Teacher/Educationalist Voice 4

Kimberley Cooper – Teacher, Forest Schools Leader and Educational Consultant

Kimberley is a Forest Schools Leader for Reception to Year Six in one school, and a Key Stage Two teacher in another.

She is also an Educational Consultant for schools, parents and private companies who are interested in alternative learning approaches.

Why are you interested in progressive education?

Both of the schools I work at are alternative schools; one ‘progressive’ and the other a ‘small school’ which has influenced/shaped my understanding and perception of teaching and learning. I have seen the positive impact it can have on young people’s lives and my own well-being as a teacher.

I have worked at the progressive school for 12 years in various positions such as classroom teacher, Humanities coordinator, D&T teacher, Head of LS D&T and Forest Schools Leader. The school was established in 1898 by a group of parents who wanted an alternative approach from the Victorian educational values and the school has evolved since.

Its vision is child-centred education, which for the school means holistic development with minimal hierarchical structures, a broad definition of success and as much meaningful integration with the natural world as possible.

What struck and appealed to me when I first started working there was how the teachers listened to the children, that behaviour was discussed, co-managed and understood rather than using fear-based strategies to ‘control’. This all made sense to me and I saw how most children flourished in this environment.

The small school I work at started under similar circumstances in the 1980s, when the current Head of the school, who was a state school teacher at the time, became uncomfortable with inconsistencies between how she understood children to learn and what was being imposed upon her by the government.

There are no more than 50 children who are in mixed-age groups and their education is designed to be flexible so that the needs of each child are met, but so that they can also thrive and contribute to a community.

At both schools, the values are similar and based around developing ‘human’ skills and aptitudes in a broad and balanced way. Human development is understood to be more than remembering information and coercion. Both schools are committed to open learning and the meta-learning that has been proven to help children interact in their world ‘intelligently’.

In my Masters I looked more closely at the relationship between what and how children learn and how school (and other) systems can support that. My research and practice showed that by developing metacognition and other meta-skills and aptitudes, children’s learning becomes more relatable and usable in their world.

Ultimately my vision is to see children inspired and engaged in their learning, and progressive education seems to be a natural fit with that as it maintains the freedom to challenge research and practice.

In your opinion what are the main challenges of our current state school system?

Schools are forced to work within a system that is based upon an out-dated understanding of learning and of the needs of our changing world. In addition to this, due to exam-related pressures associated with a misplaced view on accountability, and due to lack of funding or support from ‘above’ (the government), it has led to a narrow view of what is possible in state schools.

Those making the policies relating to how and why children should learn are generally far-removed from the state education themselves. By over-testing (teachers AND students), there is a general lack of inspiration that has left the system sad and tired.

There are significant exceptions and I salute and praise those teachers using creative and inspired approaches to support and nurture children. One thing that hasn’t changed in education is that it takes just one good teacher to make a difference to a student’s life.

What are state schools doing well?

It varies… Those state schools that have a strong and passionate Head, a clear understanding of how children learn and are engaged with their communities do well. They also understand and support their teachers, ensuring their wellbeing too.

I have visited some incredible state schools who are willing to re-structure their learning environments based upon their understanding of their children’s and their communities’ needs. Consequently, they have support from parents who are happy to volunteer their own knowledge and expertise, their time and also fund-raise effectively. This in turn has a positive knock-on effect on class sizes and the general wellbeing of the children attending.

If you could make changes to the state education system, what would be your top priorities?

I would like to see greater emphasis placed on the types of skills that will serve children in building ‘21st Century Skills’ (rather than just isolated ‘subjects’), and ‘human’ skills (those that machines cannot yet do) – see Luckin, 2018.

I would also like to see more breadth and balance in what and how students learn, for example the Arts play an essential part of child development.

Finally, I would like to see more access to learning relating to our natural world so that children can build a meaningful relationship with it and ultimately contribute to, and have an understanding of, their environment.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Through encouraging dialogue and building supportive communities we can all learn from each other. For me, progressive education is about being part of the dialogue, using and reviewing what we know about how children learn in practical contexts and trying out new things that may also be helpful to others. 

Follow Kemberley Cooper:

You can follow Kimberley Cooper at her education consultancy, Holistic Learning at:

Website and Blog: www.holisticlearning.co.uk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/holisticlearningeducation

Kimberely also took part in a podcast series hosted by Alpine Valley School and East Kent Sudbury School. Along with many other inspirational guests Kimberley Cooper offers some insightful recommendations on the future of education.

Listen to Kimberley’s talk: https://vimeo.com/446926099

Listen to the whole podcast episode: