Teacher/Educationalist Voice 10

Dr James Mannion – Former Teacher, Author and Director of Rethinking Education

Dr James Mannion is a former teacher who taught Science to 11 to 16 year olds for 12 years. He left the profession in order to focus more on bringing about system-level change. He has since co-founded Rethinking Education, a teacher training company specialising in Learning to Learn, Practitioner Inquiry and Implementation Science.

Dr Mannion is also the Bespoke Programmes Leader at the UCL Institute of Education, in the Centre for Educational Leadership, the host of the popular Rethinking Education podcast and co-author of Fear Is The Mind Killer: Why Learning to Learn deserves lesson time – and how to make it work for your pupils.

Why are you interested in progressive education?

As a teacher, I always found I was more interested in how young people develop and grow as people (e.g. becoming more confident, empathic, self-directed) than in teaching them about science. It’s a personal preference – we need science teachers too! I am also interested in traditionalist teaching methods. Sometimes they work really well. What we need is neither exclusively ‘trad’ or ‘prog’, but a system that is flexible and adaptive, using the best tools we have at our disposal to help every young person become confident, mentally and physically healthy members of a democratic society. I also think we should be aiming to help every child become a self-directed learner, rather than merely able to pass tests because they have been drilled by a teacher.

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

We need to adapt and respond to the major problems we are seeing. There are two biggies currently – the alarming rise in mental health problems among young people, and climate change.

What are state schools doing well?

It’s such a huge, heterogeneous group, it’s hard to generalise. We seem to have pretty much nailed teaching traditional subject disciplines. Which is no bad thing. And teachers are almost always lovely – hardworking, compassionate and truly want the best for the kids.

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

Diversify. One size fits all leaves too many wearing ill-fitting clothes.

We need to place the experience of each and every child at the centre of our thinking. We need to do whatever it takes so that every single young person – without exception – becomes confident, healthy and ready to take life by the scruff of the neck. At the moment we have a system where we force many young people to sit exams we know they are going to fail. It is profoundly unethical and utterly unnecessary.

Can you tell us about your new book?

I recently co-authored a book about Learning to Learn, which I think does a good job of making the case for combining progressive and traditionalist methods in a state school. It’s called Fear is the Mind Killer. It’s based on my PhD, an 8-year study of the Learning Skills curriculum, which led to significant gains in subject learning across the curriculum and a significant closing of the disadvantage gap.

Follow Dr James Mannion

Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/rethinking-ed-podcast

Ted Talk: “How to Change the World” – Dr Mannion introduces the concept of Implementation Science and how to bring about change via ‘vertical sliced teams’.

You can read the back story on Dr Mannion’s TEDx as well as an illustrated transcript here. He has also written a blog explaining how this might work in the context of education policy. It’s called ‘How can we decouple education policy from the electoral cycle?’.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RethinkingJames

Conference: The inaugural Rethinking Education conference took place in 2022 and you can watch many of the presentations at Rethinking-Ed.org/reconf22

Dr Mannion’s research: https://rethinking-ed.org/research