Community learning plan for students

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PUPILS SHOULD be able to leave school at 14 and continue their learning anywhere from home to museums, a government adviser says today.

Tom Bentley, part-time adviser to David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, says in a pamphlet - published by the think-tank Demos - that schools should act as brokers for their pupils by organising educational opportunities in the community.

Mr Bentley, 25, who went to Oxford University after attending a comprehensive school in a deprived part of London, argues that the next great stage in educational reform is to "de-school" society - a change first proposed by the American sociologist Ivan Illich 30 years ago.

He calls for fundamental changes in education to achieve ministers' goal of raising standards among underprivileged pupils.

Instead of being self-contained institutions, schools should become "neighbourhood learning centres" which organise services for people of all ages. Some staff would help students plan and review their activities while others would record and assess them.

"From the age of 14 compulsory schooling might come to an end, to be followed by a number of community-based learning packages which continued for five years or more."

More learning should take place in the context in which knowledge is applied, for example on the shop floor or through voluntary work.

Mr Bentley suggests that the notion that teachers can transform the lives of deprived pupils is "romantic".

"It relies on the myth that individuals can buck the system and transform their destiny but ignores the fact that these individuals are the exception." Students need many different role models, he says.

He also supports a broader system of assessment which would measure different types of intelligence and ability from those measured by traditional tests and exams.

Learning Beyond the Classroom; published by Demos and Routledge; price pounds 15.99.