Participatory Budgeting in Schools#4: A tale of two schools

This is the second one-minute read on the outcomes of Monday’s workshop Empowering KS2-5 Learners through Participatory Budgeting. How do we up-skill learners to generate, present and vote for proposals on the school budget in harmony with the 2019 inspection framework? Certainly not in a vacuum.

As any English teacher will tell you, there is no text without context and this micro-post follows Participatory Budgeting in Schools#3: First baby-steps. In the same vein, I began Monday morning by placing the idea of Participatory Budgeting in schools in the ambience of the wider education debate even before Shared Future introduced the concept to our delegates.

Even though the development plan (as it looks at the moment) is a localised, hands-on and fully schools-driven process, any such initiative will be viewed through existing lenses of political and didactic leanings, which may lead stakeholders to misunderstand, short-sell or potentially write off the concept before even considering it.

A tale of two schools

We have already introduced the ongoing traditional-progressive trench war in Participatory Budgeting in Schools? #1; The Stakes and the Stakeholders, so, in summary:

  • The Traditionalists stand for ordered classrooms, teacher authority, student discipline, and direct instruction of very specific ranges of knowledge and skills.
  • The Progressives stand for pupil agency and empowerment, self-directed learning and the connection between schooling and politics/social action.

At the most extreme ends of this spectrum, we find the horror stories of ‘egalitarian’ teacher-pupil nude bathing at Summerhill* vs the recent public humiliation of pupils in the ‘grass-flattening’ debacle involving major DfE-vetted academy chains.

It is absolutely imperative that any work to design a Participatory Budgeting programme in schools is not framed within the traditional-progressive dichotomy. Rather, such work must integrate the benefits of both these schools of thought, while courteously balancing out their respective shortcomings.

Jakob, Monday 20 May 2019, Empowering KS2-5 learners through Participatory Budgeting

I believe, as I think most of us do, that taking a hard stance here serves only to muddle any meaningful investigation into the rationales behind – and the sheer relevance of – these opposing, yet interdependent and complementary, approaches.

If our fledgling steering group does not recognise the goals and concerns of both sides, Participatory Budgeting in schools will be written off by traditionalists as yet another student-centred apocalypse that serves only to make teachers miserable, and by progressives as another mechanistic scheme to make kids mindlessly buy into competitive capitalism.

But like the trad-prog dichotomy itself, these propositions are based on gross simplifications. As Greg Ashman, blogging at the cleverly titled Filling the Pail, says about the Delta Academies controversy: “I cannot recall a self-identified traditionalist ever recommending ‘intense shouting’.” 

Similarly, Professor David Leat, one of the main drivers behind University of Newcastle’s ongoing initiative on community curriculum making and project-based learning notes in his chapter Understanding Enquiry that teachers must plan “what they want to students to learn: subject knowledge, generic process skills, module specific specialist skills (…) These are translated into success criteria.” **

Next instalment will be Knit & Natter or Twit & Tw*tter – on why developing solutions requires the education “debate” to be shifted to a humane platform with space for the middle ground. While this may seem a digression from the immediate drive to prove the relevance of Participatory Budgeting to core subjects, I want us to remember the big picture: To divorce Participatory Budgeting in schools from the bigger issue of engagement and participation in the digitised 21st century is to sell the concept short. How do you actively promote the British values of democracy and respect for diversity? Participatory Budgeting, of course. Tick. Box.

EduTwitter models oracy and debating skills in full public view of any student with a smartphone.

Overview of all articles on Participatory Budgeting in Schools


* ) Robert Peal, Progressively worse: The Burden of Bad Ideas in British Schools, Civitas, 2014, p. 15.

* * ) Enquiry and Project Based Learning – Students, School and Society, David Leat, et al., Routledge, 2017, p. 45.

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