Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Temporary facilities in the 21st century

There are so many great students in our schools and they really do deserve the best facilities if they are to achieve their potential.

I haven't posted any nightmares recently on this blog but I did visit a school site this week and could not help but notice the student facilities. These photographs were taken at a functioning secondary school and, although they are well looked after, are dreadful. Admittedly the schools is only decanted there for a couple of years as their new buildings are constructed, but it was also a functioning school before with inadequate facilities. These will be the memory of school for many students in 2009.
So many people now really want student bathroom facilities scattered near learning areas throughout school buildings and avoiding the group 'industrial' toilet facility hidden near the end of corridors. This improves student engagement and reduces disruption of students leaving their learning to wander the school looking for a bathroom. It obviously reduces bullying due to easier and constant access to passive supervision. Placing these facilities where they are in the play spaces emphasises the point really.
Many will find it hard to believe that even now in the 21st century we are still installing temporary outside facilities for students. It really is a disgrace!
And there are still people fussing about the BSF programme and wondering why we need provision of new school environments for our students. Amazing really and very very sad.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Some skills don't change....

Visiting a very small shipyard last week in Essex with my colleague Prof. Stephen Heppell, we went and saw the local sail maker in her loft space. It is difficult to predict, just from a photograph, exactly what decade we were in - the machinery and skills simply have not changed.

There is a danger that this is a dying skill - especially in very small companies. It is not general knowledge that counts here here, or learnt knowledge about a range of general subjects, but interest, skill, enthusiasm and a capacity to learn. We will probably never offer a vocational qualification in sail making but there will always be a demand for it throughout the 21st century. So how do we encourage people into minority but highly skilled careers such as this? And actually, why can't a student gain a qualification in sail making? There is loads of skill involved and, I suspect, far more knowledge required than a number of other qualifications currently on offer!
Added to that a talented craftsman in this area could probably name their price in the right area!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Playfulness, fun and creativity

Visiting an artist friends house this weekend, I was really taken by her totally quirky garden. Beautiful flowers, grass and all the usual stuff, but everywhere you looked there were surprises, from mini statues to animals to pieces of art work.

Designed for children, it really did provide a kind of magical environment full of surprise and wonder. Certainly my young daughters loved it with squeals of laughter and surprise as they saw first one thing and another. It also led to all sorts of role play as they created stories and acted out all sorts of things using the surprises in the garden.
I have seen some great nursery school environments in different places around the world. This delightful scene was a good reminder that surprise, humour and playfulness are just so important in developing creativity in young people.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Balconies, stairs and ... can't we trust the students?

Bridge Academy, Hackney
Talking to a couple of educationalists recently, the subject got onto balconies and stairs in schools and our common experiences of a tiny minority of staff in a number of school early design meetings stating that you should never have stairs, balconies or bridges in any school as the students would all: fall off, or, hurl bags, people and other random objects off them. Those same people always go onto note that no one else has students quite as bad as theirs. (no matter where in the country they are!)
Interestingly during design sessions with students from the same schools, these features are never an issue -in fact they always like them and much prefer them to narrow dark corridors, hidden stairwells with no sightlines and no opportunities for passive supervision.
Students seem to manage at home with stairs and landings, in blocks of flats, in shopping centres when congregating with friends with zero supervision and in other places without mass injury, mayhem or significant problems.
There are now scores of schools opening up with all these design features, nearly always with no issues to match the doom and gloom sayers. Where there have been issues, often it has been a management issue rather than a design issue. Why would you want to have narrow corridors, no visibility and small enclosed spaces?
One major driving force for the numbers of these features, of course, is raising the amount of natural daylight to comply with the increasingly strict design regulations, hence the number of atriums (atria??) and sky lights.
New school designs are frequently creating much more professional business like spaces, and these are really appreciated by students, staff, parents and the community alike. The number of times I have heard students and parents say that a new building does not look like a school but rather a professional workplace or office environment is a real positive as far as I am concerned. That is as long as it reflect learning, celebrates students work and is welcoming to all. The business is learning after all - but now with BSF, at least it is being done in increasingly well designed and well built environments.

Hale Wood Centre of Learning, Knowsley

Leigh Technology College, Dartford

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

One hundred and ten and counting..

Amazingly, the readership of this blog has now reached one hundred and ten countries - literally from all around the world. I can't really believe it. My blog also has a returning reader rate of approaching 40% which is rather humbling really.

It does make me feel guilty if I do not post regular comments - so a massive thank you to all those people who do log in and read the blog and then come back again. I will keep writing as long as time allows.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Old friends - new opportunities

Trung Le of oWp/p
It was great this week to meet up with old colleagues Rick Dewar and Trung Le from international architectural firm oWp/p which is based in Chicago. We have worked together for several years on a couple of projects, primarily the fantastic new schools in the Cayman Islands, but also briefly I was involved in events leading to their new book "The Third Teacher". (See earlier post). Although now launched in the States, "The Third Teacher" will not be officially launched in the UK until the major BCSE World Conference event to be held in Knowsley in November..
Over here on business, I always meet up with them so we can catch up with what we are all doing and explore ways in which we can work together again in the future. We did make a good team. I look forward to meeting up in Washington in September and again in Knowsley in November.
I have been lucky to work with some very talented people - these guys are amongst the best in the business. I am so pleased to also be able to call them really good friends who I do keep in contact with.
Risk Dewar, Principal, oWp/p, in a rather hazy photograph taken on a phone camera

Monday, 3 August 2009

Indoor outdoor spaces...

Visiting a new office block recently I was asked what I thought of the new foyer, really a covered courtyard. Despite the pouring rain, it was light and very airy. Whilst some attempt had been made to create a welcoming reception with informal seating for visitors, it was still a bit stark for me. I like minimalism but even allowing for circulation space the furniture did look like a bit of an afterthought.

What I really did like was the informal seating in all the window areas on all the other floors looking over the courtyard. People were meeting informally, eating and working extremely hard in a relaxed comfortable environment. I was told that those seats were very popular already and people often met and worked there by choice. Doesn't that say something as so many working environments are being reconfigured to be less formal? (Obviously, before someone challenges me, there are also spaces for formal meetings as well!)

As we continue to design schools there is much that can be learnt from a number of non education work environments. Interestingly, there is a trend of Heads and teachers looking at spaces that have nothing to do with education and incorporating what they see there in to new schools to make more effective working environments. At last - hooray!


Walking towards the station at 5.30a.m. I find myself gazing at a fire extinguisher carefully placed and standing in the gutter. No idea where it came from but no doubt it was 'stolen' during an evening of revelry.. Aren't some people stupid and selfish. Not only does a company have to replace it, but it could have been needed where ever it was.

Having removed it they then obviously had absolutely no idea what to do with it - why couldn't they just have taken it back? All a bit pointless really. (it's not even a good start for a piece of creative writing)