Headteacher: “Time to kill off the exercise book”

A headteacher has called for schools to throw out their exercise books – with pupils instead spending their time making products that can change the world around them.

Peter Hyman, headteacher and co-founder of School 21, in East London, was speaking to 1,500 school leaders today at the Inspiring Leadership Conference in Birmingham.

He said: “We need to kill off the exercise book – it’s no wonder pupils doodle in it. It’s only for the benefit of teachers, not the wider audience.”

He gave school leaders two examples from his school where pupils had published their own book of ghost stories – which they wrote, edited and designed themselves – and a pack for the local community about the local wildlife in Newham.

“Beautiful work is work that is exceptional for that age. It’s a value to the community, makes a difference to world around you and solves problems.”

He said instead of drilling children in literacy and maths, teachers should “motivate them and produce something they can be proud of”.

“This approach motivates the hardest to reach young people. We haven’t had a dip in year 8 or 9 because they are doing something meaningful.

“It also becomes currency for teachers and at the end-of-term exhibition there is infectious excitement about the quality of the work, and the audience coming in and seeing what you’ve achieved.”

For this approach to work he said there has to be a “genuine, professional learning community” where teachers are trusted.

“Schools also have to be porous, and find partners in the community to do this work with. There has to be collaboration between subjects and a more workshop-style of teaching.”

“It doesn’t matter if they have spent a whole term on a product that’s worthwhile and they haven’t covered as much of the syllabus, because they’ve done something really meaningful.”

He added: “We need to fight back against an antiquated exam system and start measuring the things that really matter.

“Here and now we need to trust young people to create work of immense quality, which makes a genuine difference to the world around them, and then all the other pressures will fall in around that.”