Friday, 30 July 2010

A temporary pause......

This blog will stay static for a few days whilst I go on holiday... normal service (what ever that is), will resume on my return....

Have a great great summer... but please do return - there is lots more to say and loads more photographs.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

School Design - BCSE gets it right

I have been delighted to hear that, for the first time, two schools have found themselves on the shortlist for Britain's leading architectural award: the £20,000 Stirling Prize - Clapham Manor Primary School and Christ's College School, Guildford. What is so pleasing about this is both were shortlisted in the BCSE Industry Awards earlier this month. Even better Clapham Manor won both the Inspiring Design Award and also the Judges Award.....

As Chair of Judges for the BCSE Industry Awards , I am delighted to receive this independent verification of the decisions we made..... school design is massively important - I just hope that the UK has the opportunity to continue to design amazing learning environments!!
Clapham Manor was designed by dRMM and Christ's College by DSDHA.
For information, the awards will be presented live in BBC2 ON October 2 at 6.30 by Kevin McLoud.


I like originality... street artists are common and they frequently do similar things, but by the Thames today in London was a street artist who had a twist - or apparently no head - fun and different. This post is not educational but I love creativity - the crowds were big and reaction very favourable. Many students I have taught have lots of original ideas - all it needs is the confidence to actually do something about it.... Fun and original = GREAT!

External Environments - seats

Passing the National Theatre recently I noted what is obviously a set for some event - I have no idea what. However, judging by the number of people taking photo's the set was interesting.... Outdoor environments ARE interesting - or they should be - too many school externals sites are soooo boring - I like this one - fun, exciting and different.... it could instigate a series of things.....

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Great new schools...

I was lucky enough to visit the new Highbury Grove School in Islington this week - a stunning building on a very compact site. The building reflects so many 'lessons learnt' in terms of design and school organisation. It is light and airy, with great circulation space and massive transparency. There are no hidden corners and learning in every classroom is visible and celebrated throughout... it is a fabulous building.
A tremendous use of glass, including in the stair wells ensure sight lines, wide internal stairs prevent bottle necks, well spaced out lockers prevent congestion, toilets are not 'bullying centres and every square inch of the limited external space is maximised...
It is not a particularly 'transformational' space, compared with some, no open flexible areas etc - learning does appear to be all done in rooms of varying sizes, but the effect of the environment has had a dramatic and positive effect on learners. That's what it's all about. This is a fab facility - it's what our learners deserve!
Touring this school for some hours yesterday, I really did feel sad for all those young people who have had formerly promised new schools taken away from them with the demise of the BSF programme. It is tragic really. BSF may have been bureaucratic, it was, we all know that, everyone would have been happy for the process to be simplified further. What it has delivered though for many, are just fabulous learning environments that were getting progressively better, that have transformed learning for thousands of young people, and will continue to do so for many years more.
Highbury Grove School was designed by BDP and built by Balfour Beatty.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

BCSE - an important role....

Ty Goddard, Director BCSE
I attended a really good, important, members meeting tonight organised by the British Council for School Environments. In light of recent Government announcements concerning cuts in the ambitious school building programme, the group focused on how BCSE should respond, and also discussed its future role in supporting the ongoing campaign for excellent learning environments. Naturally the focus on the Centre for School Design was also considered.
This ability to be responsive and 'agile' is really important if it is going to be relevant, influential and represent current thinking of members. 'Same old same old' just does not work. The large contractors and other companies are so agile that total company reorganisations started the day after Secretary of State Michael Gove's drastic statement last week. (unfortunately the stopping of so many school schemes has resulted in in the total lost of work for many people with the added potential redundancy for lots). BCSE has to be just as agile.
The turn out was excellent - so popular was it that only one representative was allowed from each organisation - a long waiting list existed that was as numerous as those attending.
Attended by architects, contractors, local authority representatives, educationalists and more... whole group discussions smaller workshops took place identifying key priorities and concerns for the members.
What is clear is that everyone present considered that the BCSE really does have a vital role in representing a voice for all those dedicated to new / improved learning environments fit for the third millenium. Representing so many stakeholders and trying to influence the right decisions being made by the new Schools Building Review group is a very important role - and especially so in this new and complex political environment. There is no one else to do it so we all wish them good luck!
The introduction by Ty Goddard, BCSE Director, set the scene well, but it really is clear that some one really needs to strongly support, represent and help those involved with future learning environments. BCSE is a really good and useful organisation - it clearly has an important role to play for - someone has to speak on members behalf - I'm not sure that anyone else could do it better!!
A packed meeting breaking into workshops later

Transparency works

The City Academy, Hackney (Winner 2010 BCSE Inspirational Design - Academy) (photo Studio E)
Talking recently to a visiting international 'educator' about being able to see into all learning spaces, he was really impressed about the increasing trend for real transparency in our schools today. He was excited that "you can see what is happening - it demonstrates that these building are about learning- it's a real celebration and it is so light". All of this is true... this transparency does create a modern business like environment, which is transformational in its own right. Students know that they can be seen from everywhere and it also supports staff - they are not alone. Rather than this visibility being daunting, many have now realised that it is contributing to raising students attainment and can be much more comforting for them.
Importantly, where there are glass walls - a 'nothing stuck on glass' policy has to be strictly enforced. Otherwise tatty bits of paper, sticky tape and more can quickly spoil the ethos, create a terrible mess, and affect daylight levels.
Some schools have opted for designs with large open and 'agile' learning multi spaces - but these do not suit everyone. Where there are walls, and where schools prefer to create some enclosed spaces, I really do recommend using as much glass as possible - it really does transform space, and the learning that takes place, inside and out. You can tell I really love glass in school designs.
I have really always wondered why in some schools staff try and block up every window of classrooms so no one can see in. Spaces become more 'cell' like, there is a danger of creating dark gloomy spaces outside the rooms and students know that no one can see them inside. There are lots of reasons, staff are not confident about their teaching, they feel students can be challenging, something they don't want others to see etc. Creating open light learning areas can really have a transformational affect on learning, staff confidence and aspirations for continual improvement.
Some schools achieve it better than other, but I suppose some of the most obvious examples of extensive glass use include the fab Thomas Deacon Academy and the amazing City Academy in Hackney. The City Academy won the BCSE 'Inspirational Design' Award this year in the 2010 BCSE Industry Awards, celebrating excellence in school design. As Chair of Judges - I really believe it was a very worthy winner!
Thomas Deacon Academy (photo: Thorpe Kilworth)

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Pasta still rules..

From time to time I just simply show things I have seen and liked - today it's pasta. I have shared some amazing pasta art work and sculptures before. Pasta still rules in the nursery / infant art curriculum ... and why not - is is so versatile and easy to use (and not yet even affected by any bonkers health and safety rules!!). The latest offering I have seen recently (above) is better than lots of others I have seen - using the pasta to make a picture frame is not unusual - but painting it the really rich deep blue is a perfect frame for the rather fab fish..

Interestingly, the young pupil involved then went to recreate the picture on a computer using a variety of tools to recreate the textures involved! Whilst there was some teacher input in the pasta work above - when they used the computer it was all their own work - interesting!! (Unfortunately I left before I saw the final product -but the start was really good!)

Monday, 12 July 2010

BSF - the debate goes international...

A really good debate: 'Do good buildings make for better educated children?' in 'The Guardian'/'The Observer' about the demise of BSF has gone global . This article featuring views by Rick Jones and Rowan Moore has now got a link on 'The Third Teacher" Facebook page and is attracting loads of comments from all around the world....

Even when I have spoken with delegates at conferences here and in the USA they could not comprehend the level of investment that BSF brought. Having said that, they were very jealous - they all knew that, of course, learning environments do make an impact... the UK was absolutely leading the world with this strategy. I am afraid that 'was' seems to be the key word.
I think that few could doubt that the BSF bidding process was bureaucratic, we know that - but after all, local authorities were getting hundreds of millions of pounds - some kind of check and process was probably a good idea!
I just hope that when the new building strategies are announced, there is a place for innovation, creative design, even in refurbishment, and excitement! Follow this link - there are some good views expressed.

Refresh, Refurb, Reuse and.....

I have been impressed by the new publication by BCSE; 'Rethinking schools capital investment: the new 3Rs'... The announced cancellation, by Secretary of State Michael Gove, of expenditure on capital investment will not last - new schools will have to be built, but, obviously, there will be much more refurbishment work than maybe was previously the case. There will be far less new build....

This booklet is a well thought out document - for those that have not seen it - it is definitely worth a read!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Impact of environments on attainment

I've just read this interesting analysis by John Crace in 'The Guardian' - if you haven't seen it, it's worth a read (it's quite short)... in it discusses the impact of learning environments and refers to KPMG's report last year and the findings that student attainment was 44% higher in PFI schools than in conventional schools with decreasing attendance and...

To read the article click here

Friday, 9 July 2010

Cardboard boxes

So iPads, iPod Touch, computers, books, toys are all very well, but when a large cardboard box arrives in the house - it becomes the absolutely favourite toy!! There is genuine distress when I try to remove it, often days later.
It becomes the centre of all sorts of creative play, home, picnic tables, a place for soft toys to sleep, a space rocket and..... so much more.
My young children love digital technology, they are very good with it, especially the new fab very intuitive iPad, - but we mustn't forget good old imaginative play. Nursery schools and infants are really good at harnessing learning through play, but it really is so important at home as well.
We really need to ensure that the harnessing to his imaginative and creative energy must be developed through every phase of education, and never let it succumb to the attitude that it is 'something they do when they are young"! Unfortunately I heard this attitude reflected quite recently - from a teacher at a school that really wasn't doing very well.... perhaps that's why!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

more mistakes....and maybe a glimmer of hope..

And so it seems that there are even more errors on this list of BSF projects that are stopped - it appears that there are now thirty mistakes, so far, on the original list published by the Government. There have now been a number of revised versions of the list having been published over the past three days, at least three. This is bizarre in itself.

Embarrassingly, the current list on the website tracks the changes and notes that it took the former Secretary of State (now Shadow Secretary) Ed Balls, to inform the Department of Education about five further mistakes to be corrected. Oh dear!
The apologies from Mr Gove are profuse, to Parliament and later to Council Leaders.
BUT - which ever way you look at it - it's not brilliant!
But maybe there is some reassurance that some school buildings will continue - in another way. Mr Gove did give some reassurances tonight. Click here.

Redesigning Education - Designing Schools in a spiky world - Trung Le

I read a really interesting and challenging article recently from my friend Trung Le discussing that, considering so many of the worlds population live in urban areas, (and the percentage is rising), we still do not have learning environments for the Third Millenium right yet - especially in the K-12 sector. If the population is centred round cities, and not spread evenly, then it is not a flat world but a 'spiky' one. It's a powerful article and one that is hard to disagree with.

Le suggests a range of interesting solutions for redesigning education within an 'urban fabric' to create more intelligent city centres and a more sustainable planet. To read the article in full click here.
Le is an architect, principal education designer of Cannon Design based in Chicago -- he is also a very smart guy! I have worked with him in the States and the Cayman Islands, where he was the lead architect for the fab radical new learning campuses currently being built. However, he is much more than that - he is also becoming a major education thinker and one of the brains behind the outstanding book: The Third Teacher' - mentioned several times in this blog already, including the American Launch, the UK launch and the Third Teacher blog.
Le has many excellent intelligent and well considered thoughts - he is always worth reading.
It occurs to me that there are a number of powerful decision makers right now in the UK who could read this and wonder if they should think again about recent decisions concerning school buildings. Unbelievably some of the new Government seem to be even jeering about the fact that learning environments make a difference to student achievement and motivation. How limited is that view?
For more of Le's recent articles click here.

Education = small world and even FAB food.....

Helen Tse and I at Sweet Mandarin today
Education really is a small world!! On my last visit to the Cayman Islands working as Strategic Development Advisor to the Minister of Education, my wife and I became friends with lawyer, author and speaker Helen Tse. Helen, latterly from the UK, was working in law but also had her first book 'Sweet Mandarin' published whilst we were there. Amazingly she was the first British born Chinese author to be published.
I even wrote about her in my blog in February 2008, and the tremendous literacy competition she organised in every school across the Cayman Islands.
'Sweet Mandarin' is a true story about her family. It is a great book, selling in 33 countries, and tells the true story about three generations of strong women, (Grandmother, mother and Helen) and their amazing story from East to West involving murder, poverty and the experiences of being in immigrant family in the UK. The common life line was food with grandmother Lily Kwok being the first Chinese person to set up a restaurant - even before Chinatown. The family have continued to run the restaurant, also called 'Sweet Mandarin' in Manchester. Many people will recognise it for being the Chinese finalist in last years 'F Factor' with Gordon Ramsey.
Staying in a different hotel in Manchester than usual, I discovered 'Sweet Mandarin' located just behind the hotel - I had no option but to visit - and there was Helen, working back in the family business. It was great to meet up again and have a long chat....
This is a blog about education and so absolutely not about food - but it was absolutely FAB!! I have so many hotel meals - this was in a different league... it was so nice, I even took photos of it (is that too sad?).
I have always said education is a really small world - wherever you go in the world you meet someone who knows you or someone who knows you - it is really amazing. Meeting Helen again, years later in a different country, in a fairly new city for me just proves the small world point really - it's just we didn't talk about education - that's not so bad on a night off either!
(But if you're in Manchester - try 'Sweet Mandarin'!)
Salt and Pepper spare ribs - DELICIOUS!
Grandmother Lily Kwok's secret recipe Chicken Curry dish - FAB!
The three Tse sisters

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Have your new school - oops - no you can't. Sorry!

It really is very very embarrassing for the Secretary of State to have to admit that he published a devastating list of school BSF projects saved and stopped that is wrong! The major announcement in Parliament, the hype, the fanfare etc, only to have to then admit two days later that there are errors on it is ...... well let's say.... unfortunate.... to say the least. I really feel for the authorities who read that their schools were safe, only to lose them two days later! To read the BBC news on this story click here. To read the press release with access to the full revised list of schemes at the bottom, click here.

If as a Headteacher I had made this type of mistake regarding students or my school, the parents, authority and goodness knows who else would be all over me - it would be a nightmare! This embarrassing episode does reflect rush, lack of accuracy and possibly, but hopefully not, ineptitude. Having worked directly for an Education Minister, I know how it is, there is no doubt that the 'boss'; Mr Gove, will not be at all happy at being shown up like this I suspect that there is at least one civil servant who has been moved way out of sight at best or, at worst, has become part of the latest budget cuts!
The whole thing is disastrous really!

Cows at the window

I have written a few posts about schools effectively using their entire buildings, and identifying schools were students have roof gardens and play spaces. These examples have often caused readers to write in wondering if the designers are bonkers and raising concerns about health and safety. The examples I have shown are always great and schools, with a good ethos who actually trust their students! We really can do so - they manage to survive pretty well in the real world....

However, I was surprised and slightly amused to read about a secondary and elementary school in Holzkirchen, Germany that allows cows on the meadow roof. Having read the technical description on the wonderful 'imagine' website, I am convinced that it is very environmentally friendly..... but I still keep thinking about sitting in a learning space with a cow peering in mooing..... it may be unusual but it still sounds really fab to me... you could also have sheep, and llamas and......... These, and the other images on the site have attracked interest from around the world - you can see why!
(The 'imagine' website is a collaboration between Balfour Beatty (who had the original idea), BDR of Sheffield University and more recently Partnerships for Schools). IT is a great resource for showcasing outstanding schools designs from around the world - it's definitely worth a long look!)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The end of BSF..

A staggeringly drastic cut on the world leading BSF scheme has really decimated the world leading investment on English secondary schools. This scheme and the amount of spending has attracted the attention, and admiration, of the world. To lose so much of it is desperately sad. To read the BBC report on this story - please do click here.

Whilst I suspect few would query the need to address the government budget situation, many will be upset that education has taken such a hit. There are so many schools that desperately need major work to improve them - the early news indicates that many students will be forced to continue their education in totally substandard and very inadequate learning environments. We all know that high quality learning spaces DO positively affect student performance - surely all young people should be working in learning environments fit for the third millenium - after all we are ten years through it already!
Even worse, many staff and students have spent considerable time and thought in helping contribute to designing new environments that will now, never be built. - that is just sad - for so many reasons!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Infant External Environments

Visiting an infant school in Dorset recently, I really liked and appreciated what they had tried to do in their very restricted external environment. Considering they had very limited space, no field, almost no grass, no trees, they have created some fab little areas. One of two artificially raised grassed areas provide a social seating area, complete with a great living willow 'room' and 'mini' benches and tables made by local prisoners. It's great!
The other raised area acts as an external stage and performance area used for all sorts of events, concerts, prize giving, end of term events ..... children use it as a play and creative area - just how cool is that?
The living willow room... used for story telling , play and creativity... a great environment...

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Old and New - inspirational design

The winner of this years 'Inspirational Design' and the Judges Award' at the BCSE Awards event was Clapham Manor Primary School. This school extension project, designed by dRMM reflects a really bold statement in design that makes no attempt to replicate the original Victorian building - and rightly so! It is designed to be exciting and achieve real connectivity between the two buildings. Although I loved it as Chair of Judges, interestingly, the decision for these awards was unanimous!!

The external design is bold, colourful and exciting and indicates fun, creativity and excitement. Few architects would be this bold, and whilst maybe controversial it just works so well!
Whilst I love the colours I also especially like the linkage between the old and new building, which apart from forming a new Reception area, provides really good linkage and connectivity between the buildings at every level! Not only is it very creative -it is also very functional. This really is a design for the third millenium.
This is how schools should be - exciting, innovative and so fit for purpose!
(As soon as the judges comments are available online - I will attach a link!)