One size cannot fit all


The fascinating talks by Sir Ken Robinson (2006), in particular his  talk on ‘how schools kill creativity’, has got me thinking about education in terms of a ‘one size fits all’ set up.  Whereby education disregards the creative minded and results in them being tossed aside to feel they are just not clever simply because they do not fit into this narrow system. I really liked his comment on how children as they are growing are taught increasingly from the waist up,  with an emphasis on their heads and then slightly to one side (Robinson, 2006). Also his comment on how disconnected we have become from our own bodies and their wonderful creative capacity, for example as he points out is the case in many university lecturers (Robinson, 2006). Of course it is these very lecturers or teachers who are the primary source of knowledge in a University or school that believes in an information scarcity view of education.

When I think back to my experiences of being educated in Ireland it is interesting to apply this viewpoint. During my time studying I had a peer who was an A star student, she flew through school as she had the ability to regurgitate information and tick the boxes in terms of what the examiners wanted to see. But to be perfectly honest she was not a particularly good communicator and she was disinterested in any form of creativity. Another peer I knew on the other hand was a wonderful communicator, a very bubbly person who thoroughly enjoyed the arts, but she struggled throughout her education in the core subjects for example Irish and Maths. But through working very hard she completed all her exams. The first peer got accepted into a top teacher training school in Ireland the second did not purely based on her weakness in terms of the ‘core’ subjects. After finishing school she had a general feeling of failure, although sadly it was the system that had failed her not the other way around. Firstly surely an individual who has struggled throughout school but come out on top in the end would be more sympathetic  and better able to communicate effectively with the students than a teacher who has flown through school with no trouble at all. Surely what it boils down to is what Mr Robinson mentioned about the belief that there are two types of thinkers in the world creative and academic (Robinson, 2006). In this case as is often the case in a ‘one size fits all’ education system the Academic minded came out on top.

My question is, do you feel it’s right for these individuals who are the winners of a broken system to be ruling the majority of our education system and educating many of our children in the western world?

Additionally how is it fair as Sir Ken Robinson touched on for individuals to feel that ‘maths, and Irish’ should be the core subjects. One would have thought we have learnt enough about the multiple areas of intelligence and how it branches across many disciplines to appreciate the importance of other subject areas too. How intelligent an individual feels they are at school boils down to whether their type of intelligence fits in with the narrow box of what is being considered and assessed within that education system. Research by Dr. Howard Gardner (1999) proposed the theory of multiple intelligence which highlighted that peoples intelligence is far more complex than anything that can be measured by a simple IQ test. Dr Gardner indicated that there are eight different types of intelligence, logical mathematical, bodily kinaesthetic, visual-spatial, interpersonal (or emotional), intrapersonal, musical, verbal-linguistic and naturalist intelligence, Gardner (1999).

Clearly as Sir Robinsons (2006) talk and Gardeners (1999) evidence shows, it is time to utilize and embrace our creative capacities and multiple intelligences allowing them to flourish instead of being suppressed, as in the majority of children as they go through their education. Sir Robinson gave a good example of this by highlighting a study conducted on children’s ability to think of uses of a paper clip, whereby success rates decreased with increasing age Robinson (2006).

According to the The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) each child has the right to an education that develops their “personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential’. But surely by implementing the ‘one size fits all’  education system this fundamental right is not being taken on board?



American Psychological Association (1996). Resolution on school dropout prevention. Washington, DC: Author.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind: What all students should understand. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster

Robinson, K. (TED talks). (2006). Schools kill creativity. Available from

Convention on the rights of children (1989). U.N. General Assembly Document A/RES/44/25 (12 December 1989) with Annex Retrieved from



9 responses »

  1. Hi,

    This was a really great blog and I really enjoyed reading it, the second paragraph particularly spoke to me. I’m a firm believer that a persons intellect is about far more than knowing how to do well in exams and assignments. I have many friends who in terms of the education system, were below average, struggling through exams and getting a handful of GCSE’s when they left school. Yet they have qualities and abilities that many of those who were straight A students do not, the ability to solve problems by thinking outside of the box, to be an effective leader and communicator, and a raw determination to succeed. But because of the way the system is set up, they have poor qualifications and therefore the job prospects of these great people are so much poorer than someone who simply has the ability to pass exams. It really is a shame that the education is set up in such a way. – This is an interesting article that explains different types of intelligence and the problems with traditional exams, highlighting that Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, possibly two of the greatest examples of brilliant minds, were terrible at taking tests and therefore terrible at school, when clearly these are 2 of the most intelligent men in history.

    Once again great blog. Much more interesting than mine on the history of educational psychology 🙂

    • Thank you. The article you included certainly opens ones eyes to the fact that many of the worlds most intelligent people have also fallen between the gaps of a traditional educational system and instead fit into many different categories of intellect.

      I found it interesting to note when I was researching the area of Gardeners multiple intelligence theory that is was only born so recently in the 1999s and yet in the decade since its emergence we have failed to really implement any of its ideas into education.

      I liked the last paragraph of the article you included and how it highlighted these new developments and how it can offer educators a chance to develop the true potential of every student, Also how we should firstly respect, but also encourage their different abilities this I feel is the key factor when moving forward, beyond the broken education system that exists at the moment.

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for posting such an interesting blog, filled with both personal experience and interesting research. On personal reflection I too believe that viewing intelligence as one dimensional, and seeing people as academic or non academic means that we are 1. Alienating many individuals as not being academic because we are comparing them to this very rigid one sided view of the mind and 2. many brilliant individuals think they are not intelligent when actually they are. The other question that we must consider is whether traditional examinations presented in schools actually are a valid measure of intelligence and whether in fact they are ecologically valid for the world in which we live in. I think not. Research conducted by McClelland 1993 argues that intelligence tests which have been validated against school performance is not a valid measure of performance success in various life outcomes. You mention in your blog about an individual who had great communication skills, a valid skill for success. Competence therefore would be better validated if it wasn’t just compared to one view of the academic mind, but instead individuals were tested and taught skills such as communication and their ability to think differently and outside the box so that creativity can be at the heart of education.
    It is important that we remember creativity is not just associated with creative subjects. Good teachers can develop creative ability through traditional ” academic” subjects and also creative subjects can be intellectually rigorous. In order to enhance creativity in the class room we must celebrate students who do things differently. All subjects should be taught creatively that challenges the pupil in many different ways, ensuring students have a broad range of experiences in the classroom and tested and challenged in many different ways. Thank you for your blog and I look forward to reading your next one.
    Best wishes,

    • Thanks for your refreshing points. Yes it is certainly going to be detrimental in the long term to view children as academic and non academic and to continue viewing and educating children in this way. I found a short but interesting video on fostering education in the right side of the brain and how we cannot neglect educating one side of the brain as in doing so are neglecting one part of the childs being and development. Without the right side of the brain creativity will never be able to be at the heart of education.

      Research by Buzan (1989) has also shown that many of the most wonderful minds of our time for example Einstein, Picasso, Cezanne, and da
      Vinci used both sides of their brains to formulate their most influential contributions. Without both sides of the brain working together humans cannot be efficient creative thinkers and successfully implement these thoughts (Buzan, 1989).

  3. A very thoughtful and thought provoking blog.
    Your comments on Gardner’s multiple intelligences are interesting, as the construct of learning styles do not feature in cognitive psychological theories of intelligence. Individual differences are explained through basic mental capacities and mental strategies- among others. (Yates,2000). An interesting article about learning styles from a psychological perspective (Klein,P.D, 2003. Rethinking the multiplicity of cognitive resources and curricular representations: Alternatives to ‘learning styles’ and ‘multiple intelligences’) questions the validity of the learning style questionnaires. It points to the fact that learners don’t usually show a preference for a particular learning style, rather use a combination of ‘visual’ or ‘auditory’ learning styles.
    Furthermore, Snyder (1992), speaks of the myth of learning style. She suggests that there are more similarities between learners than differences. She also suggests that learning styles are used as an excuse for gaps in children’s abilities. Perhaps your friend struggled in maths and Irish, not because she wasn’t taught in her specific ‘learning style’ (if such a thing exists!), but because at some point in her education she was not taught key skills in mathematics or reading. This may have lead to a ‘cumulative dysfluency’ (Binder,1996), meaning that certain skills weren’t solidified fully, so could not be built on.
    I’m all for encouraging creativitity in classrooms and lecture rooms, but not to the detriment of teaching key skills for learning! What do you think?

    • Thank you for your interesting points. Yes I certainly agree with your comments on particular learning styles if such a thing exists. I remember filling out a questionnaire on learning styles a number of times in secondary school and each time I had a different result. Although many people no doubt generally do fall into one particular learning style most of the time this can differ from situation to situation depending on the subject at hand and many other variables that may be existent that particular day. I also agree with your idea that students are not inherently bad at certain subjects but if they miss the fundamental foundations of the subject at the beginning they may fall further and further behind and build up a fear of the subject.
      In my opinion this is certainly true and happens often in our education system, but from researching into alternative forms of education for example Steiner and Montessori schools which I plan to discuss in my next few blogs I have realized that there are other reasons why this may be the case. In Steiner schools for example they foster creativity but at the same time the students must learn the core subject like English, Maths, History, Geograpy, Physics and Chemistry. But the difference is that children are taught these subjects at a much later age than in formal education. Similar to Montessori education Steiner education also appreciates how crucial it is to be aware of the stages of a childs developments and they weave this knowledge into forming their education system. This has made me realise that possibly in formal education in the UK we are creating fears of particular subjects and causing children to fall behind because we are moulding our children into the education system and what needs to be learnt by this age to pass this exam instead of moulding the education system around childrens own personal emotional, intellectual, psychological and physical development.
      Perhaps if we modelled our education system more on these ideas of education it would encourage creativity while also teaching the key skills for learning while reducing the detrimental effect of a ‘cumulative dysfluency’ (Binder, 1996).

  4. Hi Eliza!

    This is a really thought provoking blog. I am particularly interested in what you commented about Rudolf-Steiner education: how it can teach us a lot about what we need to change within our own education system.

    I have always been struck by the apparent happiness of young people who I have come into contact with who were educated at a local Rudolf-Steiner School, in comparison to their peers who have been educated in state education. Rudolf-Steiner education takes the emphasis away from overbearing teaching, through starting reading instruction at a later age, and making education more creative and fun.

    Despite popular conception of Steiner education, the School is very successful in standardised measures of achievement. Michael Hall has an A-Level pass rate of 100%, that is the same for other private schools in the area, such as Lingfield Notre Dame, which also has a 100% pass rate. The 100% pass rate is also above the national average (97%), and the percentage of student receiving A grades at Michael Hall was 46%. This again, far exceeds the national average, and places them as the 6th best independent school in the TN22 area.

    Where a Rudolf-Steiner School was opened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there was also great success. After two years, the percentage of students reading at a level above their grade rose from 25-41%, while students in nearby schools with similar SES experienced a reading level decline.

    I appreciate there is great skepticism about the efficacy of Rudolf-Steiner education, but it seems to me clear that students who participate in Rudolf-Steiner education achieve as well on standardised tests as their peers at similar schools (if not better in the case of the Milwaukee School) but also achieve better in terms of creativity than their peers (Ogletree, 1996). So despite of the issues surrounding research in this area (Steiner Schools typically are fee paying, and as pupils at fee paying schools typically perform better than their pupils in state education, this may explain some of their success), I definitely agree, that we must create and education system which fosters encourages creative as well as academic success, and perhaps we have a lot to learn from Wardolf Education in this matter.

    References (in order of Appearance):

    Michael Hall (2010). Michael Hall achieves 100% A-Level Pass Rate. Retrieved from:, Jan 31st, 2012

    Lingfield Notre Dame (2011). Public Examination Results. Retrieved from:, Jan 31st 2012

    BBC (2012). Secondary School Results in East Sussex Area. Retrieved from:

    McDermott, R., Henry, M.E., Dillard, C., Byers, P., Easton, F., Oberman, I., & Uhrmacher, B., (1996). Wardolf Education in an Inner City Public School. Urban Review, 28(2) 119-140. Retrieved from:

    Ogletree, E.J., (1996) The comparative Status of the critical thinking ability of Wardolf Education Students: A Survey. Retrieved from:

  5. Great comment back Lucy and interesting figures that really support the effectiveness of Steiner schools in comparison to state schools. I liked the fact that you touched on how from your personal experience children who went to Steiner schools are a lot happier than their state educated peers. As figures show from the grades that Steiner school pupils achieve good marks in comparison to their private school counterparts. According to research happiness comes naturally from doing well at something (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger & Vohs, 2003).
    Although as you touched on we cannot shy away from the fact that these schools are not socially inclusive as they are fee paying. Through research I have only found one Steiner school that is state funded but is currently over subscribed. So this may possibly be the only apparent flaw in the system the lack of Steiner schools that are state funded and for the majority the fact that it cuts off students who cannot afford the fees.

  6. Pingback: Learning styles: are we really that different? | amybruck89

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