Monday, 28 February 2011

Hokki Mania!

Hokki mania! Last September I wrote a post about the launch of the Hokki stool by VS during the cefpi World Conference in San Jose, CA. A few days ago during Didacta in Stuttgart, VS staged a huge promotion of the Hokki - the response was staggering!

The Hokki, created for VS by UK Designer John Harding, with it's slightly rounded base, allows for some movement, without being extreme. It allows students to do small movements during class - movement usually increases, not decreases, concentration. Trying to move on conventional stools and chairs is not easy and can result in accidents. The Hokki allows movement.

It is this concept of movement that initially concerns some teachers when they first see the Hokki. We ALL know that the body, especially the growing body is not made to sit still for long periods of time. But in schools that is exactly what many staff expect students to do. We know that, on average:

  • 6-10 years olds cannot sit still for more than 5 minutes
  • 11-15 year olds for more than 15 minutes
  • 15-20 year olds for more than 25 minutes

By designing ergonomic furniture that allows some slight movement, we are encouraging the student's ability to concentrate and develop normally. The Hokki, along with the other seats in the VS flexible range adjusts to the subconscious position changes of the student's body and encourages the body to change it self. This 'active' seating has a natural effect on the body's entire posture. They come in a range of sizes so there is one for every sized student.

I think they are really comfortable as well as looking great. I often use one - my two daughters, aged 4 and 5 just love sitting on them.

Many teachers visiting Didacta were clearly also convinced. The promotional daily allowance of several hundred Hokki's soon cleared, people all over the show could be seen carrying one or more Hokki, I saw one lady with eight!

There were scores of disappointed, / upset people still trying to get them, including those trying to persuade VS to dismantle their 'flying Hokki' display so they could get one. They had to be content with ordering them.

Even funnier was how many other exhibitors used Hokki as the seating of choice for people to use whilst watching demonstrations etc. It says it all really!

The Hokki is available in the UK already, but do expect to see a big promotional push in the future - they are just FAB!!

People queueing trying ot get a Hokki long after they had run out
Even funnier was the number of exhibitors who used the Hokki as seating for their audiences, even though they were nothing to do with VS. Many got 'removed' during the afternoon!

Didacta 2011

The day after I attended BSEC, (see yesterday's post) I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Didacta Education Show in Stuttgart, by my colleagues at the fabulous VS company.

This was a very different scale event with over 850 exhibitors promoting every thing from pencils to commercial kitchens (complete with chefs demonstrating), from books to Interactive Whiteboards, from crafts to outdoor playgrounds, from robotics to furniture.
Didacta filled five huge exhibition halls, and the place was packed with a huge number of visitors, not just local but also from all over the world. The mood was upbeat and with an air of positivity and excitement.
There were some disappointments - and in many ways the UK is more advanced in some aspects, especially in terms of technology. There was a massive focus in showing people Interactive Whiteboards for example, and hand held voting systems, but there is so much more!
The huge number of stands were incredibly busy with attendees researching, discussing, comparing and buying. Even better, and unlike many other Education Shows, there were numerous opportunities for teachers and other to be taught a range of new skills - the teachers became learners. This range from crafts such as crochet and knotting through to robotics. There were also a number of seminars and demonstrations which people seem to enjoy - they were probably very good, but as I don't speak German.....
Even better there were several groups of students from musicians, artists though to 'skippers' demonstrating and celebrating their skills and abilities in front of enthusiastic audiences. How many shows forget to involve students - the very people who benefit from them!
All in all, an excellent day - I certainly hope to visit Didacta again - it was a really positive day! I will be posting more blogs about different aspects of this show over the next few weeks.

BSEC - a quiet affair..

Attending BSEC this year at the ExCel Centre, London, was a really quiet affair. Frankly the place was dead, at least on the Thursday when I attended. I hear that it wasn't much busier on the previous day.

This was a pity as many of the seminars and conversations that took place were really interesting with some thought provoking issues explored. It's a real pity that there weren't more there to take part in them.
Why was it so quiet?: Lots of reasons were suggested, but the main ones seemed to be that a) it was a reflection of the current climate and the lack of any certainty of what the future held regarding new school procurement, b) the stunning silence regarding the James Review which everyone keeps saying is 'imminent' - but they've been saying that for ages, c) BSEC being held in the school holidays so almost no one from the education sector was there, unlike last year.
The overall air was certainly downbeat, one person described it as depressing. Certainly the exhibition stands were not busy. S0me tried really hard to maintain the momentum, including Conference Chair: Professor Stephen Heppell who worked tirelessly throughout the day chairing, questioning, probing - thank goodness for his pro activeness and genuine interest.
Next year - hopefully we will all know much more and the excitement and energy will return!!
The slightly curious conference area with pillars and small screens (and a significant proportion of the delegates
The main street in the middle of the day - a bit quiet I think!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Combining New and Refurbished Buildings

This week, I was fortunate to be able to visit the construction site of a project I have been involved with for some time, in London. The build involves a considerable amount of new build integrated with a Victorian Board School which is being completely refurbished.
This BSF project, obviously agreed before Mr Gove's spending cuts, will create a truly inspiring school in an area of considerable disadvantage - it will be fab! Walking around though, it is easy to see the issues concerning refurbishment of old buildings. The new structure is moving rapidly ahead, the refurbishment, whilst just on schedule, continues to reveal significant issue after after significant issue, that escaped the most thorough of surveys. All these have the potential to add delays, cost money and impact negatively on the overall programme and they keep emerging!
I wonder how much people really want to try and make old, currently not fit for purpose buildings fit for Third Millenium learning, no matter what it takes?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Are we making the right call on mobile bans in schools?

The following blog post first appeared on the Scottish Government's 'Engage for Education' website:

Are we making the right call on mobile bans in schools?

Mobile phones in schools do not mix – according to some. Many schools have bans of various forms:

  1. total
  2. allowed to have them as long as they are not seen
  3. using them when allowed to do so by the staff
  4. using them as long as they do not abuse the privilege

Surely there must be a better way to organise this?

A principal from a large high school overseas told me how strict their ban was, even having a ‘wand’ to scan students as they hid them “in some unusual places!” When I asked how many had been confiscated this term, the reply was a staggering 754 (really!!). Their policy clearly did not work!

What we do know is that mobile technology will not go away, it’s here to stay. It’s getting, quicker, smarter and increasingly user friendly. Mobiles are not a ‘life style choice but maybe are a ‘must have’ in today’s life.

Speaking with three sets of students in the past few weeks – there wasn’t one without a mobile, nor one could imagine life without one. Many used it out of school to photograph course work, use the calculator function, research through the web, communicate and so much more.

Surely it is better to harness this technology in learning in schools rather than ignore it. The power of smart phones is often very much quicker than school equipment. Students know how to use them intuitively. As Professor Stephen Heppell always says “ A switched off device means a switched off student”

We know the issues regarding filming, cyber bullying, theft. But there are strategies and protocols that schools use to minimise these. Students want to use this kit – getting them to devise the policies for their use will help prevent abuse.

The Scottish Government has recently started to consider the development of a Technologies for Learning Strategy. Join the conversation at

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

CCTV in schools

Does CCTV in schools work? - if it was plugged in, it might (Photo taken during a recent school visit)

CCTV in schools has been topic of hot media debate recently, especially with the news story that one school in Coventry had 112 CCTV cameras.
It is an issue that attracts strong views on each side - student safety and security is absolutely paramount. Equally, if we want great learning environments, they have to be protected from abuse by those not connected with the school.
As a Headteacher taking over a seriously failing school with a major damage and behaviour issues, installing some CCTV cameras in circulation spaces, although not 112, was part of a whole range of strategies undertaken. Creating a unified approach to transforming the ethos of the school was the key most important factor however.
The cameras we installed were small and discreet, not the clunking great things that some schools seem to use inside.I'm not sure why they would do that really! Most people forgot all about them after a while.
Did they work? there is no one approach that works - it is the combination of factors that support each other. In this case, after a few months, the result was we basically that we didn't need them. Damage was just about stopped and behaviour really improved. Crucially, students felt safe and staff enjoyed a co-ordinated approach to working together. CCTV helped solve some major issues for us when we first needed it - It was nothing to do with spying on people or not trusting them!
So did they work - for us yes! Would I use them again as one part of a whole host of strategies
(They also had their uses for tracking Inspectors during Ofsted / HMI visits etc - but I didn't say that!)

Friday, 11 February 2011

Schools, transparency, stairs

I have been fortunate enough to go round the very newly opened St Michael's RC School in Bermondsey a couple of times in the past few days. Opened just about three weeks ago it is a fabulous building and already staff and students are really enjoying their new very professional environment. It was one of the sample schemes in the Southwark BSF programme and built by Balfour Beatty.

A key part of the concept was about transparency, wide circulation spaces and non hidden corners. The main stairs are a fab example of how this has been delivered. Flowing straight through main circulation areas, not tucked away in a dark corner, the stairs are visible from everywhere. The great use of glass, (one of my favourite materials), increases the transparency as well as the light and airy feel. The simple colour scheme with accent walls contribute to the business like design of the building.
What really is interesting is that it has already started to improve further already good behaviour. Staff have already admitted that they are now changing the age old routines established due to the constraints of the old building because of the way students are using the new spaces. It's all very interesting and a topic I will be writing more about in the near future, after they have had a bit more time in the building and once I have spoken to students about the differences.
This is a fab building - and you can just tell it is going to make a massive difference to those that use it. I just wish that everyone could have the school environments they were entitled to!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Not being so brave...

It has been disappointing to watch the recent debate in the Cayman Islands, with the current administration trying to partly undo the work we did in trying to design and build world class learning environments. It seems that walls are being added in some agile learning areas, before they have even finished building the campuses, let alone occupied and used. A large group of people, including me, put considerable work into the concept and design processes. It is has been the result of a big media focus recently, involving the former Minister of Education; Alden McLaughlin who fought for these schools, world renowned education visionary Professor Stephen Heppell and Prakash Nair all joining in.

The original concept designs by Prakash Nair, one of the world leading schools designers, featured a series of agile but connected learning spaces, in a' schools within school' model. The designs, featured around the world in media, books and conferences, won significant praise and admiration - they were world leading concepts for for Third Millennium students.
Following a range of issues, and some subsequent delay in construction, other countries have now 'overtaken' Cayman in school design terms, but they were still going to be fantastic venues. By installing walls to make a series of small contained spaces much of the vision is being undone.
Students do want to learn in a wide variety of ways, many staff want to be undertake a range of pedagogical approaches depending on the specific activity. The designed spaces allowed for all these things to happen.
The key to achieve all this is through robust and ongoing professional development of staff and students as a matter of course, but certainly long before they enter new buildings. The absolute wisest schools are those that are constantly reevaluating and developing teaching strategies. Without this, of course there would be challenges, doing nothing different will lead to even more!
Undoing something that was being admired around the world before it even starts is just, frankly, a bizarre and disappointing decision.
To read the story and watch the video click here.

Engage for Education - Scottish Government

The following blog post first appeared on the Scottish Government's 'Engage for Education' website. I am really pleased to have been asked to contribute to it on a regular basis: To read it on the site please click here.

"It surprises me how often I get asked, at the start of a new school build or refurbishment programmes, as to when they should consider ICT (Information Communications Technology)
This is such a wrong question!

Schools should be reviewing it’s approach to learning and teaching continuously. Many are. Wise schools are also consulting with students, staff and the local business community. Even wiser schools are letting students contribute to the planning and development of learning. This is especially true when it comes to the integration of new technologies – many students really do know it’s potential and capability so much better than the majority of teachers. Schools really should embrace this knowledge. How many do?

So the question is really how do we design learning spaces that will allow staff and students to work in a variety of ways now and more importantly, in the future? Robust flexible technology integration is an absolutely vital part of this.

‘Book free – technology rich’ schools already exist; ‘e books’ sales are rocketing; the future really does look like…… and THAT’S the problem. Many people cannot envision how fast technology is developing in everyday use, it’s impact on learning in the future, let alone what technology looks like when fully integrated into learning for the Third Millenium.

We cannot be designing new learning spaces, (which may take years to actually be delivered), without taking into account future learning needs. This just has to be supported by a well planned professional development programme which gives staff and learners confidence in new approaches to learning with the full integration of new technologies.

When everyone starts thinking about approaches to learning, then we can talk about the design of spaces to support them. The conversations become different, focused and better… if students are involved, they tend to be better still!"

The Scottish Government has recently started to consider the development of a Technologies for Learning Strategy.

Student Voice is important....

For those that did not see it, there was a really good article by Dea Birkett in the Guardian recently about the value of student voice..

There are still so many people that do not understand that many of our young people really do have a great deal to contribute, they really do know how they prefer to learn, they do care, they do want to do well, they are not robots.
When asking about what they would like to see in schools, there will always still be the zany or crazy responses from a few, but introduced and guided properly, these are always the minority.
I really believe that if we get it right, most students want to help get the approaches to their learning right -most want to do well. A key part of this is also helping create a learning environment to be one that will encourage them to work harder.
We just cannot keep doing the same old thing... I don't understand why not everyone sees this!