reduced to a discrete body of knowledge to be imparted by the teacher and deposited in the student.

Education done with students shifts the teaching and learning focus away from outcomes (tests), standards, content, and the teacher by honoring each learner as the primary source for teaching and learning.
The Difference


Some of us have serious reservations about state-funded Free Schools and the way in which they are being set up – which is opaque, to say the least. For this reason we strongly support Laura McInerney’s efforts to have access to some key documents that will shed light on the whole process of vetting, approving or rejecting proposals for Free Schools. (See previous blog post)

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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