Thursday, 28 January 2010

the centre for school design

This week saw the launch of the Centre for School Design. I was really sorry to have missed the launch, which I had been invited to attend just ages ago, and accepted. It's the nature of what I do. At times, I miss the things I would really like to get involved with.

What is The Centre for School Design? There's no point me trying to rephrase their details when the wording speaks for itself, so you will find it below!
This is such a needed enterprise - `I really do wish them the best of luck - I hope to get involved more and more (and next time i will even turn up!!) Please do accept my apologies anyway.

New ‘post bureaucratic age’ think tank puts school design centre stage

A new think tank which places design at the heart of the way the education system works was launched this week. It aims to lead national thinking and shape policy and practice in both education and the built environment, and harness the learning power of mass collaboration.

The Centre for School Design is an initiative from the British Council for School Environments (BCSE), and will be hosted by the charity.

Co-founder and BCSE chief executive Ty Goddard, said:

"We are at a crucial time in the cycle of UK government and public policy. Public sector budgets are being closely scrutinised and everyone is being asked to deliver more for less. We need an independent voice which can lead national debate on education, give authoritative guidance on best practice and value for money, and make the crucial links between design, educational function and achievement".

A key feature of the new body will be the use of the web, harnessing the power of social media to develop and inform the work of organisations across the sector. Elements of this work will include:

- a regular blog that shares ideas, materials and information in real time;

- the use of video, podcasts and other media to set the agenda;

- web 2.0 technologies to enable people to connect with each other and navigate their way through current challenges in education, design and construction;

- the development of a series of strategic partnerships with national bodies, and academic partners, to deliver and commission pioneering research.

Co-founder and BCSE deputy chief executive Ian Fordham added:

"We're heading into a post bureaucratic age when it comes to garnering expertise. Utilising the web and related technologies will give us the opportunity to capture a massive range of knowledge and expertise, as well as sharing what works in a collaborative online environment. We need to spread ideas as they happen and the web allows us to do this in ever more simple ways. There is a lot of talk of using the 'wisdom of crowds' to inform policy and practice on the ground -- we will make that a reality in the worlds of education and design."

In its first year, the organisation plans to launch a series of major projects, reports and events, including a collaboration with a national partner to identify emerging practice in tackling poverty and disadvantage through design and a national education summit to help shape education policy of the new government.

For more details visit or contact

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Yuck - not all train travel is good

I travel loads on trains all over the UK, every week - most of those I travel in are truly fab, quiet and quick, with good service, food and cleanliness. (I particularly like the Virgin Pendalinos which I occasionally take). Others are not like that unfortunately.

Recently I travelled on a small local train (read old, crowded, noisy and dirty) out of Manchester en route to Blackburn. Not a pleasurable experience for any of us. Presumably most of the people on the train had to suffer it each day. Dirty, damaged, grafitti'd and with gum of elderly vintage on most surfaces. It was, frankly, disgusting! (and no there was no first class)
Everyone working in schools know that any of these things have to be rectified instantly. Good quality clean environments are largely looked after by young people because they feel valued. But dirt breeds dirt, grafitti breeds and damage encourages further damage. Not good really.
No maintenance had taken place on this carriage for ages - that was obvious, but in the 21st century with a high service culture, this should just not happen. It was just revolting!!
Anyone reading this, or those who know me well, will realise that I try very hard indeed NOT to catch trains like this! I don't like it.... but why should anyone have to put up with it?

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Art work - well she's only 3!

Even my youngest daughter is excited by the computers around the house and is always trying to use the technology - and why not. Yes we have had the unintended emergency services phone call from a Blackberry, but it was a learning curve (that has NOT been repeated)!

The exciting opportunities to find a range of software that appeals to both 3 and 4 years olds and provides all sorts of feeling of achievement is enormous fun and a real family activity. I love it. (Needless to say my somewhat older daughter knows her way around and teaches me...)
The image above was using a paint package - it's not a Picasso but it does signify progress and control and excitement (for my 3 year old - not me!). Her future is going to be really supported by technology - why not start early if they are excited about it! I just don't agree with those that say we should avoid very young people using ICT. Why would we - it's just about balance surely?

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Filming a podcast (vodcast) - not award winning

Just about to start recording
Life is full of variety and fun... and different. This week, to support a new school project Prof. Stephen Heppell and I had to film a video podcast (or vodcast). No problem with that - it's a great project we both believe in, but due to time commitments for both of us we filmed it in a location that was convenient for both - and so BAFTA was selected. (SH is a BAFTA judge - hence access was no problem).
Whilst I have had several meetings there with him before, me filming a short interview style vodcast at the home of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts just felt a bit wrong to me - almost fraudulent really, Bafta winning stuff it certainly wasn't!
But interestingly we filmed it from the in built camera and mic in a MacBook Pro ( don't ask why not via a separate camera - it's a long story). Despite being balanced on a chair which was in turn balanced on a table, the quality was fine and really demonstrates the ever increasing power of these mobile pieces of kit to support all types of working and learning.
The first pubic airing of this piece of filming (and possibly the last) is at the weekend - we await the reaction. One thing for certain is that it won't be nominated for an award!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

BCSE Industry Awards and a new Chair of Judges

BCSE has now announced the launch of it's 2010 Industry Awards. Now in their third year, these prestigious awards identify and reward excellence in the UK school design and construction sectors. For more information click here!

I am really constantly amazed just how hard the very small team at BCSE work to constantly promote the message about the importance of great school environments. It's not just about events, conferences and awards - its the non stop influencing and informing that is so important. Ty Goddard and Ian Fordham lead this charge with dedication and enthusiasm.
BCSE also notes that the UK is a world leader in this important and dynamic industry - this is a great way to celebrate some of the fab work being done around the UK. Last year saw 170 entries for 13 categories - the number categories increases this year to 16. It is a wonderful opportunity to really celebrate the work of architects, suppliers, construction firms, local authorities, teachers and students. The resulting BCSE publication 'Celebrating excellence in UK school design and construction' gives a great summary of some of the entries.
Even better as far as I am concerned is that I have been asked to be Chair of the Judging Panel for these awards. I am humbled and flattered to have been asked to undertake this important role and thank BCSE for the confidence that they have shown in me. Following on from the fab Sharon Wright will be challenging, but I am really looking forward to it.
You can really expect that more information will appear on this blog as the events progress can't you?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

BETT Show - new technologies for all

BETT is so large it's really impossible to photograph
The BETT show, the largest educational technology show in the world, continues to surprise me - there is just so much stuff and so many good ideas! One aspect which is always interesting is the blend of large and small companies. With attendees from all over the world there is just so much potential to share good practice and ideas..
The opportunities to clarify thinking regarding the use of technologies to support curriculum, pedagogies and visions are everywhere as well as opportunities to explore ideas...
BETT is just so large it is impossible to explain, describe or photograph - everyone who has never been before is so surprised by its size..... but everyone keeps returning year on year.. It's hard not to - the changes and technologies are just happening so fast. Google attended this year for the first time, sponsoring Prof. Stephen Heppell's stand - the interest and crowds were amazing, to the extent that security was needed to control crowds, but those that made it learnt loads about the opportunities that Google apps provided.... it's what it's all about!
Interactive plasma screens attracted loads of attention
Teachers TV interviewing Professor Stephen Heppell
The best give away of the day - branded ice scrapers - the snow started that morning - they were flying off the displays faster than anything else

BETT - 21st century teaching and learning (Professor Heppell)

BETT - the worlds largest education technology show is just a fab way to see all the future technologies being produced to support 21st century education systems. It is also a chance to hear a range of professional speaking on everything from special needs, maths, and display screens to the future of technology in schools. It is just such an impressive event and yet again this year colleagues from overseas, including the states, wee blown away by the scale of it.
However not everyone yet, even now, links their technologies to the pedagogical approaches which, of course would give it even more relevance. I'm not sure why they don't really and not just want to talk about how kit works.
There were, of course, also opportunities to hear and speak to those visionaries who are very clear and the future of education, the direction we all all need to travel in and implications for curriculum, spaces, technologies and approaches.
Probably the most influential speaker was Professor Stephen Heppell. Regular readers of this blog know that he is a good friend of mine and we are involved in several projects together. So rather than just repeat his insightful words here, the BBC published a pretty good summary of his comments so to read the full story click here. It is worth reading...

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Education - it's a small small world..

from l - r: Dr Eva Dakichm, Mr Rohit Chaudary and Professor Nicola Yelland
As part of the LATWF I spent time on a couple of days talking with internationally renowned Professor of Education and author, Nicola Yelland, who is normally based in the Victoria University in Melbourne, but currently on attachment as Professor in the Hong Kong Institute of Education. She is just fab, smart, witty, outspoken - just great fun to be with.
As we spoke we were just commenting on how much our vision and theory of education matched during our conversations - we were on very similar lines so often. Eventually we started back tracking to the start of our careers and discovered that not only did we go to the same university, we were there at the same time but didn't know each other - it's so weird!
It was, of course also a massive opportunity to network and make friends with fellow professionals. It was a privilege to also meet Dr Eva Dakich, Lecturer and Researcher in the School of Education in Victoria University, Melbourne and Mr Rohit Chaudhary, Director of the BrainTree Global School in Nagar, India.
No matter where I have been, both here and abroad, I quickly find someone who has a direct link to me or my education life somehow... talk about six degrees of separation. And that's why I always try to get on with people. Education really is an incredibly small world - no matter where you are, you will always come into contact with people who know you, your schools or people you work with! It's one of the reasons that education is such a great field to work in.

Environment, ambience, lighting - what an atmosphere!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the LATWF Dinner at the Natural History Museum this week. The main gallery, complete with its massive dinosaur skeleton made for a fabulous and dramatic environment that was greatly enhanced by really effective lighting, fabulous table settings and star lit curtaining.

Like so many people I am tired of dinners in the 'same old hotel surroundings' - this setting was unique, special and really quite magical. Actually all our learning settings should be magical and special. They don't have to be spotlit, but getting any environment absolutely right ensures that great things have the potential to happen!
The evening was further enhanced by music from students from St Bedes School - staged half way up the very grand stairs - they said it was the most dramatic setting they had played in. I believe them.
Now who is is that says that environments aren't important?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

There must be a better way.....

Photographers waiting for hours on end for just one shot
The Learning and Technology World Forum has been taking place in the same venue as the Iraq Enquiry - the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster. Apart from almost being flattened (literally) by paparazzi as I entered, (well I didn't know that Alistair Campbell was just behind me as we entered the building), I watched them at different stages of the day during intervals in the conference sessions.

Camera crews and photographers waited outside the Conference Centre for Mr Campbell to exit. He was there for over six hours... I just started thinking that in this day of ultra modern technology, having numerous entire TV crews, including high profile name such as Adam Boulton of Sky News, and dozens of photographers standing there all day, waiting for him to exit was such a waste of time. There must be a better way than wait all this time for one photograph in a ten second window of time... how is this an effective use of resources?
Mind you, I also think that there are better ways to protest these days as well, than the man and his plackard that also stood there all day in the freezing cold. I'm quite sure that our students would have some really good and effective ideas on both counts.
Kit just waiting
Just some of the REALLY expensive kit just waiting
Standing for hours to express a view

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Tweeters or twitterers?? - don't ask me

Sitting in the Learning and Technology World Forum (2010) I found myself surrounded by people tweeting throughout all the presentations, on phones, computers, whatever technology they had.

I have not been to a conference where this was done quite so much - mind you technology does feature large at this one so I suppose if it's going to happen anywhere it's here. Speaking to one twitterer (is there such a word?) she assured me that her whole team in Wales would be following each post, really interested in what was being said in real time? This brought visions of teams of people all watching their screens in real time all round the world - this conference is really both actual and virtual simultaneously. This is technology in action and really very exciting.

What is the word - are people twitterers or tweeters?

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Learning and Technology World Forum

The packed audience has seen the opening video two and a half times now - where are they?
They've now arrived - from left to right: Lord Mandelson, Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Stephen Crowne, Chief Executive of Becta and speaking; Schools Secretary, Ed Balls
I was pleased to be attend the invitation only Learning and Technology World Forum which started today. The event is being attended by 750 people, including 75 Ministers for Education, representing 100 countries and responsible for the education of over one billion children (75%) of the world's young people. For more info click here.
The opening, if slightly wonky, with the same opening video played two and half times to an empty stage, was certainly high profile with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Schools Secretary and Lord Mandelson all attending. I think this was the highest profile opening since the event started. It was also a day of policy announcements. The PM talked about his wish for every home to be a broadband household, and announced the extension of the home access scheme. Lord Mandelson announced the launch on 'On-line basics'. He also announced that “The United Kingdom sells more brainpower per capita than any other country in the world" I'm not sure how he measured this but apparently we plan to do even more using technology in the near future!
All this before the key note speakers... and presentations by Teachers of the Year : Dan Lea of the UK, Anthony Mullen of the USA and Moliehi Sekese from Lesotho. All did fab, very different, presentations.
All the speakers were interesting but this first session was very long (two and half hour) on really not very comfortable seats..... how often do we talk about the importance of FF&E? More than one delegate was heard to talk about 'perch rot' - the mind boggles really!
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Lord Mandelson speaking

Be Very Afraid 6.....

The 'Be Very Afraid' exhibition was open today as part of the Learning and Technology World Forum. This annual event is a celebration of young people using technology to enhance their learning. This year, as ever, it was attended by many hundred people from literally, all over the world and included video crews from dozens of countries.

As ever, students demonstrated some fab ideas and were passionate about the use of technology. There were many good ideas and really reinforced the thinking that, really, our young people are very clear about how they like to work and how they learn.
If we really do ask them, they could contribute so much. This exhibition would worry a number of teachers, but for many, it reinforces the fact that creating a learning partnership with students is such a good idea!
Students inerviewing Professor Stephen Heppell
Students from the Harris Academy, Crystal Palace being interviewed by education facilities planner Frank Locker from the USA
Students at Loughborough College being interviewed by a Chinese Television crew

Friday, 8 January 2010

New website

It had to be done.... my home grown d.i.y. website was never really what I wanted and I kept putting off doing anything about it. The time has come - a new year and the new updated website is now live.

I did, of course, take advice and I was delighted to be able to go back to my long time colleagues at the fabulous Grebot Donnelly Associates. I've known them since they started, in fact I hosted their first office in one of my schools.
This amazing, small, but growing, company really does know how to work with schools on all sorts of fronts: communication, marketing, changing community perceptions, the list goes on. Working with Academies, the Specialist Schools Trust and a host of authorities and schools, people are now recognising that we do have to treat ALL aspects of education as a professional business, including the look, the ethos, public perception and so much more. This company is one of the UK leaders in this area. Why use them? Surely our students deserve nothing less.
( I hope you like the new website as well! To see it either follow the links on the page or click here!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Stairs: corners versus transparency versus cost

A really interesting discussion about stairs today (and it was really interesting believe it or not) during a design meeting for a new school in London. The ethos of the school is about transparency and high visibility, but some of the new school is in an old building that is to be refurbished. It has those old old stairs with lots of corners that many of us in the UK have worked with. It would add lots to the budget to replace the stairs (and most importantly, the solid wall between each flight), but the one thing they really prevent is the one thing everyone wants: transparency and openness.

It's a tough call - these old stair wells are not popular with most teachers, supervision is hard, they get very crowded and are often ugly. Many schools install CCTV to monitor them, but it is not ideal and supervision can become reactive. It is a real behaviour management issue.
Everyone understands our wish for stairs that provides the desired transparency, but if they are provided, it will be at the cost of something else. Every single member of the school community will use the stairs but only fleetingly... It's a tough call, but when you see schools that have visible stairs designed in, the issues become clearer. (see the photo below from The Halewood Centre for Learning in Knowsley).
Is it worth losing something major to get this part of the environment right? It is a real debating point... Those who have not worked in schools don't really understand the issue - but many teachers will now exactly what we are talking about.
It's really interesting .... but the decision is still not resolved .... the debate continues.......
The highly visible stairs in the Halewood Centre for Learning

Creative snow.....

Nothing to do with education, but with the very heavy snow here at home, my near neighbours have been really creative in building lights into their snowman and also on their wall pillar tops.

It is simple - a night light with lots of space around it and snow balls creating the 'hat' or 'pyramid' to ensure air getting to the flame...
They're great, they're fun and it is really amazing how many people have been stopping, looking, taking photographs and peering inside them to see how they have been created. I just love good ideas.....

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow at the start of term... Ouch!

The rather 'Lowry like' view from my hotel room in Manchester
I have rarely been so cold as this week standing on a number of stations in just dreadful conditions. However the much maligned trains have been really reliable. Yesterday in the north, and even today in Manchester as I started to return south, everything else stopped - planes, trams, buses, cars abandoned, roads blocked.., but the good old trains kept battling on, on time (well for me at least).

Unfortunately, it also meant that hundreds of schools started their term by closing after just one day.... whilst I am sure most students were very happy, it never is a good way to start the term... and it looks as though several will be shut for days!
Lots of decisions for Heads, lots of over excited students, lots of stress for parents... not a brill start to the new year really for lots of people... but it will get better of course.
Have a great year everyone.
(There may even be some cancelled days for consultants - now that really is ouch!)

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year!!

(Photograph borrowed from Flickr James Lealand)
HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone...... I hope that 2010 is just a fab year for all readers..
Thank you all for reading, the numbers of people hitting the blog runs to many thousands every year and in the past twelve months from 116 countries.
I continue to be amazed and rather humbled... but it does motivate me to keep writing.... - please do keep reading....