In a political climate where politicians’ are pushing to increase class sizes, some schools are earning a gleaming reputation for pushing back against the norm and keeping classes small.
We are in a time of flux with standardised tests, the debate as to whether the pressure from GCSE's and SAT's are too disruptive to pupil mental health are ongoing. Meanwhile the same non-conformist schools have thrown out exams all together. Where the modern day school system demands uniformity, California based High Tech High asks their pupils not to wear a uniform.
‘We have been very intentional at High Tech High about keeping our class sizes, team sizes and school sizes small...This allows us to build that sense of community and collaboration.’
Subject of a 2018 documentary "Most Likely to Succeed" High Tech High is a school proactively doing things differently. A place where pupils tend to be separated by what they are learning rather than their age group. A place where subject boundaries are fluid and are often taught simultaneously by focusing on project based learning. For example Physics and Art are conceivably one of the most unlikely pairings which result in life size Escher styled staircases which seemingly go nowhere being hand crafted and displayed by pupils. Science projects merge with environmental to see students measuring the local waterways and feeding their data into larger scope university projects.
By stark contrast to the Escher staircases this Montessori style school in California has pupils who certainly go somewhere as 95% of its students enter university education. The schools two month long internships that every student undertakes sees them experiencing tech companies, art museums and fertility clinics as part of their personal development. One student was quoted as saying "‘it was such a powerful experience, It’s made me realise I want to work in midwifery.’
Surprisingly High Tech High is a state funded charter school like the UK's free schools. It doesn’t discriminate on who gets to join. The classes boast SEN pupils and financially disadvantaged kids in relatively high percentages.
As we wrote about in our article on the Finnish school system. It seems that an ethos and culture innately embedded in a schools DNA can instil into pupils a desire and love of learning. This seems to translate into better results and more well-rounded successful individuals.
The culture of High Tech High is a flagship concept in new wave schooling. Envisioned by Educational leader Larry Rosenstock, Silicon Valley tech billionaire Irwin Jacobs and a team of civic heads and teachers who sought to redesign the entire system with notions of deep learning and holistic development at its core.
‘In our maths class, the teacher explains a concept. Then we all must go away and use this concept to create our own problem and solution – and then come back and teach the rest of the class. It’s a really powerful way to learn. And sometimes it’s easier to understand from your peers than a teacher.’
The school is visited by 5000 influencers and educators every year seeing celebrity visitors such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill gates through its doors. The pupils this type of free range education is spawning are confident, critical thinkers whose maturity and collaborative skills have been cultivated through constant collaborate activity in teams.
Their creativity is nurtured and given as much importance as the basic fundamentals such as English and Maths. This core subjects are mandatory but the options to venture into coding, language, politics, engineering and environment are there.
The landscape is changing and it seems Britain may be getting left behind in an outdated and regressive methodology. There are still some UK schools adopting new ideas and undertaking Dead Poets Society style mentoring but they are amongst the few not the plenty.
High Tech High students working on a robotics project.
The quality and style of international education is shifting towards pupil-centric ideals. Soon it's likely the face of schooling will have a new look. One not designed to produce workers for the factories, subservient and hardworking but instead, free thinkers with diverse critical thinking skills who are better equipped to take on the challenges being presented by the digital age.
Where do you stand on this new type of schooling? Would it work in the UK? Does your school embrace change? Let us know in the comments or on our social media channels.
Schools wishing to trial standing desks as part of their own new wave thinking can trial them here: Schools Student Standing Desk Trial
The BBC have produced a short video documenting their interviews with three primary school head teachers who say they feel completely unsupported by the government when it comes to offering mental health support to their pupils.
The BBC say there has been a 50% increase in referrals to mental health services for pupils aged 11 and under in the last 3 years.
"I think the government needs to decide whether they want us to be social workers and mental health workers or educators."
- Sue Blair, Pennine Way Primary School
Staff members at Pennine Way School were said to have cried together over the things they have been told by their pupils with mental health needs. They have seen children who self-harm on the premises by banging their heads against walls.
Freedom of information requests have shown that there have been 191 self-harm incidents within school walls since 2015.
"I find it really abhorrent, there's nothing that we can realistically do, that is going to give the child the help that that child needs."
Clem Coady, Head teacher, Stoneraise School
One in 10 primary school children aged five to 10 has an identifiable mental health condition. In serious cases schools are told to escalate the issues and refer to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) One head teacher explained how they are still waiting for feedback on a child who has serious mental health concerns two full years since the referral.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists "Services for children have been historically underfunded." One head teacher cites the UK being the 5th most powerful economy in the world and asks why we still under nourish the support for mental health in young people despite those challenges being well on the rise alongside the over-use of handheld devices and reliance on screen time being directly linked with a greater likelihood of children developing depression . (See the research here)
The head teachers are crying out for help and support whilst the government company line says they are "determined to improve mental health support for kids." Stating that 345,000 more children and young people with have access to specialist mental health care by 20232/24.
Meanwhile it's clearly evident that schools are ill equipped to handle the increasing rise in mental health issues emerging in modern society and unless the government does follow through on these promises the issues are only going to become a greater tax on our economy as under supported children become problematic adults with un-tackled issues and mental health problems which have been long standing since primary school.
CAMHS refuses to accept that a child can be considered depressed before they are 7 years old and this in itself means they deflect requests for support when a school flags a pre-7 with said issues. This lack of qualification and rebuttal just isn’t working and it remains to be seen how schools will be affected as if the issues continue to rise at the same speed as the last 3 years.
Standing desks and flexible seating options in the classroom are reported to help children alleviate anxiety, tension and have a tendency to generally improve student mental health.
If you want to try before you buy and trial Eiger Student Standing Desks in your School you can fill in the form on this page and we'll get the ball rolling.
Watch the piece by the BBC you'll no doubt find yourself in agreement that it's time to tackle the white elephant in the classroom.