Tuesday, 31 May 2011

External Environments - Seating

I see a lot of external environments in schools. Many of them are really very poor, considering how many students are expected to use them. Recently I visited a school with really very high quality external furniture as part of the space. It has been admired by everyone who has visited.

Providing high quality external furniture really is important - we want students to go outside, many schools demand it. In designing and constructing schools it is often one of the first places to be 'value engineered' out (how I hate that term!!). If we really do want to create great spaces then we have to provide the facilities to make it an enjoyable place to be, don't we?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Construction: Closeness and Transparency

Visiting a BSF new school construction site recently in London, I was struck by just how close the construction site was to the existing building. What a brilliant opportunity for students and staff to learn about all aspects of the construction business, including all the careers opportunities involved in the creation of such a building. As all the students and staff could see almost the entire site from their first floor dining room- why wouldn't they?

Even better was the brilliant working relationship between the school and the project manager which ensures that by working as a team disruption is minimised and learning opportunities maximised. It really is a unique chance for both students and staff!
Staff and students will continue to be heavily informed and involved throughout the rest of the build programme - it's obvious isn't it?


Earlier this week I took a computerised CSCS assessment (construction site health and safety). The general basic level was really not hard at all and it did not take long. In fact registering, waiting etc took longer.

However, having talked to several colleagues from the construction industry, the harder levels are in fact quite tricky. More than one had failed some of the more complex tests at least once.
It, along with the start of the formal GCSE external examination process in schools does, once again, resurrect thoughts about how technology can improve the efficiency of school assessments. Surely we can't keep doing the same testing regime with tons of paper, envelopes, lots of delivery trucks, envelopes, labels, treasury tags and so on for another x decades. The world is changing too fast, surely assessment and testing needs to keep up. It just does not have to be an easy option if we get it right.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


I was amazed recently how peoples careers diversify even when they start from similar starting points. I spent the weekend with student friends from a number of decades ago ... and whom I have not seen since we finished our respective courses.

Still all education related, and with lots of drama, people's careers have encompassed a variety of countries, experiences and taken vastly different directions.
What was really fab after all these years was the massive commitment, passion and care I encountered from them for students, even in the most challenging schools and ensuring that they have the best possible learning experiences.
It was just brilliant to see and quite humbling!

Living History..

In New York for a couple of days for a meeting last week I was fortunate to be able to visit 'Ground Zero' and the associated very moving exhibition again. Amongst the crowds several people referred to the exhibition being part of their 'living history' which will never be forgotten. As part of the redevelopment of the area, a new exhibition centre will permanently record the tragic event. It was a really moving reminder of that terrible day.

However it also got me thinking on a much smaller scale how poor many people and communities are still at recording events and change as it happens. Frequently people record significant events though a variety of media including digital technology but then, don't know what to do with it, except maybe posting it on YouTube, it just gets stored and forgotten.
Equally I have worked with so many schools and communities undergoing major redevelopment who always regret after the event that they did not record the change, be it construction, demolition or something else and find ways to keep it. Equally they do not keep key artefacts. I am certainly not diminishing the power of the 9/11 exhibition, but it did get me thinking of how often I have heard people say "if only....."
This recording can only be done as it happens, afterwards is too late!
Rebuilding in the Ground Zero site

Atmosphere in External Environments

I'm working with a number of schools in designing all aspects of new buildings including the external areas at the moment. Budgets are tight and we all have to think creatively and imaginatively about appropriate design within the constraints we have.

Typically students have indicated that amongst the bigger ideas and MUGA's they want small intimate areas, that whilst being easily supervised allow them opportunities for small group social chat or working. They also frequently indicate that they want planting and trees to bring nature into their spaces. Careful design with planting and one-off features can add enormously to the environment and not take up too much space.
Too often schools consider what the front of their school look like to visitors and the local community and then economise in the student areas. If we asked the young people more, they could help schools do things an awful lot better!!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

cefpi - working together

This weekend I am in New York meeting with representatives of the senior leadership in the cepfi organisation (Council of Education Facility Planners International). This is on behalf of a group of people in the UK. I know some of the cefpi team quite well having attended their World Conferences over the past three years, but haven't really had time to meet, work, socialise and just laugh with them before - normally they are all too busy doing conference 'stuff'.

It is truly fab to meet up with people in the US who are determined to improve learning opportunities and environments for students, bring people together whilst sharing their work and research. This group work relentlessly through the year round and have activities happening all round the US. Their work and findings has relevance to other countries and organisations. Equally, we have learnt loads in the UK (and continue to learn) over recent years about approaches to pedagogy, future thinking, impact of environment on attainment and so much more. In some schools, the now stopped BSF programme, encouraged the most professional conversations about the future of learning that teachers and other staff have had for years.
One question is; how often do we share our education research, ideas, good practice and 'lessons learnt' with other countries? Claiming that education systems are different, many plod on working in silos doing what they know or replicating what they did. There is increasing amounts of research - if people have the time to look. There are a range of voices (often individuals) working extremely hard spreading a variety of messages about the future of education. Interesting photographs are shared at conferences, (often the same photos!), but with reducing budgets in the UK, fewer people will be able to attend them, and when they do, even fewer effectively share any key points. It frequently becomes personal knowledge rather than shared. It would be just brilliant if there was much more of a global 'joined up' approach and centralised network of information. Doesn't it make sense?
Our conversations this weekend have been wide ranging, covering environments, sharing good practice, lessons learnt, the use of technology, team working, networking but also ways of engaging with more people.
I think this is really important, as I know do many others. Learning will never stop, approaches to teaching will continue to develop, and education facilities will always be needed around the world. People and communities have different expertise and experiences - but when they want to find out more on a specific aspect why don't we work and learn from each other, no matter where they are. A global rather than parochial approach. I am NOT advocating a single approach to learning or facilities, every community and culture is different. However different aspects of research, pedagogy, 'lessons learnt' and thinking would be of interest to different people. It seems quite obvious.
There will be more news arising from this meeting with a followup meeting planned soon. As they say: 'Watch this space!"
(Gareth will be speaking during this years cefpi Annual World Conference in Nashville in September 2011 in a joint presentation with Alison Watson of 'Class of your Own').

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Patriotic feelings..

John Loughrey being interviewed by 3 crews
(Written before the Royal Wedding)
Walking though London two days before the Royal Wedding I was really surprised about just how much excitement and patriotic feeling there was about the Royal Wedding. By Westminster and Trafalgar Square there were film crews everywhere interviewing, NBC were doing their live Breakfast Show broadcast from Trafalgar Square, other countries had crews filming interviews and chatting to almost everyone who seems to walk past - you couldn't look anywhere without seeing media crews.
The first man to start camping by Westminster Abbey, John Loughrey, had film crews and photographers queuing up to interview him, literally. he featured in media reports all round the world.
The sense of patriotism was amazing! It started to make me wonder though - how do we teach that in schools, or if we don't teach it, how do we cover it in all age ranges? Do we even cover it any more? One news report noted that there was far more interest in middle aged people or older, with less interest from younger members of the community. So should we do more?
I do a small amount of work in America, there patriotism is taught and reinforced in schools, people are generally proud to be American. Many are very jealous of the traditions and monarchy in the UK.
I just hope that we do not let this very special institution slip through the net because of endless reviews and other pressures on the curriculum, or just leave it to chance. We deserve better than that.
Above - Italian TV live broadcast, and below the NBC Breakfast Show live from Trafalgar Square

Welcoming Receptions

The first impressions on entering any building or area are important - people make judgements immediately. I was bemused recently to enter a large office building with all the digital signage at Reception and around, not welcoming visitors, employees and other people, but issuing a series of negatively worded orders on an endless cycle. It just gives the wrong impression. If these orders have to be shown, does it have to be displayed at the Reception Desk where new visitors sign in?

The use of digital signage is an important and frequent way of communicating welcome and promotion to visitors in Reception areas. It is also frequently used for students in and around schools, to celebrate, give notices, and way finding. What gets shown on the screens does need care and thought. It also needs to be frequently updated to make it relevant and .... purposeful. It reminds me of the school I visited a couple of years ago where the digital display in the school dining room did nothing but show the schools promotional video endlessly for a term - absolutely bonkers and a real wasted opportunity.
Effective digital signage offers massive opportunities, used well it is fantastic, it just needs vision, thought and creativity.