Blair adviser sets up Free school


Peter Hyman, a former adviser to Tony Blair, is opening a new Free School – School 21 – in east London this September. He has been helped in this project by Oli de Botton, a Teach First graduate , Hackney Councillor and former employee of CFBT Education Trust. Hyman recently gave a presentation to the National Education Trust explaining his vision for the school.

Hyman has irritated many on the left  who see Free schools as a Tory policy, although there are  some in Labour ranks who support the policy, including former schools minister Lord Adonis, and Conor Ryan, David Blunkett’s adviser ,when he was education secretary. The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, will tolerate Free schools, providing they do no  harm  to neighbouring schools and he  has no plans  to get rid of them,  should  Labour win power.

The school was given its name to denote Hyman’s determination to look ahead to 21st century teaching and learning styles.  Mike Baker in his blog helpfully reported on the presentation.

School 21 will put a much greater emphasis than usual on speaking and listening skills, or oracy, which – as Hyman argues – is greatly under-emphasised in this country compared with other successful education systems. Hyman  also said he felt many state school pupils were at a disadvantage in university admissions because of a lack of oracy skills.

It will also offer a wide variety of learning styles, mixing round-table seminars, specialist lectures, traditional classroom teaching, one-to-one tuition and mentoring, and project-based working. Hyman cited his own sources of inspiration: Rich Tasks from Queensland, Australia; the Harkness Method of discussion-based learning from New Hampshire, USA; and Project-Based Learning from San Diego, USA.  One of the tasks that Hyman acknowledges he faces is a need for a ‘new type of teacher’, someone who is comfortable as a subject-specialist but is also able to be a one-to-one coach, lecturer and facilitator. He defended  opening a new Free School in Stratford, east London, on the basis that there was a basic need for more school places there, so he would not be undermining existing schools. ‘I would not have done this in an area where I was just taking pupils from other schools’, he said. He also believes there is ‘a strong case for teacher-led schools’.

He accepted there was an issue about how – if it is successful – a Free School could scale-up its activities to reach a wider group of children. Responding to questions, he also said that current assessment regimes could threaten innovation if it does not conform with national expectations, as could Ofsted inspections. He said we need to ‘find a richer way of assessing children’ and argued for Ofsted to set up a branch that was not just about monitoring schools but would spread good, innovative practice.

More about school 21 here:


10 books from Peter Hyman’s journey from Downing Street to Free School:

Culture & Pedagogy by Robin Alexander

Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 by David Kynaston

5 Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

To Reach the Clouds by Phillipe Petit

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

The Unfinished Revolution: How Modernisers Saved the Labour Party by Philip Gould

The Little Book of Thunks by Ian Gilbert

1 out of 10 by Peter Hyman

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

A full transcript of Peter Hyman’s Lecture will be available shortly at the NET website.


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