Punk Learning – The Manifesto

Posted: October 30, 2012 in learning, PBL, Punk Learning

“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed” Joe Strummer

You need to watch this short video clip to understand (or be reminded of) what the Punk ethos is all about…


The “Do it Yourself” culture of Punk is something that still holds today – think fashion, art, films, imagery, journalism and music or indeed a way of life. If you want to do something, then what’s stopping you? Take risks, do things differently, think for yourself and succeed. As the ‘Sniffing Glue” poster of 1977 (above) showed us – anyone can do it!

Arguably Punk was the most important social culture in its influence and legacy, encouraging kids in the suburbs to take up instruments, with little or no musical training. It represented a DIY ethos and a shake-up of the old-established order. It was a change.

And boy, do we need a change in this current educational landscape!

There were and are many reasons why Punk Learning has been launched, as Alternative TV once sang “Action Time and Vision”…well this was my own personal ATV. I was recently “reminded’ that I needed to fulfil my departmental obligation of producing 32 lesson’s worth of PowerPoint presentations for a Biology scheme of work…I declined the kind offer. Why? Is it because I am lazy? Well, yes I guess I am…but only in the Jim Smith ‘Lazy Teacher” type of way.

I’ll tell you why – it’s because I think it’s fundamentally wrong to have the audacity to choose or even guess how WE WANT our students to learn. Yes, of course we don’t have much say in what we are asking them to learn but do we really think it should be our decision or that we have the right or intelligence to understand how all of our students in our class want to learn.

(Talking about Britain’s school education) “They take your soul away. They take your brains away. They don’t let you have an opinion that’s different from theirs. You’ve got to think what they tell you to think. So when you leave school, your only future is getting married. And by the time you’re about 29 you got two kids, and you just wanna commit suicide.” Johnny Rotten

I’ve recently seen and read lot’s of presentations on “giving students choice in the curriculum” which basically entails that the teacher is being really brave and asking students how many lessons they would like to spend on a certain piece of content – which is all very well, but come on!

The Punk Learning Manifesto states that WE as Punk Learners take risks, do things differently, think for ourselves and decide how we want to learn – this is DIY Learning!

As the great Sultans of Ping FC once sang “What do you think of my manifesto?” “I like your manifesto, put it to the testo”

In John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teacher – Maximizing Impact on Learning he talks about the need for teachers  to “…understand the attitudes and dispositions that students bring to the lesson, and aim to enhance theses so that they are a positive part of learning.”

Hattie in 2008 published work on his ‘rope model’ of self concept, arguing that there is no single strand underlying our self concept, but that it is made up of many concepts or ‘fibres’ of self. He points out that the major claim of this ‘rope model’ is that “students are “choosers” and aim to impose some sense of order, coherence, and predictability in their world; we make choices about how to interpret events, about alternative courses of action, and about the value of making these decisions or not” Hattie’s concludes that “A major purpose of schooling is to enable students to ‘back-themselves’ as learners of what we consider worth knowing”

And isn’t that what we’re striving for? Students “backing themselves” to succeed and being “choosers’ of their own learning? This is where Punk Learning comes in…

After Half Term I am teaching two Year 8 groups – both of these groups will be learning about Food and Digestion – specifically they will be learning about 1.growth, development, behaviour and health can be affected by diet 2.importance of healthy eating is complemented by regular exercise and 3.life processes are supported by the organisation of cells into tissues, organs and body systems (National Curriculum KS3 Science 2007)

They need to learn about what a balanced diet is, what the seven food groups do and where we get them from and how the digestive system works. Am I to assume that I know HOW all my students (48) will want to learn? Am I kidding myself that all of them will actually WANT to learn it? Where’s the buy in? What’s in it for them? And if you’ve just answered that question “because it will help them for their exams in KS4” then you’re missing the point…

Recently I have been engrossed and inspired by Expeditionary Learning; Core Practices – A vision for improving schools. Thank you to Simon Brown for showing me the way on this one. I’ve successfully carried out PBL and am a huge advocate of it and I’ve used some of the Expeditionary Learning core practices to help me crystallise Punk Learning. In their vision they talk about “A Different Approach to Teaching and Learning” where;

  • Learning is active
  • Learning is challenging
  • Learning is meaningful
  • Learning is public
  • Learning is collaborative

If you disagree with any of them, then I would recommend that you stop reading immediately. Or as Jean Jacques Burnel from The Stranglers once said to a Young Conservatives audience that they had been unintentionally booked for “You may as well go home now, cos’ you’re not going to like what we do”…or words to that effect!

Punk Learning – Part 1 will be published very soon.

“And so now I’d like to say – people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks – I am one of them. But we’ve all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything – this is something that I’m beginning to learn.” Joe Strummer



  • Expeditionary Learning; Core Practices – A vision for improving schools.
  • Visible Learning for Teacher – Maximizing Impact on Learning. John Hattie 2012
  • Oops! Helping children learn accidentally. Hywel Roberts 2012
  • The Hidden Lives of Learners. Graham Nuthall 2007
  • The Clash – Return of the Last Gang in Town. Marcus Gray 2003
  • My Record Collection

This post would not have been written if it wasn’t for Hywel Roberts – thanks Hywel for getting me off my arse and getting me to do something!

…and now Punk Learning has been critiqued! Read here 

  1. […] Coles’ manifesto stresses that ‘it’s fundamentally wrong’ for teachers to choose or even guess how they want their students to learn. The only people who know what’s best for them are the kids themselves – so, this is all about DIY learning. That is, children deciding how they want to go about learning certain topics, not being taught how to put up a bookshelf. […]

  2. […] Coles’ manifesto stresses that ‘it’s fundamentally wrong’ for teachers to choose or even guess how they want their students to learn. The only people who know what’s best for them are the kids themselves – so, this is all about DIY learning. That is, children deciding how they want to go about learning certain topics, not being taught how to put up a bookshelf. […]

  3. […] So, how can you quickly and genuinely get your students to take complete control of what they want to learn? I must point out here, that it’s vital that we have the structure and ethos to encourage our students to think creatively about the content that they need to learn. Tell them the topic/concept that they need to know (In my case it was food and digestion) and then get them to do some QFT (Question Formulation Technique). WARNING. Do not attempt this if your students aren’t Punk Learners. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s