A human-centred school is a community of learners. This idea involves a radical reframing of what a school is. This reframing is required in order for the human-centred approaches to curriculum, pedagogy and learning feedback and review to reinforce each other. In fact, putting the person at the centre can only mean that the school be as a learning community. This inevitably involves rethinking a school’s identity and the nature of its culture. Although this process of rethinking may vary according to the specific circumstances of each school, there are some common key issues:

First, the school will be a learning community. By this, we mean that students, staff and other stakeholders have a strong sense of ‘we-ness’ and belonging. Because of this, they feel a responsibility towards each other and towards the betterment of the school.

Second, in a learning community, all members know and respect one another, adults and young people alike. Such intimate knowledge and mutual respect does not come by itself, instead, it is the fruit of interacting through collaborative learning activities, dialogues, community meetings and fora.

Third, the raison d’être of a learning community is to enable us to learn and to become more fully human. Each member is aware of this common purpose and such a mutual recognition of the school’s aim is vitally important for the realisation of a shared culture.

Lastly,  a human-centred learning community also involves a close partnership with parents and others within the wider community. It values the participation of parents as being of pivotal importance for student’s development. Parents themselves may also learn and grow as they participate in the life of the school community.

Thus learning in a community takes place in and through myriad relationships. Although each school tends develop a culture that reflects the stakeholders’ collective preferences, there are eight generally desirable characteristics as follows that express human-centred values and principles:

(a) Integrated in the local community. Ideally, a human-centred learning community would be within walking distance of local businesses, community centres, residential areas and public services (e.g. hospitals, police stations). This will enable young people to more easily make links with the local community, including through work experience and visits, and raise the profile of the school in the community by its proximity.

(b) Flexible teaching spaces. The traditional classroom setting with rows of tables and chairs has long been challenged. From a human-centred perspective, the diversity of curriculum activities demands flexibility of space design, rather than a mere critique of a particular setting. Flexibility allows horseshoe-shaped classrooms, or the group sitting in a circle, both of which enable the group to meet face-to-face. It also stresses that the teacher is not at the centre of the stage but is also part of the group, although he or she is at same time the facilitator and guide in the learning process.

(c) Large indoor spaces with natural light. These spaces are particularly valuable for Group Time (see Chapter 3). Young people need spaces where they can feel free to make noise and where they can be physically more distant from one another. Too often classrooms feel crowded and controlled. Large spaces where students feel less constrained are likely to provide opportunities for more creativity and emotional development.

(d) Green outdoor spaces. These have similar benefits to the indoor spaces described above but with the advantages of fresh air and no walls! Inspiring outdoor spaces can also offer students an alternative working environment when they do not wish to study indoors, as well as opening opportunities for young people to develop their gardening and other outdoor skills, for instance, during Independent Project Time.

(e) Outdoor spaces for organised sports. Outdoor spaces for organised sports are ideally considered as part of the school’s environment. The spaces can have a sufficient range of sport-specific apparatus. For schools that do not have such spaces, access to such outdoor spaces, for example, a community sports centre, sports ground and similar sports facilities, would be necessary.

(f) Large and fully stocked library. The school’s library facilities need to be extensive due to the independent nature of much of the study in a human-centred school. Students need access to a wide range of materials in their own time. It is also desirable for the library to have sufficient comfortable study space close to the books where students can carry out independent study. Contemporary libraries stock more than a collection of books, journals, magazines, and so forth, where possible there could be a digital library, a visual and audio library as well as online and physical records of students’ writings, arts and performances.

(g) Access to technology and specialist facilities. A human-centred school would have sufficient technological resources, such as computers, Internet-based educational resources, and so on, to enable students to access learning materials to carry out their own research. It would also support technology-based learning styles that some staff may employ. Students would also have access to specialist facilities and technology such as darkrooms, cameras, laboratories, design technology apparatus and art supplies.

(h) Quiet spaces for solitary time. There are spaces where young people and adults are able to spend time alone, to reflect, think or simply to clear their minds. Giving members of the school community the possibility of removing themselves from the often-intense social and academic environment and seeking their own company is a way of respecting them. Time spent alone can be powerful in enabling young people to be more thoughtful and less stressed, and it can help them connect with the spiritual and with nature. Both outdoor and inside spaces would make it possible for students and staff to seek solitude at any time.

The Learning Mentor works with the student on one-to-one level. There are broadly five key aspects to the work of mentoring:

Getting to know the student
(1) getting to know the student’s background (eg, life history)
(2) understanding the student’s character traits (eg. learning biography)
(3) knowing the student’s strengths and weaknesses (eg. talents, skills and knowledge)
(4) discovering the student’s personal goals (eg. main interests and passions)

Setting the context for learning
(a) the context of secondary education and educational processes of schooling to link education to one’s overall personal development
(b) the context of the curriculum and each aspect of it to clarify what to study and why
(c) the context of standards to understand what counts as progress and how to make progress accordingly

Helping construct personal goals, Learning Agreement and tailored curriculum
(1) articulate a set of goals for the short, medium and long term
(2) draw up a Learning Agreement
(3) formulate a learning plan
(4) map out the student’s learning activities

Nurturing, challenging and supporting the student’s holistic development
(a) be attentive the student’s learning processes
(b) pose right questions at the right time to encourage the student’s reflection on learning and experiences
(c) help the student pinpoint the obstacles to learning and overcome them
(d) enable the student forge a picture of their future and learning trajectories towards it

Providing feedback
(1) provide feedback on the student learning
(2) review the student’s progress
(3) prepare a personalised record to represent progress (eg. learning portfolios)

In HCE, feedback is an integral part of the student’s learning and developmental process. It is vital that the Mentors, Facilitators, Coaches and Tutors not only reflect with the student on their progress but also liaise with each other so as to give the student consistent feedback.

Feedback for students has four essential features.

  1. It exemplifies the idea that students are responsible for their own learning.
  2. It embodies the principle that such learning consists in the student’s holistic development.
  3. It requires that the student understands the relevant standards well. That is to say that the process of providing feedback is one of helping the student understand better what counts as good and better, and why. However, what counts as improvement depends in part on the student’s own goals which are defined in collaboration with the Mentor, and such improvement must be holistic. It cannot be merely academic in the normal sense of the word. It will include the development of character, disposition and other personal qualities.
  4. It is non-judgemental. It ought to be loving, generous and usually gentle because such qualities are fundamental for the student to improve him or herself and his or her learning. Such feedback doesn’t consist in a grade that encourages the student to compare herself to others. It is different from a grade in that what is important is the content of the feedback. It is a set of messages. Furthermore, it encourages the student to improve relative to his or her own past (relative to a set of standards or criteria) rather than to become better than someone else. In this way, it should embody and require critical self-reflection.

It may be helpful to think of such feedback as being addressed at four levels.

(a) There is feedback pertaining to specific projects or tasks. Such task-based feedback should be timely, focusing on giving very practical advice in terms of the strengths of the student’s work, and suggestions with regard to the ways she might improve the quality of her project or task. Some feedback is immediate and can take place during the class conversation or be given in the form of written comments about the student’s work. It is not judgemental and is more informative than a grade, and can help the student improve the quality of her work.

(b) Feedback should be given to the student on her learning processes and approach to learning. This feedback is based on an overview of the student’s learning journey over a period of time, and the ways that he is able to take responsibility and care for her learning experience. The emphasis of such feedback is on enhancing the student’s abilities and approaches to understanding.

Feedback at these two levels will often come from a Project Supervisor, or Tutor.

(c) The young person will receive feedback on her commitment, self-control and confidence. Such feedback is connected to how learning supports the cultivation of personal qualities and caring dispositions and, therefore, will most likely be provided by the Mentor.

(d) The student needs feedback on the overall development of herself as a person. Once again, such advice is often provided by a Mentor who knows the student well, including her interests, priorities and personal trajectories.

Human-Centred Education radically rethinks the aims of education, the nature of learning, and the relationship between individuals in schools. This accessible guide presents a HCE approach to schooling and includes a variety of rich pedagogical examples.

It provides practical suggestions as to how the approach might be adopted as a whole-school initiative, or else woven into particular aspects of existing school life, including the curriculum, classroom culture and feedback for learning. This handbook also illustrates how holistic educational practices, found in some alternative schools, can be introduced fruitfully into the state educational system with step-by-step guidance on how to integrate HCE into teacher training and school governance.

HCE is more than a set of inflexible pedagogical prescriptions or a recipe of lesson plans. It originates from the fundamental values of care, positive relationships and well-being. National education policies tend to ignore deeper educational processes, such as the cultivation of qualities that are central to living meaningfully and well, because they focus on measured, high-stakes academic performance. HCE is an effective antidote to this, and brings to the fore a more human-centred approach without sacrificing academic standards.

Current secondary teachers, members of school management and leadership teams, as well as those currently undertaking teacher training will all benefit from reading this important book.


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Paperback: 9781138210837
published: 2017-01-10

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published: 2017-01-10

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Could we have a system of secondary education that provides alternatives to the current mainstream schooling and its emphasis on exams, learning outcomes and the delivery of a fixed curriculum? How could such a system focus on both human and educational values? How could secondary education combine the personal development of students with good academic standards? In response to these questions, Gill and Thomson have written a new, cutting-edge text aimed at all those involved in the study of education or teacher training.

Rethinking Secondary Education explores, debates and critiques new and alternative approaches to teaching young people today. The book discusses a ‘human-centred’ approach to curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and the culture of schools and colleges. It is grounded in theory and empirical research, discussing the need for a curriculum for the future, bridging a gap between mainstream and alternative education. It also offers practical guidance on how these ideas can be put into practice, making it an ideal resource for trainee teachers, experienced practitioners and students of education alike. Key features of the text: A balanced approach, comparing and contrasting both traditional and alternative approaches to education Strong grounding in theory and research The inclusion of young people’s perspectives and ‘voices’ on their education and on being an adolescent Links to practice – showing how the theory and research can actually be put into practice to bring about change

At a time when secondary education is so impoverished by the deadly weight of testing and league tables, by performance indicators and targets, it is important to have reasserted the aims of education in terms of personal development, human flourishing and enriching community. ‘Rethinking Secondary Education’ does this admirably. It offers the insights of alternative approaches to education, and does so with a philosophical depth that is rarely seen. This book is a welcome antidote to the impersonal nature of much educational theory and practice. It should be on the reading list of both trainee teachers and those teachers who need to be refreshed in their further professional development.” – Professor Richard Pring, Department of Education, University of Oxford

This is a timely, accessible and engaging book of considerable intellectual stature, bold imagination and practical wisdom. Not only does it develop penetrating, elegant analyses of what is wrong with current state controlled and alternative approaches to contemporary education, it also offers imaginative, practical suggestions for a more fulfilling, human centred alternative.
Professor Michael Fielding, Institute of Education, University of London, UK.

With great sensitivity and force, and in wonderfully clear prose, Scherto Gill and Garrett Thomson explore some fundamental questions about what we want from our education system and what we can expect from it. […] It is highly recommended for all who are interested in education, whether from a more theoretical point of view or from a more practical point of view.
Professor Adrian W. Moore, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, UK.


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Paperback: 9781408284780
published: 2012-06-07

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published: 2016-08-08