Thursday, 12 November 2009
Space to think
We took them to see Hellerup School in Denmark, connected them to Sheree Vertigan in Reece High School in Tasmania - pioneers of Home Base learning, showed them ideas and designs from all over. A wonderful local authority were ambitious enough for their children that they sought to replace some 11 comprehensives with 7 Learning Centres, against much controversy and, what was in my view, a backward looking, "alternative" plan by the then existing headteachers.
Fast forward, and it was a joy to be there today and see how well the new designs - this one is the Halewood Centre for Learning - are working: chatting to students they reported the remarkable changes in behaviour and motivation, the open, agile home base spaces were being used exactly as intended, the huge "amphitheatre" in the heart that doubles as a staircase (shown here) is now the premier cultural performance facility in the area, with the Liverpool Philharmonic playing there shortly. This has been the experience in Knowsley, where the council has taken the bold move of closing all of its 11 secondary schools, transferring them to 7 new Centres for Learning, using £150 million of government money.
A big 1,000+ school would be impersonal - too easy to coast or be lost. Like so many schools I'm associated with this one is designed around several ‘homebases’, with unique-colour carpeting, and their own designated toilets, study rooms, and a Commons for meeting friends and tutors.
I asked the articulate and thoughtful students who showed me round what was best about the places: the community sharing the space? the sense of intimacy in the home bases? the teachers' open areas adjacent to the home bases? the cathedral like hugely high ceiling?. "No", he said, "it is just that here, you have space to think".