Monday, 21 October 2013

Today in Estonia....

Gareth Long and Di Smith from the-learning-crowd were delighted to be asked to join a small delegation speaking to Ministry and Senior education officials in Estonia this week.  The purpose was to outline the nature of the work that we do and explore further consultancy opportunities with them.  Nine companies attended in all with six, including us, doing presentations.
Estonia was a new country for the-learning-crowd to visit, and the two days we were there were excellent.  The event, the first education workshop hosted by the British Embassy and the Ambassador, was very well attended with standing room only.  So far the feedback has been excellent - we wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

t-l-c Project wins British Construction Industry Awards 2013

This week saw the-learning-crowd attend the British Construction Industry Awards 2013 at the Grosvenor House Hotel.
A project we wrote the Education Design Brief for, and worked through every stage of the design process was nominated as a finalist in the 'Project of the Year (£5m - £50m) category.  The project was for a new build school facility for the Newlands Academy in the London Borough of Southwark.    Newlands is a specialist SEBD school for boys aged 11-16.  (SEBD: Social, Emotional, Behavioural Disorder)
Up against considerable competition, this scheme was named as the winning project.  We are, of course, like the rest of the team, absolutely delighted.  It is a great design and won incredible praise from the competition judges.
This project was designed by the great team at Wright and Wright Architects and the project built by Balfour Beatty. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

UK Learning - Excellence in Environments in which we learn

the-learning-crowd is pleased to support UK Learning and share information about it's next conference in both London and Manchester.  This is especially true as one of the speakers will again be Alison Watson, Senior Associate of the-learning-crowd. as well as Director of "Class of your Own.

UKLearning is the UK branch of international group CEFPI, something we have long been connected to.  For more information about UK Learning click here.

UK Learning’s mission is to be the primary advocate, resource and service organisation for encouraging, enabling and equipping those who work in, learn in, design, build, equip and operate educational facilities in the UK... To find out more about the work of UK Learning please click here.

Later this month we will be holding Autumn Conferences in London and Manchester. They will focus on...Empowering professionals in the advocacy for excellence
in the environments in which we learn

Both conferences offer the opportunity for you to learn from leading attending professionals, but afternoon workshops also provide the chance for you to influence future good practice.

Our aim is to promote real change in areas where it is required. To that end, we hope you might join us on one of the dates shown. Further information is provided below (please click on the links provided), but also please feel free to contact us directly for further information.

Neil Logue:Executive Director M: +44 (0)7718 858388 E:
Terry White: Executive Director M: +44 (0)7958 403396 E:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Seating for Engagement

Whilst visiting Wapping Free School recently, I was shown round the site a day or two before it opened.

I was really impressed, not only by some of the exciting and innovative teaching spaces, but also by some of the furniture that had been selected.  

One area of particular interest was the attractive tiered seating selected for a central area in the school for lessons, debates / presentations / meetings / socialising etc.  Added to that was an interactive digital screen.  Being all on wheels, the whole space is very agile and can be reconfigured in almost any way that they want.

When I was present it was being used for a staff meeting, allowing everyone to see everything and see each other.  It encouraged inclusivity and engagement.  The use of colour was attractive and eye catching and really drew people in.

This was only a small area - but one that certainly looked impressive.  

Thursday, 15 August 2013

What's a cable tie between friends?

I see an awful lot of things as I move around the country, visiting all sorts of education places...  some just fabulous, others..... well interesting in one word I could say.
Recently I spotted this projector held onto a power bar in a teaching space.... the only thing holding it up was cable ties.....
Inventive - yes, ingenious - maybe, modelling good practice - no, complies with the dreaded health and safety policy - don't think so,  some thing to be replicated by students elsewhere - no!  
I just wish I was in the room when the inspectors came to call - there is just so nothing right about this, even if it works!  

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Curvy Tables

Whilst visiting a primary school recently, we were pleased to spot some really interesting furniture in the Early Years / Foundation Stage rooms.

Rather than the boring rectangular tables we so often see, we spotted a number of fun, really curvy and interesting tables that were great for group work and also teacher supported work.  They can still be joined together to form fabulous bigger tables.  (See above)   

And, rather than the usual rather nasty uncomfortable chairs we so often see, were really comfortable ergonomically designed chairs and the totally great Hokki stools (or 'wobbly stools' as they are often known).  

Even at this age, comfortable chairs, aimed to support developing backs are essential and definitely worth the costs.  The Hokki is designed to enable backs to flex and move naturally as students work.

The furniture is by VS.  Regular readers know that we have long been fans of their furniture - it's great to visit a school that is totally furnished by them,  I'd say they were pretty enlightened really about the importance of getting furniture for young people right!

For more on VS furniture click here.


the-learning-crowd was delighted to be asked to run one day workshop with twenty plus Governors and Senior Leaders for a new school scheme recently. For many this was the start of their journey to try and understand what their vision was, what they wanted to be able to do and how that may change in the future.

It is always great when you give senior leaders (teaching and non teaching) dedicated time to reflect on  practice and consider the future.  Really focused thinking, discussion and optimism emerges in every conversation.  People at coffee, lunch and at the end of a very full day were energised and buzzing about the future.  If only every one could still do this in an every growing time of change.  

It was a very busy and active day, but with quite a lot of laughter as well.  The feedback was brilliant and set the right tone for expanding people's ideas and thinking.

It will be no surprise that no one liked the suggested 'cookie-cutter' or model schemes being suggested by some bodies!

This is going to be a very exciting and challenging scheme..... we're looking forward to working with them on the next stages.



New Scheme opens

The new extension scheme at St Saviour and St Olaves Girls C of E School was officially opened earlier this month. Gareth of the-learning-crowd was pleased to be the Education Lead throughout the design process, working with 4 Futures, Southwark Council and Balfour Beatty.
Working with architects The AoC, this 8 million pound extension scheme provides much needed additional space, including: new science facilities, new music rooms, an activity studio as well as a fab new Sixth Form suite, new main entrance and several other improvements to the school.
The students showing us around were very grateful for the new spaces and thanked anyone involved very profusely.
This is the fourth opening of schemes in Southwark that the-learning-crowd has been education lead on, with more to come! 

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Presentation Seating

I saw these little seating units a few days ago and thought how perfect they were for presentation corners in schools.  With a small footprint and easily moveable, these tiered seats could help create a series of zones within larger spaces.  The great advantage with them of course, is that they are not too high, allowing  plenty of passive supervision over them.

It's always interesting how often students rush for tiered seats before standard height furniture - it allows interesting and comfortable socialising and working opportunities.

I'm really pleased that so many more schools are using a range of interesting furniture to help improve the aesthetics of learning spaces but also improve the appeal and usability of spaces for students.

Those schools who are not experimenting with interesting or comfortable furniture for students are now becoming the minority.....  thank goodness!!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Digital Learning Zone

Visiting a new environment recently, I just liked this little small learning zone, based around a digital screen.  Seating about five people, the area was enhanced by good quality chairs and table and acoustic screens round to reduce / deaden the sound for those working.

It is easy to imagine such zones in schools for Skype conversations with other countries, editing movies, preparing presentations ...... and so much more.  How many are actually innovative enough to try them?

Friday, 17 May 2013

External Environments matter too!

Visiting a primary school last week, I was really quite depressed about the state of the external environment.  Yard upon yard upon yard of fencing, some quite unnecessary and which gave a real prison feel, through to some old fencing which was in such a state it was positively dangerous. It also looked shocking!  (see photo)

I simply asked the question about what message it gave the young students? - it says lots about dilapidation, not caring, a lack of engagement with the pupils....  why should they care if their school looks like this.

Fortunately I was there because the very new Headteacher really does want to make a difference, especially to the outside environment...   it would be great if I can post another picture in a few months time which showed something so so different!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

t-l-c sponsored networking event

The first networking / tweetup event sponsored by the-learning-crowd took place on the 30th April and was declared a fantastic success by all those who attended. Approximately 40 people reprepresenting architects, construction conpanies, education furnture designers and suppliers, Local Authorities, Local Education Partnerships, education publishing, Technology all attended.
There were numerous conversations that were interesting and passionate with lots of ideas and knowledge sharing.  So engaged were people that the time flew by and some were still there really quite late!  Many  people commented that this type of forum was exactly what has been missing for the past year or two, which was exactly why we decided to sponsor this first event.  So enthused were participants that we ahave already had at least four companies offering to host the next one.  
There was also a Tweetup competition for the best tweet from the evening under #schooldesign.  The bottle of champagne for the best tweet was won by HLM Architects.
How we best follow this is being discussed now, but there will be a follow up event..  Watch this space for more news!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Ask the Pupils

Asking primary age pupils what they would like to see in a new learning environment is always interesting.  A school I'm working with at the moment was considering how to convert an open sided barn in their playground - so they did a brain storm.  The brief was not about approaches to learning - they have already done that.

The results surprised the school governors as to how practical they were.  This always happens and I still don't really know why people get surprised.  The pupils are the people who use the place and know how to make it better.  Added to that is an enormous sense of practicality  - very few are unachievable, such as trampolining, as the pupils were quick to point out!

Lots of schools still don't ask the pupils - but doing this they miss out on lots of good ideas and suggestions. Why wouldn't they?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

i-Pad Coffee and Colour Coded Smarties

It's the little things that count.  I like gadgets, lots of people know that. But I was really impressed to visit a 'hot-desk office recently.  It was really modern and designed for people to work in a variety of flexible ways.  I was also intrigued (and impressed) to see an i-Pad controlled coffee machine.  Choose between any number of drink options, select strength, sugar, milk press enter and out came the drink from the tap next to it.  It was fun and more importantly, really fab coffee too!

Turning round from that and there were hundreds of Smarties to choose from... but all colour coded!  Really eye catching and a focal point, but I couldn't help feel someone didn't have enough to do!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Old and New Learning Spaces

I recently spent a day in meetings in two different locations close by each other. The venues with identical functions could not have been more different.

The first venue where we were doing a presentation, was regularly used for meetings with people from all over the world.  But it just appeared so gloomy and old fashioned.... photographs of random people in frames that were too large, a wonky flip chart, clunky furniture and an interactive white board that had so much sun shining on it so the audience could not read it.

The second venue was newer, but actually the age of the space was irrelevant.  With modern, comfortable furniture, white walls and digital technology the room, which was the same size as the first room, had a totally different feel and atmosphere. It was business like and professional  - an ideal learning space.

We all now that when you have 'lived in a space' for a long time - it is easy to not see what it really looks like.  The problem is visitors do see it for how it is as soon as they enter the space.  That is the first impression and often the lasting impression.

The same applies to classrooms - we should always be looking at them with fresh eyes - despite what some people may say, the quality of learning spaces for students is important and does make a difference! All too often we walk into classrooms with piles of 'stuff' piled everywhere - they look terrible but how many people actually see it?

Instructions to use a table....

I spend a lot of time talking to people about furniture in schools.  The key words are frequently agile, ergonomic, collaborative, high quality....

I was depressed recently to see that one room I visited recently had instructions for how to use a table displayed in the room - it was quite complicated and there were several stages to the instructions.  

The fact that it was felt necessary to display these says it all really.  The fact that they look complicated is potentially enough to put off anyone from quickly being able to move furniture around within a classroom with the agility that so many schools expect.  

Schools these days want classrooms to be able to work in many ways within individual lessons.  They do not want to have to check students have read instructions as to how to move a table first.   

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Newlands School Opens

It's great news that a brand new project we have been heavily involved with has received excellent press coverage recently from the latest edition of 'Architects Journal'.

Newlands School is a small secondary school for SEBD boys in Peckham.  These boys, amongst the most underprivileged students in Southwark, moved into their brand new building just last week and is a massive improvement on their previous random collection of buildings.

the-learning-crowd provided the education advice throughout the design process, working with the school, the wonderfully talented architects Sandy Wright and Stephen Smith at Wright and Wright, 4 Futures; the Local Education Partnership between the London Borough of Southwark and Balfour Beatty. 

With comments like: "You have to visit Newlands and see it for real, to fully understand just how good this building is."  and "Wright and Wright's building is... a serious piece of work" and "the sense of it's weight and spatial properties within which skillfully enable passive monitoring - there are indoor windows and vision panels everywhere - are hard to capture in print or on screen" reflect just how much care, research and effort went into this £9.25 million scheme.
Crucially the school is delighted and people are confident that the environment will make a signficant difference to the students.  This is something the-learning-crowd intend to review and evaluate with the school in a few months time.
For more photographs of the scheme please click here.
This is just one of several major schemes we are working on, all at different stages of development.
(The story is also included on the-learning-crowd website - to see that please click here

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Student voice - The School We'd Like

Spotted in The Guardian newspaper are the results of their competition where students contributed ideas as to what they would like to see in their own schools..

Primary, Secondary and Special schools entered with apparently lots of exciting ideas.  That shouldn't that surprise anyone? We all know that students are creative, innovative and can be very ambitious in their aspirations.

So pedal powered energy, graffiti wall with associated skills and business opportunities and accessible outdoor learning zones are the winners.  Some of these may not be truly innovative, but having groups of students thinking about improving their learning environments is a winning combination for all really.  

Well done to all those who entered, but especially winners: Horniman Primary School, Salendine Nook High School and Ifield Foundation Special School.

To read the full article in The Guardian, click here.

Monday, 11 March 2013

New Project - Old Signage

I really like it when the moments of the past are preserved and reflected in buildings. 

Attending a meeting about a new Free School recently, I spotted the sign shown in the photo outside a meeting room, lit up and looking ominous.  It turns out that the building used to be an old American Air-Force Base and whilst it was serving a very Third Millennium function now, the sign from decades ago was a really unusual and pretty cool reminder of it's past history.  Even better they keep it lit - it makes a difference! It's so much better than just putting up a plaque. As the school is going to specialise in Modern History, it all makes even more sense really.

I wish more schools did things like this - it's unusual and became a talking point... unlike so many strategies that are supposed to celebrate the past!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

"Daft as Matching Haircuts"

"Daft as Matching Haircuts" is one of the classic quotes emerged today from friend and colleague Professor Stephen Heppell.

A news story on the BBC website describes the new Amplify tablet launched by the Murdoch group, which will be issued with their own learning software on it as well as tools for teachers on monitoring progress and attendance.

Technology is the way forward in learning - we all know that. There is a massive increase in how much people research, learn, discuss, collaborate as a result of smart technology - you just have to be in a group of people and watch the amount of use phones, iPads etc get!  Why would anyone what to limit themselves to one limited resource rather than use the massive range already freely available on the web?

It notes that for parents they can monitor their child's progress and have online chatrooms.  This capability exists already.  I'm not sure what's new here.

Students mostly have better technology at home than in school currently, it's a common complaint. They want the same capacity or better.  Not a more limiting machine.

It is going to be a tough market for them I suggest.

To read the full BBC article click here.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Fab Schools

I was fortunate to be able to visit a fabulous primary school in Barry Island recently.  Anyone that has worked in schools can tell masses about the culture and ethos of a school they are visiting in just a few minutes of arriving.

The mosaic mirror placed in the foyer of this school was made by pupils.  Yes there was a local artist to guide them, but every piece of it was actually constructed by the young people.  They didn't just watch it happen as so often happens.

As I and an Associate in the-learning-crowd measured an external area, lots of pupils came up anxious to find out what we were doing and offering to help.  Of course we took them up on it when we could.

There were other examples of this positive engaged approach involving pupils helping create their environment all round the school, external walls, displays and so many other places. It looked like a fab school - it was a fab school!

Passive Supervision - NOT!

I still can't believe how many new buildings I get to see round that have taken every opportunity to design in elements of passive supervision to help monitor student behaviour, which then get scuppered by inappropriately placed furniture.

I recently toured a new school just days before students began using it and already furniture is being wrongly placed to stop that supervision before it's been used.  It's a senior staff office at a critical junction of the school.  It's a school that needs to monitor students carefully with staff that stated that they wanted to be able to see more.  The Head and senior staff were consulted throughout the design process.

Thankfully the Head has said that the cabinet will be moved and a strict glass policy introduced.  (i.e: nothing on or blocking vision panels.)  I'm going back in a few weeks time - I really hope that it has been moved.  It's always harder later on if a culture of blocking views into classrooms has started.

I'm told it will be moved - I hope it will be!  (Watch this space)

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Bookless School

I encourage you all to watch this short video.  There is no doubt that tablets / slates and laptops are the way forward in education.  May be not today or next year, but very soon!  No matter what the negative  press about a few schools, with a careful implementation strategy students will be able to use the technology that they use at home.

So many students use iPads or smart phones etc.... when they get to school they still use clunky old computers in so many schools.  How can that be right?

I cannot believe even this week I am work ing with a school which has total wifi and is getting a significant refurbishment who are trying to design in one computer room for nearly five hundred students!  Why?  Technology should be fully integrated into learning so students use it as and when they need it..

I applaud Essa for being brave - it is the only way forward to fully engage students in their learning!

To watch this BBC video click here.

Monday, 7 January 2013

BCSE - Farewell!

It's really sad to hear that the British Council for School Environments )BCSE) has had to finally shut its doors.  In this difficult economic environment funding is scare for such charities, and in the end there appears to have been no option.

It's a great shame though, because many staff and members of BCSE  represented the best views in the UK regarding the importance of excellent school design upon learning.  It was a mouthpiece for headteachers,  architects, construction partners and educationalists like myself.  The media frequently approached BCSE for comment on issues or projects, including very recently.

Many will consider the high quality research undertaken by the team as well of excellent quality, as the various international trips round school buildings.

Yes, there were times when people may not have agreed with everything they said - changing a campaign from 'Great Schools' to 'wanting 'Decent Schools' was considered potty by many, with the vocabulary appearing to require lower than the highest standards. But, the vision and celebration of high quality work by the industry was always recognised and celebrated.

The important thing is to ensure we still have a strategy for the key message of great school design getting out there - I know several people are discussing it right now - whatever the final vehicle, it  deserves our support.     

It's sad to see BCSE go, but many thanks to the team who worked so hard to make it the success it was!