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Back To School


"In my ideal school…we will no longer be treated like herds of identical animals waiting to be civilised before we are let loose on the world. It will be recognised that it is our world too."
Miriam, 15, Reading (quoted in The School I’d Like, by Catherine Burke & Ian Grosvenor)

Can advertising learn anything from Teaching? Maybe it can. Teachers are, after all, endeavouring to engage a new generation of children and youth that consume and interact with media (and so view the world through that lense) in a distinctly different way to previous generations. To quote from Faris’ excellent IPA thesis:

"They mix and blend, surf channels and create their own because their relationship with media is active rather than passive. For the first time in history, a generation is in control of how it experiences ideas and they are constructing their own mediascapes, individually and together."

Consider this (rather charming) case study. Richard Gerver (government education advisor and conference speaker) started out trying to be an actor. When that didn’t work out he became a teacher with a belief in a contextual and skills based curriculum, often using his acting experience to ‘develop rich experiential opportunities’. He is now the Headmaster of The Grange School near Derby, a large primary school of 430 pupils which in 2001 had lost it’s way, mainly through a lack of consistent leadership and an inflexible adherence to the national curriculum which took scant account of individual learning needs. The transformation of the school is a model which contains lessons for us all.

To begin with, they refocused their vision (‘Living, Learning, Laughing’), making it involving for their pupils. They identified the individual needs of the children by assessing their abilities and taking account of their learning profiles. They then involved the pupils in exploring and developing a highly experiential and contextual curriculum that "harnesses the interests and cultures of our children using the principles of sensory involvement" (like allowing young children to ‘taste fractions’ using chocolate to learn the difference between whole, half and quarter) to acculmulate new skills.


The children are then empowered to use those new newly acquired skills in real-life contexts that are exciting and inspirational whilst giving them valuable vocational and real life experience. Reaching out to local community and business to  "provide tangible links…that related life within school to life outside it"  he created Grangeton, their own town within the school gates.

The vision for Grangeton was for it to be eventually run entirely by the children, who all hold responsibility for both public service and private enterprise elements that can contribute towards it’s success. At its heart is the school (or town) council, which has an elected mayor who has ceremonial and democratic responsibilities. The town has multiple enterprises that are run by groups of children who all go through an application and interview process, and are trained by professionals from business (they list companies like the BBC and Asda as well as the local paper as their partners). Enterprises include:

  • A ‘Language Cafe’ based on a French street cafe. As well as training in customer relations, marketing and food hygiene, the junior pupils that run it learn basic French and the pupils that order food have to do so in French
  • A School Shop selling healthy food and snacks. The team of children here have learnt about every aspect of running a retail business from stock control to buying, to marketing and now make a profit, having repaid their original start-up loan of £250
  • A media centre that has teams producing a part-time radio station, a school newspaper, and a fully edited annual DVD documentary
  • As well as…a fully curated museum, a library, and even litter picking teams called ‘The Wombles’ who are trained in environmental hygiene

The Grangeton project has been hugely successful, running for 5 years and extending out to replace parts of the formal curriculum. As Richard himself says, it has created a powerful sense of purpose and pride:

"The children have been motivated in ways beyond our expectations, mainly because it has given them a really powerful and tangible sense of ownership and responsibility."

We talk a lot about participation and engagement but right at the heart of this holistic approach are the needs of the children. Is this not a great model for how comms should work? Particularly if you believe this:

"Learning is a process of becoming rather than a process of acquiring. To learn is to instantiate patterns of connectivity in the mind. You do not ‘make meaning’ or ‘construct meaning’, you grow meaning."
Stephen Downes, via

Images from Grange Primary School

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