Wednesday, 30 September 2009


Visiting Sydney, as I am lucky enough to do from time to time, I stay at the Hilton - which is apparently "chic and central" - but more importantly is over the street from the Pitt Street Mall - which is a joy to wander through with its cafés, toy shops, fashion windows and almost complete absence of chain stores. Rather like Glasgow Caledonian University's Saltire Centre it functions differently on different levels - the bustle and rush of the train-commuter related base up to the chilled pauses offered towards the roof - with a macchiato and decadent nibble of some sort. The deep atrium centre gives a sense of unity to the place, but preserves somehow the unique social and aural character of each floor.

I've been involved in designing prisons from time to time and the old "open centre" design has rather given way to complete floors - with of course a significant additional cost in security as each floor is then a unique sealed entity - it just seems wrong to me. Designing spaces that have on the one hand a sense of what I like to call us-ness, but on the other hand offer some character and intimacy - without opening a door to the bullying and boorishness that often accompany intimacy is a huge design task - and a task for schools too.

But as we try to get that right, sometimes it's just a joy to sit back and bask in the spactacle of the Pitt Street Mall. Now, perhaps I should try the lemon meringue pie next...

Staff rooms...

What is it about school staff rooms? You find 35mm slide rolls, books and resources from the 70s (Connexions!!) and barriers that would probably be banned as inhuman in a prison.

Of course resources are tight and because ideas come n go you're never sure what to keep, but even so...

In education, everything is escaping from its boxes: subjects, timetables, classes... Surely we should let the staff out too?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Making notes...

Oh this is really interesting: a group of young children in Drummore Primary School, at Scotland's most south westerly point are learning brass instruments from a video-linked teacher. Now as a former chairman of the European Teleconferencing Federation, I'm used to video-linking, but in this instance the link wasn't just a "nearly" version of face to face, it was actually substantially better: the distance from the tutor meant that the children needed to support each other too and the headteacher was confident that this resultant mutuality runs into the classroom when the children are away from the link. Watching, I could see that she was quite right about that. All sorts of little practical details about how to do it effectively emerged too - invaluable.

I could write tons about this, but Alan Cameron - who has made all this extraordinary work happen - recorded a conversation we had together, reflecting on the whole experience a little later that same day. It covers a lot more detail...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Seat of learning

As regulars of this phone blpog will know, I'm a bit obsessed by school seating - and how poor it often is. Chairs designed to stack well are not always good for learning... (no surprise there then).

Today, working with the excellent staff of schools in the Upper Shirley area (outside Southampton) who are really going somewhere together, there was a a moment where over lunch everyone tried to get the 'standard' chairs to work for their informal chats and discussions. As you see in this picture people there were twisted on chairs, moving chairs, half on chairs... and you get to see just how bad the standard school chair is for collaboration and indeed for learning.

As schools move into and through BSF or other rebuilds we seem to keep on coming back to the whole issue of furniture and its design. This is a HUGE opportunity for a business somewhere. Where are they?