British Kids Speak Out on
"The School I'd Like: Revisited -- Children and Young People's Reflections on an Education for the 21st Century" (Second Edition - 2015)

What would the kids say if we asked them what kind of school they'd like? That's what England's Guardian newspaper did in June 2001 when they reprised a public competition first conducted in 1967, in which kids across England wrote essays about "The school that I'd like" (edited by Edward Blishen, Penguin Education Special, England, 1969). One 15-year old girl summed up school at that time as "institutions of today run on the principles of yesterday". Has anything changed?

Now Catherine Burke and Ian Grosvenor have published the key material drawn from The Guardian's 'School I'd Like' competition. In "The School I'd Like: Children and Young People's Reflections on an Education for the 21st Century",  this book reports, says the publisher RoutledgeFalmer, on "how school is regarded by children across the UK during the first three months of 2001.

The authors raise critical questions about the democratic processes involved in teaching and learning. This collection is vibrantly illustrated with children's essays, pictures, stories, designs, plans and poems.

Analysis of this material will identify consistencies in the ways in which all children wish to learn, and highlight particular sites of 'disease' in the education infrastructure and everyday practice.

The School I'd Like: Revisited (Second Edition, 2015) - Children and Young People's Reflections on an Education for the 21st Century, by Catherine Burke and Ian Grosvenor, published by RoutledgeFalmer, priced 16.99. Order online here.

For more information about the School I'd Like competition in 2001, go to

The Guardian recently launched a 2011 School I'd Like campaign: "In 2001 we launched a competition asking children to dream up their perfect school. In 2011, we are once again asking pupils for their views, which we will compile into a Children's Manifesto", writes the Guardian." The 2011 campaign is a consultation seeking student input instead of a competition.

Below is an opinion piece from 2003, "We must listen to 15,000 voices that spoke in 'The School I'd Like' competition", by Dea Birkett, the Guardian editor who coordinated the 2001 competition.

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Answers to dilemmas

We must listen to 15,000 voices that spoke in 'The School I'd Like' competition

Dea Birkett
Tuesday June 10, 2003
The Guardian

I opened the paper at breakfast this morning. The number of educational issues raised in just one day was astounding: Are exams causing children too much stress? Can creationism be taught in schools? How can literacy rates be raised? Should classroom assistants be given a teaching role? Is there a place for private sector firms in public sector schooling? Each story reported a new solution, a new approach, a new initiative. But every solution was proposed by an adult. I doubt if any of them will work.

If only these adult decision-makers had glanced through the entries for The School I'd Like, the competition launched by Guardian Education in 2001 and now brought together in a book to be published this week. They would have had access to more than 15,000 voices of individual children, expressing their concerns and ideas about the future of education. Amongst these entries, adults may find many of the solutions they seek.

To our cost we have ignored children's input into their own future. In the first 1967 School I'd Like competition, most entrants clearly came out against exams. Their plea was ignored; instead of the burden of testing being eased over the last 30-plus years, it has consistently grown and become even more entrenched. So here we are, still stuck with that same old question popping up in our papers almost every week: are exams an efficient and equitable way of assessing a student's progress? We continue to ask every expert - except the real experts: the children.

As I looked through the 2001 competition entries, I was surprised not only by how innovative and imaginative the suggestions on all subjects were, but how solid and sensible. In these children's essays, poems, videos, paintings and songs, there are answers to practically every dilemma the education system is currently grappling with.

Take truancy, for example. There is much discussion on how to improve attendance records, and who is to blame if a child doesn't turn up. Should the child or the parent be punished? And how? But if we look at these competition entries, a continual thread is an intense desire to go to school.

Few want no school; the vast majority envisage a school they really want to go to. At their ideal educational establishment, every child would be eager to attend. The message from these entries is clear: truancy can't be tackled by punishing anybody, parent or child. The way to tackle truancy is to make schools places that children eagerly rush to each morning. As primary pupil Sarah Noyce summed up, she wished her dream school would come true: "So if I had a choice of going to school or staying at home I'd definitely choose to go to school. And I hope if it was really made it would encourage more children to want to come to school."

Perhaps it is easy to dismiss and sideline what the children say because many make sweeping statements and outline grandiose plans. But they have also asked for small and easily achievable changes, something as simple as quieter school bells. Surely we could manage to institute just some of them?

But while we become heady with the radicalism of the vast majority of children's views, we must also respect the more conservative minority. Lower secondary students' preoccupation with safety - demanding security systems and CCTV - may be statistically unfounded; schools are still relatively safe havens for children. But these fears shouldn't be dismissed as ridiculous or extreme. Calls for caning bullies, or all-girls schools with free lipsticks on offer with each school meal cannot be laughed at and pushed to one side. If we consult, we must listen, whatever solutions are given and however much it is contrary to what we may have hoped to hear.

Of course, a competition is not scientific research. (But then, neither is a focus group, and they have determined much government policy.) But over 15,000 children must be one of the largest, if not the largest, informal surveys of children's attitudes towards schooling ever conducted in this country.

I hope those in power listen to this vast chorus - not only teachers, heads and local education authorities, but those above and beyond. Policymakers at national level should pay heed to those for whom they are planning. Unless children are behind your initiatives, they cannot succeed. A good education must be embraced by those it is intended to benefit.

As John Clifford, a winner in the original 1967 competition, said: "It proves yet again that young people are not a problem that needs to be corralled and curfewed, but an incredible, rich resource of wisdom and creative thinking that we should learn to listen to."

Perhaps this should be the main lesson adults learn from The School I'd Like. It must be to listen and to respect what we hear. Children are so obviously more than ready to take up the challenge of redesigning their education. Are we ready to meet the challenge of listening to them?

Let's give a child the last word - lower secondary pupil Aleksi Hastings, who had his entry set as a task by his teacher.

His entry began: "Hi, this is a homework that will probably just be written, read and returned, with a mark and someone's red pen all over it. Yet, I will write this thing anyway." It ended: "Please don't just push this aside as another homework, treat this piece presented before you as an academic breakthrough. Goodbye - and make the dream come true."

This afterword appears in The School I'd Like: Children and Young People's Reflections on an Education for the 21st Century, by Catherine Burke and Ian Grosvenor, published by RoutledgeFalmer on June 13, priced 16.99. Order online at or telephone 01264 343071.