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11 July, 2013

Burning 2 Learn: lighting the spark of curiosity

Students interviewing motor cycle racer
Students interviewing motor cycle racer

After an investigation found that two-thirds of the most advanced pupils entering secondary education do not achieve top GCSE results, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said that the failure by state schools to nurture their brightest pupils was 'an issue of national concern'.

Motivating and enabling children from all walks of life to realise their potential is the main aim of Burning2Learn (B2L), a partner of IofC UK’s Sustainable Communities Programme.

B2L is the brainchild of Alan Dean. During the many years he worked in the construction industry, he worked closely with young apprentices. He was often called on to help, support and advise them, becoming a mentor to some. He became concerned about the high dropout rates from some schools, and this led Alan into thinking what he could do to help equip young people to enter the work place.

Alan Dean Associates was set up to unlock the talent within young people who do not enjoy education. The approach was down-to-earth. Young people were put through real work experiences within industries, during which they discovered that they discovered skills they did not know they had and that these skills were valuable in the world of work.

Motivating tomorrow’s adults

Kawasaki centre Silverstone
Kawasaki centre Silverstone
Information about the initiative spread rapidly. The Prince’s Trust, local authorities and businesses, such as Barclays, Community Awards, the Bluewater shopping centre, and Brands Hatch racing circuit supported the initiative. Young people were given the opportunity to work in such projects as building a café, establishing a training centre for construction skills, and designing a reminiscence room to bridge the gap between generations. Some got their hands dirty in gardening projects, which helped them unwittingly to develop life skills. Young people discovered that they had a role to play in their communities. Education became fun and relevant.

In 1998, Alan and others created Burning2Learn. The company is based on the principle that each child is a unique and precious entity, with individual needs and specific challenges. 

Moral crisis in education

Alan came into contact with Initiatives of Change when he attended the After the Riots forum in February 2012. He says: 'Since then, my involvement with IofC has helped me to realise the importance of moral values, not only in my own life, but also its relevance to education. The government report on the riots in 2011 highlighted the moral challenges that young people face. But there is little action. 

'I have become even more sensitive to the needs of children. Through the Sustainable Communities programme, I have come into contact with others from different parts of Britain, who have similar interests to mine. I feel that I am no longer working alone, but part of a team.'

According to Alan, the current education system bypasses the personal interests and individual needs of a child: What is a child passionate about? What does a child enjoy most? Which career path? What are the personal challenges? Family dysfunction? Lack of motivation? Questions like these are often overlooked. Education isn’t about ‘what you enjoy’ – it’s about getting grades.

B2L does not lead students in a particular direction; rather it equips them to choose their own path based on their commitment, interest and passion. Alan says: 'We support students in whatever inspires them most and encourage young people to take ownership in their ideas. Whilst numeracy and literacy bench marks are the objectives of our national education leaders, B2L’s approach to learning is much less absolute.'

After three years working for the London Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, and Kent County Council schools, B2L has moved to schools in Croydon, Bexley, and Sidcup.

The Head of Swanley School wrote to B2L: 'We are delighted with our GCSE results, which show a real all-round improvement.

'I am convinced that the results in the lower range were positively influenced by your involvement. Before GCSE results were published, we had recognised that several previously disaffected students completed Year 11 with enhanced confidence and enthusiasm. However, you will see that they have also succeeded in gaining GCSE passes and are now either continuing their education or have found jobs.'

A teacher in another school wrote: 'You will be aware that John has suffered extreme trauma during his young life and his learning and self-esteem have suffered as an obvious consequence.

'I have known John since he was a year 6 [student] and he is now nearing his end as a year 11. I would doubt if anyone knows him better than me and, on this basis, I wish to express my sincere thanks for your input in helping this young man develop his confidence and self-worth. It is a joy to see him looking so well and being confident in what he attempts.'

Lighting the spark of curiosity

Alan Dean (extreme right) with students
Alan Dean (extreme right) with students
B2L uses media such as writing, photography and graphic design as an education platform to inspire young people from fourteen to nineteen years old, including those with special needs, disaffected students and the exceptionally gifted and talented. Schools select the students and B2L tailors programmes to meet their specific needs.

In the early years, B2L worked with about 200 young people a year. Today’s figure is 400.

According to Alan, 'Our schools are conditioned to work with what children can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, the humanities, to physical education and particularly to what motivates a child to learn.'

Alan believes that children prosper in an environment that celebrates and nourishes all their talents, not just a small range of them. Children are natural learners, says Alan, and.curiosity is the bedrock of achievement. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, it will motivate learning.

The role of B2L is to light that spark

Photos: Burning2Learn

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