Joint CSML / ICLML Seminar

ChartsTwenty-three people, including Len Cairns from Monash University in Melbourne , met on 3 December 2003 in the panelled surroundings of the Mansion at Middlesex University for a seminar with Ian Cunningham on Learner Managed Learning across age groups. As many of you will know, Ian Cunningham is a visiting Professor at Middlesex, as well as chairing the Centre for Self Managed Learning and Strategic Developments International.

Ian started by explaining that he would give some input on a several related topics and would then be willing to explore any of these in more detail, depending on the audience’s interests.

As an introduction to his involvement with school-age groups, he described the background to Summerhill School , its philosophy and methods and its fight against closure following a critical Ofsted inspection. Ian was concerned enough about the situation to rally a group of people with great experience of learning an alternative inspection team. The report that resulted from this team contributed to Summerhill’s High Court victory, which averted closure of the school.

Ian showed video clips of both Summerhill and news items on the South Downs Learning Centre, which caters for young people who successfully design and run their own learning programmes. He explained how South Downs had started more than a year before, and gave us an insight into the sort of young people who attended and the way that they were using Self Managed Learning. Skills in the groups have varied enormously, from those with emotional problems relating to their prior schooling, ones who have difficulty in concentrating or with reading and writing, and others for whom traditional education simply has not worked. All have learning contracts and have taken action to fulfil them, attending visits, taking distance learning course, getting work experience, and using hobbies to improve their skills.

Ian shared with us a simple learning contract from a young person (with their permission) and described a teacher who had used simple learning contracts with 7 years olds. He also explained how the Institute of Democratic Education In Israel is using a Self Managed Learning model in some Israeli schools. He told us about ambitious plans by a local authority in the UK to change secondary education, by having no “formal” secondary schools…we’ll wait to see if this actually happens.

At the end of the presentation part of the event, Ian asked the audience what they would like to discuss further and he quickly had a list of 11 topics. A lively discussion followed, with contributions from several student teachers in the audience, on the detail behind some of the ideas. The session ended with many people staying behind to discuss some of the concepts or to watch more of the videos or read some of the publications that Ian had brought along.

This event highlighted that a Self Managed Learning approach can be used across the ages with positive results.

Liz Barlow