Amy-Leigh Hope

Organisation: George Stephenson High School

Amy-Leigh Hope is Curriculum Leader for Design Technology and Art at George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, Newcastle. Amy has been teaching for sixteen years, of which six have been at this local high school.

Amy’s interest in SOLE started five years ago after a whole school assembly on the ‘Hole in the Wall Project’ and the work of Sugata Mitra. Following this, and after reading about Sugata’s work, Amy started trying out SOLE in her own classroom and sharing her results with Sugata and Newcastle University. Continue reading

George Stephenson High School

Site: UK Lab 1 – George Stephenson High School, North Tyneside, Tyne and Wear

The world’s first School in the Cloud opened its doors at George Stephenson High School.

Students designed the interior of this one-room learning lab – which has colourful beanbags scattered throughout and fluffy clouds painted on the walls.

This lab is run by a group of students called The Committee, who manage a schedule to let different classes and groups use the lab in time slots before, during and after school. They also meet regularly to develop a Big Question curriculum to assist teachers across all subjects to deliver SOLE sessions.

Amy-Leigh Hope, Head of Design and Art at George Stephenson High School, was inspired by Sugata’s approach following a talk about his work by their headteacher. After discovering that his self-organised learning methods had not really been tried in secondary schools before, she set about testing them with Year 7 with help and support Sugata, finally extending this up to Year 13.

“The idea of thinking about your subject in ‘big questions’ and letting children take ownership of the lesson really gets them engaged,” she says. “When they work in groups of four there’s less chance to opt out and they naturally self correct each other, helping to develop not only their literacy and understanding but also good social skills.”

The SOLE, which opened in November 2013, is also available for the local community and nearby primary schools to use.

Read the TED blog about the opening.

European researchers are ‘rethinking education’

SOLES are all about empowering children to take control of their own learning. Now researchers are hoping it can also work for young people at risk of dropping out of education altogether.

Early school leaving (ESL) is linked to unemployment, social exclusion, and poverty. While there are many reasons why young people decide to give up on education and training, such as family issues or learning difficulties, many simply become disengaged.

And as there is no single reason for early school leaving, there are also no easy answers. However, EUROSOLE, a new European-wide research project being led by Newcastle University’s SOLE Central, aims to come up with some workable solutions over the next three years.

Researchers will be exploring how a new approach to the problem – where young people rather than educators take a leading role in their education – can help foster a lifelong love of learning. It will build on the idea of ‘traditional’ SOLEs, where the emphasis is on stimulating curiosity and engagement in learning within a social and collaborative atmosphere.

“Many young people leave school early because they feel disengaged,” explains Dr Anne Preston, of Newcastle University’s SOLE Central, who is leading the project. “We know that a lack of active involvement in their own learning plays a key role in the high percentage of early school leavers in Europe. But if you change the balance of control between teachers and students you can alter these dynamics and come up with effective preventative measures to tackle the issue.”

One of the main aims of the project is to create four sustainable alternative SOLE spaces in Newcastle (UK), North Tyneside (UK), Dublin (Ireland) and Lahti (Finland) to test this alternative approach. These spaces will draw on the partners’ diverse but complementary approaches to education which straddles formal, non and in-formal learning.

“Young people’s engagement with what they are learning is central to how they learn,” says Dr Preston. “The SOLE approach is similar to personalised and student-led learning but its difference lies in its focus on creating a social, intellectual and academic space for learning to take place rather than prescribing specific teaching methods.

“Our challenge is to bring about a change in the role of the teacher from transmitter of knowledge to facilitator of learning, enabling us to literally ‘rethink education’ in the process.”

The project will also look at the quality and relevance of students’ skills and competences and how the SOLE approach can promote the kind of 21st century skills that will empower young people long after they leave school. One of the outcomes will be a set of handbooks for educators to help them facilitate a SOLE that will engage this particular audience, along with a guide to learning for change.

Recent reports into early school leaving (ESL) across Europe have highlighted an urgent need to better understand this issue and develop targeted, effective prevention and reduction measures.

European countries have committed to reducing the average share of early school leavers to less than 10% by 2020. It currently varies across Europe from 3.9% in Slovenia to 23.6% in Spain with an average of 12% Europe-wide (Eurostat 2013).

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SOLE Central, the global research hub into SOLE research and practice which Sugata heads up at Newcastle University, is leading this three-year project together with the University’s Open Lab and University of Dublin Trinity College (Ireland); Lahti University of Applied Sciences (Finland); Success4All CIC(UK); George Stephenson High School SOLE Lab (UK); and cvo Toekomstonderwijs ‘School of the Future’(Belgium).

EUROSOLE: Promoting Young People’s Transition Pathways Through Engagement in European Self-Organised Learning Spaces is funded through a grant of €391K from Erasmus+and will run until September 2018.

*Early school leavers are defined as 18-24-year-olds with at most lower secondary level education who have not progressed to any further education or training.