What can UK schools learn from torture in Iraq?

Part 1

Education needs to change but we’ve got no money.

It’s pretty much consensus that isn’t it?

The money bit: of course, we all know we’re in austerity times.

The education bit: well, whether it’s low levels of reading and writing or high levels of bad behaviour, too many failing schools or not enough good teachers, most people agree that there’s things that are not right with our school system.

What we need, say a number of high profile educationistas, is structural change.

Structural change in education is:

  • Change that doesn’t reverse every time the government’s focus shifts elsewhere.
  • Change that has a real, lasting impact on young people.
  • Change that isn’t just about the inputs.
  • Change that doesn’t require the constant pumping in of ever increasing amounts of cash.

I think that means that we need to focus on schools themselves.


We know that the environment in which stuff happens matters.

The Stanford prison experiment, dusted off for the world again during the Iraq torture trials, brings this gruesomely to light.

And the environment definitely matters in the case of education. The school building, but more importantly the school’s systems and structures – the way that teachers are organised and incentivised, the way that pupils are managed and tracked – all this stuff matters.

We have tried to tackle the school building bit of structural change with the shiny new academies we’ve been commissioning. But there’s not very many of them and it doesn’t look like we’re in an era of huge capital expenditure any more.

So how are we going to affect structural change?

For a start we may have to focus on actual structural change (the systems and the organisation in schools) rather than the structure of the school building.

I think we’re going to need to look at new models of how schools might do their job better. We need to look at new types of schools.



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