It addresses the basic questions such as:

   1. What we did;
   2. Why we did it;
   3. How we did it;
   4. Who we are.

It offers some reflections using work from group discussions … and a more substantive piece ‘A learning journey’ that reflects on the process of the course and the key element of group learning.

We would welcome any feedback or enquiries about this work – contact us

Kerala at a glance

  • Location  southwest tip of India
  • Area  38,863 sq km
  • Population  31.8 million (2001 census)
  • Capital  Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)
  • Language  Malayalam (English is widely spoken)
  • Religions  Hinduism, Christianity, Islam
  • Literacy  Male 94%,
  • female 88%
  • Life Expectancy  Male 68, female 74
  • Income  US$ 265 per capita

What we did

Learning from Kerala was a key Tide~ initiative that took place over the school year 2007-08 involving a group of 13 teachers.  It was devised to enable in-depth thinking about learning, and its relationship to curriculum and leadership, within secondary schools.  At the core of the initiative was a ten-day study visit to Kerala in southern India, supported and enhanced by four professional development days and participation in a Tide~ secondary conference. Together these formed the study visit course. See original publicity.

Why we did it

In September 2007, schools in England were introduced to a new Key Stage 3 curriculum.  At the heart of this was the notion of a more holistic and open approach to teaching and learning.  Among other things this was geared to recognise the varying and changing needs of young people growing up in an increasingly globalised and interdependent world. To this end, the opportunities of the new curriculum are intended to provide a richer, more relevant learning journey for today’s young people.  The Learning from Kerala project was an opportunity to bring together people with leadership roles in secondary education and explore the implications of the new curriculum.  Kerala acted as the stimulus to this process and presented us with the challenge of how to best use the new curriculum in order to transpose such experiences back into our daily professional lives.  By going through the process ourselves would we be better placed to understand the opportunities that the new curriculum claims to provide.

If you are not familiar with the new curriculum and the way it was structured as a “big picture” then the director of QCA, Mick Waters has created a useful outline in the form of an on-line presentation.

How we did it

At the heart of the process was providing teachers with the much-needed time to reflect on curriculum change, and ask difficult questions of each other; of themselves; of their schools; and of Kerala.  The project purposefully mixed structured and semi-structured group learning time with independent learning opportunities so that participants were given the space to reflect for themselves on the experiences and their relationship to practice and their own learning.  The group learning (particularly with such a diverse range of backgrounds – see ‘Who we are’ below) provided especially rich experiences and echoed in many ways both the reality of working in a secondary school environment with its competing agendas, priorities and personalities.

The process of working together in close proximity for this time also led to theoretical and philosophical questioning such as:

  •  What do we understood by learning?
  •  What is the purpose of education?
  •  What does it mean to teach?

These were considered by the group to be important questions to be asking in preparation for the implementation of the new secondary curriculum.


One of the key reflections from the group was the importance of community involvement in schools, and schools that engage with community.  Another key idea that came up again and again was the ideals of curriculum and the barriers that get in the way of visions being realised.

Blue sky thinking …

The group used the visual metaphor of the hot air balloon to explore what they felt was the aim of curriculum and global learning. They then extended the metaphor to include weights holding educators down, winds of change and possible threats to achieving our aims (clouds on the horizon).  The activity provided a framework for the group to organise their reflections about the new curriculum.

Using big ideas!

One of the opportunities presented by the new curriculum that Tide~ has been working with is the notion of exploring ‘Big Ideas’ as a focus for planning.  The diagram Planning for global learning offers a cycle to focus staff team discussion. The group used this to think about Big Ideas in a Kerala context.

Education/Society ~ the chicken and egg conundrum

As is the riddle, we found ourselves continually challenged by the question of which came first – education or society?  This complex and vital relationship was by far the key challenge that the group during the study visit to Kerala and they have continued to grapple with these ideas since their return.  To help share this debate, the group distilled their ideas to create 9 key challenges that could be useful to other educators when thinking about the relationship between schools (education) and communities (society).


Collectively, we experienced a phenomenal range of encounters. They are too many to detail and as many were in small group or individual contexts, this would not be possible in any case. This aside, ‘Kerala encounters’ reflects on some key examples.

Learning from Kerala about learning has been a ‘A learning journey’.  This article offers an overview of that process and reflects on some of that learning.

Who we are

Between them, the group represented Business Studies, ICT, English, Media, Geography, Maths, Sociology, History, RE, and Citizenship. Their varied leadership roles included year and subject leadership, learning and skills initiatives, critical skills development, international coordination, cross curricula days and the new diploma courses.  In addition to subject/leadership experience, the group comprised a breadth of personal and professional experiences both in terms of teaching, but also of curriculum change.  Several participants had been through curriculum changes before, whereas some younger members were embracing changes for the first time.  It is worth highlighting that this provided a healthy degree of scepticism surrounding the new curriculum and the tension (dissonance) created by real and imagined change.

We would like to thank the group for their contributions to the project. They were:

  • Michael Bennet [Head of Geography + part of curriculum development team]  Four Dwellings High School, Birmingham
  • Rob Bowden (co-leader) [Projects Team,Tide~ global learning]
  • John Campbell [ICT and Business (14-19 coordinator) + responsibility for new diplomas]  George Dixon International, Birmingham
  • Dawinder Singh Dhillon [ICT teacher] George Dixon International, Birmingham
  • Terry Halliwell-Ewen [ICT + Curriculum Deputy Head – year 7 ‘Learn for 21st Century’]  Moseley School, Birmingham
  • Sonia Hinds [Head of English] Golden Hillock, Birmingham
  • Darryl Humble [Researcher on Development Education]  Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne
  • Sally Humphries [RE & Citizenship + International Schools Development Coordinator]  The Arthur Terry School, Birmingham
  • Catherine Marsh [History and Media + Learning to Learn approaches to curriculum]  St John Wall Catholic School, Birmingham
  • Ray Peacock [Sociology + Assistant Head, curriculum planning]  King Charles 1st School, Kidderminster
  • Barenda Pretorius [Maths + Year 9 Head & PSHE coordinator]  Marlowe Academy, Ramsgate, Kent
  • Cheryl Whittaker [Head of Geography + ICT and special needs interests]  The Bishop of Hereford Bluecoat School, Hereford
  • Rosie Wilson (co-leader) [English and Media Studies + responsibility for enrichment] Golden Hillock, Birmingham

The group were supported by Scott Sinclair and the projects team at Tide~.