School Blog

VSO - Very Special Organisation

VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers to fight poverty and transform lives in the world’s poorest countries. Globally, 72 million children don’t receive an education at all. VSO's vision is that all children have access to good quality education and to help achieve this, education volunteers share and pass on their skills and help to build capacity with teachers who have received no training and little support.

VSO volunteers make a lasting difference by sharing their skills and helping to improve the quality of teaching and learning, improve schools and make education more inclusive for all disadvantaged and excluded children.

They are looking for teachers with at least three years’ experience including: Primary, Secondary, Special Education, Education managers/leaders and English Language.

Roles are from one to two years to make an impact, and you’ll receive full training and support. VSO also offer a comprehensive package including a living allowance, return flights and visas, accommodation and full medical insurance. When you return home, VSO help and support you to resettle, and many of their returned volunteers stay involved with us long after their placement ends. For more information and to see examples of education roles, go to

New things on School of Everything - can you help try them out?

When you have a tiny team putting together new features for a website it really helps to get other people testing out what you've built. So with that in mind we'd really like it if you could give us a helping hand. We'll be very grateful indeed.

Here are the new things that we've made live in the last couple of weeks:

Postcode Search
If you pop a UK postcode in the location search box on any of our pages you should now get results near that postcode. Give it a try and let us know if you have any problems.

If you have your own website, you can add one of our widgets. You get a little bit of School of Everything to put on your own website or blog so your visitors can join the learning revolution. Then they can search easily for informal adult learning locally from your website. Let us know if there are widget-y type problems.

Every member of School of Everything has a Resources tab where you can record notes, links, videos, images, documents and other things that help you learn or teach a particular subject. Let us know if you have any problems adding any Resources and we'll sort them right out.

School of Everything now lists venues that host (or could host) lessons, classes and all other learning events. You can browse venues until you find one suitable for your learning and teaching requirements. Venue listings are created by you, for you and anyone is able to edit the information so it's all kept as up to date as possible. You know the drill - let us know if there are any problems with Venue Listings too.

In each case, were looking for your feedback on what works and what doesn't as well as suggestions as to how we can improve the site - not just functionality, but also how we explain things and well, any suggestions you have at all really. Email [email protected] Thank you. Please. You are very kind and helpful.

Talking about a Learning Revolution

We've got some very good news. Over the next few months we're going to be working with Becta and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (which usually gets shortened to BIS) to improve School of Everything and make it available to lots more people.

Learning RevolutionBack in November, Becta and BIS put out a call to help them build an 'Informal Adult Learning Web Portal' (which even they admit is a bit of a mouthful). This comes from a government white paper that was published last year called The Learning Revolution all about how the Government could support informal adult learning. Informal learning covers all sorts of things like learning a language, singing lessons, car maintenance, a guided walk, learning to dance or researching a subject on-line.

Here's why they think it's important:

"Informal learning can at its best transform people’s lives. Whether it’s personal fulfilment, keeping active and independent into old age, gaining increased confidence or opening a door to further opportunities, informal learning contributes hugely to the health and well-being of individuals and wider society."

That's what we think too.

So we wrote a proposal, sent it off (registered mail don't you know), popped on a train to Coventry for an interview and waited to find out. It didn't take very long. We got the phone call saying that we'd got the contract just before our Christmas party. That was nice.

We're a bit bashful so here's what Christine Lewis from Becta told us about why they awarded us the contract:

"School of Everything has already proved itself as a platform so we don't need to start from scratch. It already has hundreds of thousands of unique visitors a month and this is now set to get much bigger. It uses web 2.0 social tools, has access to the open source development community and will bring a simple, easy to use solution for everyone which is what The Learning Revolution is all about. At Becta we talk about Next Generation Learning - this is an excellent example of what you can do with technology to make a really big impact for learners. I haven’t been this excited for ages!"

The main changes you'll notice to School of Everything will be:

  • You'll be able to find free or low-cost venues to run classes or meet up with other people to learn stuff
  • You'll be able to upload and find more resources related to the subjects you're interested in (videos, documents, images... all that kind of thing)
  • You'll be able to find courses near you as well as individual lessons and teachers for particular subjects
  • You'll also be able to embed School of Everything search widgets on other websites

For us, it means we can do some things we'd always wanted to do a bit faster and that we get to work with lots of great people from the Learning Revolution community that's built up. Hopefully it will also mean that lots more people will be able to teach and learn new things in all kinds of different subjects across the UK.

Anyway, we've promised we'll get all the above done by the end of March so we'd better get back to work!

The Metro covers Everything

If you live in London and get the tube, you may have read about us on your way to work this morning. If not here's a little peek at the The Ridiculant feature in today's Metro (our favourite bit): ' should really look at the rather excellent School of Everything... sort of like a dating website, but for knowledge instead of sex. And they've recently introduced a new gift feature that allows you to buy lessons for someone else.' I'm now a big fan of Tom Phillips (the man who wrote the article) mainly because of the picture caption multi-pun and the memory lesson joke - they make me happy.


Rising star

Stop the press! School of Everything Bread Making teacher Tom Baker (Yep, that's his real name) made the front cover of the Birmingham Post Magazine last week. Tom is a busy man because he is also one of the first teachers to have signed up to our new gift scheme. You can now buy a Bread Making lesson with Tom for one of your friends or family - the perfect Christmas present. It's so much better than socks. Take a look at our other lovely gifts and write to Santa quick. The gifts are growing so keep checking back for new ones and let us know if there’s a lesson you’d like and we’ll see what we can do to track down a teacher for you! Learning's not just for Christmas.

Tom Baker - Birmingham Post

Pictures mean prizes

After the overwhelming response to our last competition we thought we'd run another! As you may have noticed we now have subject images on School of Everything but there aren't quite enough, and that's where you come in. All you need to do is send us a photograph to use on the site. You can pick any subject and send us as many photographs as you like but we'll only be picking one winner! The prize this time is a brilliant little Lego Digital Camera. Good isn't it? Send your entry to [email protected] by 30 September 2009.

Oh and congratulations to David Brown as the winner of the paragraphs competition. Well done you! Here is what he said about his subject, it will be up on the site soon:

'Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li - which one are you? Hopefully none of the above. You may aspire to imitate - admirable, but to be them - questionable! You're unique, individual, so why not just be yourself. Give jujitsu a try. Train hard, have fun and get fit. Meet interesting people and get to punch, kick and throw them. Of course you’ll learn some basic self-defense skills as well, they may lack the flash of the silver screen but then life’s a bit like that, if only there was someone always there to shout: cut, let’s try that again.'

Lego Digital Camera

School of Everything: Unplugged! - week two

Last week's School of Everything: Unplugged! was a lot of fun - and we're going to be back at the Royal Festival Hall foyer, from 10.30 to 12.30 this Wednesday.

This time we'll be joined by Sofia Bustamante, who's going to share her work-in-progress on London Creative Labs. This is a really exciting project, inspired by time she's spent with Mohammed Yunus's Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. It's still at an early stage, but it reminds me a lot of the meetups out of which School of Everything emerged in 2006.

There's more information here. The format will be similar to last week - come with or without your laptop, get some work done, drink lots of coffee, have interesting conversations and meet new people...

School of Everything: Unplugged!

I've just written a long post on my personal blog about School of Everything: Unplugged! - the meetups which Tony Hall and I are going to be running on Wednesday mornings in London. You can read the whole thing here. The short version is that I'm hoping these meetups can be one way of keeping us connected to the longer term vision for education which Pete wrote about a few weeks ago - and to the experimental, improvisational learning culture of the projects that School of Everything came out of.

We need to focus on building the technology and the business that will ensure this site is viable in the long term. But none of us went into this simply to build a website or a company. Unplugging from the office and hanging out face-to-face with anyone who wants to come along seems like one way of getting back to our roots.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be there every Wednesday from 10.30 till 12.30 in the Foyer of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Other members of Team Everything will be coming down, so it will be a chance to talk about what the site should do next - and to get a makeover for your profile, or help with creating one. But it can equally become a space to discuss other possibilities for free-schooling, deschooling and e-schooling, to share ideas and experiences. What happens depends on who comes along.

You can bring your laptop and work off the Southbank Centre's free wifi, or just come and hang out with us for the morning. And if you have other ideas about what we should do with these meetups, let me know.

Directions to the Royal Festival Hall are here. Once inside, we'll be in the foyer area, to the left of the dance floor, from 10.30 till 12.30. I'll take the big orange furry Every Thing along to make us easy to spot - but if you have difficulty finding us, give me a ring on 07810 650213.

Wednesday mornings on the South Bank

So yesterday we had our first School of Everything morning meetup at the Southbank Centre!

We were a small group, but perfectly formed. Besides me, there was: Tony Hall, our favourite photography teacher and the man who's initiative it was to organise a meetup; Katerina Symiakaki, who comes from Greece and is studying Innovation Management at St Martin's College; and Vinay Gupta, the inventor of the hexayurt, who joined the site during the meetup and is now offering his services as a Meditation and Appropriate Technology Swami.

Conversations ranged from different styles of teaching and the possibilities of empty shops as learning spaces, to ideas for film plots and a discussion of the social possibilities of dog-walking. (Katerina confirmed that it was a good way to meet girls, but recommended borrowing no more than one dog at a time - or two, if you can find a matching pair.)

The Foyer of the Royal Festival Hall turns out to be a great location. There's lots of space, it's not too noisy, there's free wifi and you can hang around for as long as you want without any pressure to buy anything from the cafe. It's also such a wide open space that you can spot people from a distance, so finding the right group is not too intimidating. (I took along the big orange furry Every Thing to make us easy to spot.)

So we've decided to carry on meeting up there for the next few weeks and see what happens. If you're free on Wednesday mornings, come and join us for coffee, conversation and/or co-working. We've started a Meetup group, so you can sign up there for updates - and to let us know you're coming, so we know to look out for you!

Paragraphs mean prizes

As you may have seen in our August Newsletter we have a little competition - fancy winning a nice prize? All you need to do is write a paragraph about why your subject is tip top and everyone should give learning it a go. 100 words maximum (we don't want English teachers running away with themselves). Oh, you're waiting to know what the prizes are aren't you? Well you will get your paragraph published on School of Everything and we will send our favourite entry a Flip Video Camera. Good isn't it? Send your entry to [email protected] by 30 August 2009.

Flip camera

Flip camera by Nick J Webb

Don't be shy, say hello. We'd love to hear from you.

[email protected]