Thursday, 31 December 2009

Cameras and mobile phones

Was this the thickest washing line in town last week?
I was asked recently why I always carry a camera around with me... I rarely leave the house without one. There are several reasons, but mainly I never know what sights I am going to see on my travels. There are too many times in the past when I used to wish that I had a camera on me for some particular spontaneous reason.

Another reason is that not only do I want to be able to capture any scene I want immediately, but also, of course, I always want to be able to post at least one photograph per blog post. Sometimes, the photograph inspires the post, sometimes I want a photo to illustrate a point. The photograph above is of a washing line - not exciting, not educational, but I have never seen so much ice and snow gather on a rope after just a few hours.

I guess a better question would be why take a camera out when my phone has a camera built into it? I think once I am convinced about the quality and adaptablilty of the shots I can take with my particular phone (or until I get a new one), I may not need to. Certainly a huge number of people are always seen taking photos with their phones..

Several schools now routinely expect students to take photographs of projects, experiments, work etc on their phone. and then send to to their worksites to drop into reports, written work and write-ups. It does make sense doesn't it. So why are so many schools fughting a potentially losing battle in trying to ban phones? That is the one piece of kit that students will never forget!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Schools - landmarks of the community - or not?

Iconic school buildings in Monmouth
More and more, new schools are being designed to be central to the community that they serve. The expectation is that many new schools will be accessible from early morning until late at night, including weekends for extended learning, community use and so much more.
Many new schools are also have to cope with the growing trend for co-located services to be contained within the building or campus. This really demands careful architecture and design.
Interestingly, some people are being clear that they do not want "iconic" buildings, being much more concerned that funding is used to deliver the best possible learning design features inside the building. This will support students to be able to learn as effectively as possible in a variety of environments. This makes perfect sense. Equally other, are very clear that they do want "iconic" buildings that are a feature of the community - this also makes sense - if there are reasons for the design.
If we really do want new schools to be centres of the community - maybe they SHOULD look like interesting, different and great buildings that stand out and also welcome people inside. The last thing we want is for them to look like so many of today's existing schools where most adults fear to venture.
It's a balance, it's a conversation, but it is may be more important to the communities involved than we think about sometimes.

Sunday, 27 December 2009


Daughter dancing spontaneously - for ages - the photo taken on a mobile phone adds a certain atmosphere
There have been a variety of views aired this past year about the importance for play in young children and how much play should be allowed in nursery / infant school as a learning medium. Several people have criticised its value - I so disagree with them....
I have spent several days at home recently over the holiday period - more than for some time. It has been just fab watching my young daughters playing together, learning so much from play, experimenting, using role play, dance, and telling the most imaginative stories..
I must admit to hoping that when my 4 year old starts school in January she is allowed and encouraged to use play as a learning medium ... she really enjoys it... and is looking forward to to the whole school 'thing'. I just hope that she and her friends, all of whom learn in different ways and at different paces, keep the enjoyment and enthusiasm magic .... and that play is valued as an important learning medium... why wouldn't it be?

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas


Monday, 21 December 2009

Learning around the world....

The snow is still here and I am lucky to be working from home today... but the learning never stops. Taking a part in a webex to Australia with the very talented Annalise of the Fielding Nair Team, I ended up learning even more about their EFEI (Educational Facilities Evaluation Instrument) software package.

It really did make me think - I was in my office at home, Annalise was half way round the world also at home, I was looking at her desktop on my screen, and we worked really hard. This common technology has been here for ages but the increasing reliability and access for all home and work users really does change how people function. We also used SKYPE to connect up and chat..... How would we have done this joint working ten years or more ago?
It's easy, it's fun, it's very effective - and SKYPE of course is free. I've used it for years around the world. Whilst I have been into a number of schools that talk about using it with their foreign links - I have found very few that use it in practice.
I am sure that it is the way forward as more and more global issues get addressed in schools. As schools IT systems get increasingly robust and reliable, hopefully we will see more and more use of this type of working in creating online global learning communities. Why wouldn't we?

Snow and Schools don't mix..

I must admit that seeing the snow on Friday morning as I travelled to the station did remind me of days as a secondary headteacher. Staff will always allege that lots of things affect students, rain, strong wind, a full moon and, inevitably, snow being the worst. Even now I always think of staff when these things occur.

We are so unused to snow (in the south of the UK anyway) and it causes such chaos to people even getting to school, my focus was then keeping students in the building and hopefully working... I was lucky - my fab staff always worked as a team - even if they did not always agree with my hard line 'no one outside' approach!!!
I miss many aspects of working in schools - leading a UK school in the snow is not one of them! I was really thinking of staff on Friday - especially as, for many, it was the last day of term! Perhaps most students stayed away?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Ice Sculpture

I often mention my love of sculpture in public places, but as I walked through St Pancras station yesterday, it was an ice sculpture that caught not only my eye, but that of many other people. Ice sculptures are not new by any means, but this was particularly large and eye catching being made out of 60 pieces of ice. The ever changing coloured lights also helped make it even more dramatic.

It certainly did draw attention to a young peoples charity, so many people read the notices and took photographs - as did I of course. It was great, unusual and just a really interesting feature that enhanced the environment - just fab really.
(I did vaguely wonder if you could do ice sculpture in schools as part of an exam course - but there is probably a myriad of health and safety rules preventing it.)
The advantage of doing it in December was that it was so cold (one of the coldest days of the year) that it will remain there much longer than normal! ( and yes it really was freezing!!

Sharing knowledge

I often post photographs of the radical new Centres for Learning in Knowlsey and praise their really innovative designs, new approaches to FF&E and so on.

Developing strategies for working in very new and innovative spaces does take time. Preparation and understanding of designed spaces is key, as is working with colleagues to identify strategies and protocols for effective working.
Working with Professor Stephen Heppell this week in Knowsley, in a meeting of teachers, a wide ranging discussion outlined ideas, experiences, strategies, concerns and crucially the successes as people adapt to new type spaces, especiall the new technology / science areas.
What is evident, and what is happening more and more, is the absolute need to share ideas, strategies and approaches that work. This sharing between professionals needs to be instant - not through a meetings months apart - no one has time for that. Equally no person, department or school need to feel alone any more. This is where technology comes in with blogs, Facebook pages or other approaches. With the stresses of teaching in some very challenging schools, moving into new spaces, plus Ofsted, exam pressures and everything else - it is not easy - the ability to share, suggest and support really can help.
As in every school I have been to, there some very positive staff who are really are determined to utilise the full potential of new spaces and are equally happy to share with their colleagues what they are doing, what is working and what they would do differently next time. This is how it has always been. What is certain is the learning journey continues and will never end....

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Good designs work...

I know several posts recently have been about offices and design features, but last week in Leeds I visited an office that just seemed to demonstrate many features that lots of schools are talking about...
  • a welcoming reception
  • a variety of open very agile working areas
  • partial walls but lots of glazing
  • informal work spaces
  • some 'closed' meeting rooms
  • plenty of light
  • real transparency into every area
  • vertical links between floors
  • use of colour
  • a variety of furniture
  • plants.... and more
The working atmosphere in this building was just fab... and the ideas do work for schools. Most people who are concerned about this model are rightly concerned about acoustics - but we have the technology to get solve this important issue. Get that right and the spaces really do work amazingly.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Mobile technology - why not?

Funny really I think the story above is supposed to shock. It appeared recently in the national media - but what really made me question it is that so many schools do have already or want mobile devices for students - is it really news? Lots of schools want to, or already do use phones. I know of schools that expect students to have their phones on, (with bluetooth activated), to receive daily or urgent notices, messages etc from the school as a matter of course.

I suspect that even the opening line of the article will be history soon - schools will want students to have access to the very powerful devices they always carry. Students may forget books, pens etc but few will ever forget their phones. Why shouldn't we utilise them - makes perfect sense really as we move to the middle of the 21st century. If the Gumley House School is trialling using iPhones - then good luck. They are certainly not the first - it surely is the way forward!

Agile spaces

Transparency, light, colour, a range of agile working spaces with varying furniture solutions, grazing spaces, trees... All these found in one really attractive London office block I visited recently with a BCSE meeting.... it really is what we are talking about for schools. It works at all levels for students, adults, visitors... this space could easily work as a school! If only more people could see it!

Welcoming entrances - not with toilets!

So what's the first thing you notice when you visit new offices, buildings, schools etc. Decor, the welcoming entrance, the reception area... It makes an impression...

Visiting some offices recently in London with no reception area I could not help but notice that literally the first thing you see as you go through the front door are really rather unpleasant, elderly, shared toilets - and as one climbs up every floor, there are more opening straight onto the stairs .... it's not good!
What is bizarre is that the office spaces are lovely, glazed, light, airy and really very trendy places. It is certainly more than can be said about the bathrooms!
I always just wonder why, when converting cramped spaces into great creative work spaces, people don't think about bathrooms as well. Why is that?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Great Schools - Global Context

The BCSE (British Council for Schools Environments) Annual Lecture took place this week - I was fortunate to be able to attend.

The main speaker, Michael Stevenson, Vice President - Global Education, Cisco really went through what was happening all over the world, but especially in the context of, schools (and countries) in challenging circumstances, be it India, Mexico, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina etc... Clearly the impact of ICT plays a really important role and gives lots of opportunities, but not if we are just going to use it to keep doing the same thing.
The key message from Michael was that we have to be radical and really 'do education' differently. We just love tinkering around at the edges - and often, though we have ideas, we don't then resource them adequately. BSF should be fab but not if we just do the same old thing inside new spaces with the same old restrictions.
The bottom line though, is that there very few people who have any idea how to be really brave that are in the right positions to be able to implement anything. Bravery for radical new approaches to education, on a national scale is unlikely to be honest. Therefore those staff who are doing really good things quietly in their own schools are a really important messenger and maybe they are the only real brave ones who are actually doing something....
The panel and audience discussion that followed was really interesting with views ranging from:
  • developing new pedagogies,
  • not enough CPD for teachers, many of whom would adopt new ideas if they were supported and given time to understand, train and implement them (have I heard that before somewhere?)
  • current change potentially not considering the 'soul' and spirituality of communities and cultures
  • the impact of the economy and forthcoming General Election
  • feeling terrified at not understanding what we mean by 21st century or transformational education
Good conversations, challenging thoughts, enjoyable evening and good networking opportunites - excellent!
(Whilst the venue was lovely, not sure about sitting on those benches for too long though.... I could start a conversation about FF&E... but I won't!.)
The Panel from l-r: Ty Goddard, (Director BCSE), Tom Weaver (DEGW/Davis Langdon), Tim Nash (Edison Learning), Sarah Richardson (Building Magazine), Michal Cohen (Walter and Cohen)

Who are you?

I have a role in a lot of bids for new schools and academies - it always amazes me how often people have to get introduced (or re-introduced) and really how little we 'apparently' know about each other, even after spending weeks or months talking to each other.
I'm not suggesting becoming best friends with everyone, but surely if you really believe in what you are doing, and are really part of a team, you should be willing to stand up for it and support it whenever possible. (Whilst also admitting if you get it wrong).
Completing some work recently I was really surprised to see my picture in some documentation supporting one particular project (alone with other people). I almost felt sorry for them seeing my face, but as a client representative noted - at least we really do know who you are and what you believe in!
Better get a new photo I guess!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Student Voice - and they will hold their own!!

Student voice - almost hidden from sight but not from being heard!
Two different events in the last few days where student voice continued to impress those that considered themselves 'experts'.
One, a mid term design review for a new school last week. It was great to see student representatives amongst the architects, builders, elected members and local authority staff. Not only did the students present have a view - they defended it rigorously to all, irrespective of position. It was really quite funny to see experienced architects commenting that they would not like to take these four foot nothing students on in debate, and then wondering if they wanted a job. It was just fab to watch.
Even better, being involved in the whole design process over months to get to this day had really effected their thought on their own future. One was really quite clear that he wanted to be a scientist. This was a direct result of all the work they had on sustainability and its contribution to school design during the process so far.
The second event was this week, in a very different town in another part of the UK. They are just considering the start of their BSF bid. Whilst authority representatives were discussing the steps they had undertaken so far, they admitted that they had undertaken a lot of student engagement and and been blown away by the responses they had got, with many ideas that they simply had not thought of! They really did seem surprised about just how engaged the students had been and what strong views they had.
Not sure why really - lots of people have been saying for a very long time that, given the chance, students do want to get involved with their learning, certainly can contribute and happy to work with adults in helping develop ideas. that is ........ if we ask them!
The two events were very different - but at least both, in their different ways acknowledged the potential power of student voice. Long may it continue.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Big people - silly chairs

I attended an amateur concert in a local secondary school this week. It was good, the orchestra has grown in numbers and whilst the range of players are truly comprehensive in ability, they are all being challenged, learning lots and having fun!!. They perform each term and steadily improve.

Unfortunately, the chairs the audience all sit on do not - they are truly dreadful. They are still found in the vast majority of schools, they are cheap mouded plastic - but not appropriate and certainly not cheerful. We expect students to sit in them for hours each day and then complain when they start fidgeting. They ARE uncomfortable - everyone was twitching. We all know there is growing research and evidence demonstrating that FF&E has a major impact on student performance and ultimately attainment.

We all know there is a big drive for putting schools in the heart of the community, especially in the UK BSF programme and getting adults in to schools during the day and in the evenings. If they have to sit in such appalling chairs as this, why would they want to come?

Many new schools are now taking furniture selection incredibly seriously and creating quality learning environments - but many still don't take it seriously enough! Come on - this is important !!!

(but the concert was good never the less!)