Eton’s glass classroom to improve teaching

The Sunday Times, 15/02/15, the head master of Eton is launching a crackdown on substandard teaching with a new glass-walled research centre designed to tackle “bad practice” in the classroom. HMC member school Eton College features.

Tony Little, who will step down as head of the country’s most famous school later this year, warned that British teachers were falling behind their counterparts abroad.

The new research centre at the £35,000-a-year school will be named after him and is due to open in May. It includes a classroom where teachers can be observed from outside and videoed to improve their performance.

Such classrooms are common in Singapore, which regularly tops international league tables of educational performance. Britain, by contrast, comes about halfway down such tables.

“In some ways teaching in the UK is behind some of the best work being done in other parts of the world,” said Little. “If you look at inspectors’ reports, it is clear there are plenty of examples of bad practice going on.

“The most important thing for us in improving education in this country is training teachers; unless we have good teachers, what is the point of all the other stuff?”

Little, who wants state schools to set up similar research centres and share best practice, added: “We have been very slow to test and research what we are doing.

“We want to encourage a mindset where teachers have to reflect and adopt ways of teaching that have been proved to work.”

The new centre will also test online lessons, which Little said more schools should introduce.

Eton is preparing to offer online courses in physics and is already using them in history of art. However, Little warned: “America is already ahead of us. It is a common model for private schools in the US to deliver all their lessons online.”

Paradoxically, he blames the internet for teenagers losing the ability to concentrate for long periods and undertake focused tasks such as writing essays.

He added: “Sustained periods of study need more practice for the young generation. Sixteen-year-olds are extremely gifted at juggling a whole range of social media in a way that is sometimes shocking for teachers. But things the older generation take for granted, like being able to write a coherent essay, are less common.”

He said teachers needed to keep pace with children’s new ways of learning if they were not to become redundant, adding: “Half the lessons at Eton could be online in 10 years’ time.”

The new centre will also be looking into the most effective ways of teaching and take part in a project to look at the effect of legal highs on young brains. One study will examine whether boys fare best in practical lessons, where they are allowed to learn through doing things.

Another will teach boys how their behaviour is affected by the changes in the brain during adolescence.

Little said: “In 10 years’ time, teachers who are very good with traditional methods of teaching could be out of touch with teenagers. This is because the rate of change at which teenagers are accessing knowledge is moving so fast. Teachers have to be in tune with that.”

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