Do you want a learning revolution?

It may seem strange, but if you want a learning revolution then the first thing to consider is the removal of classroom walls.

I have been involved in this innovation twice now.

The first time, I was a student at a school in the English Midlands. My school innovatively created an open-plan technology department. I thought it was great. During GCSE technology lessons I would sit and talk to Angela about The Swamp Donkeys, Fretblanket or a coming Friday night excursion to Wordsley. When challenged by a teacher to actually do something, we would make the right noises before moving to one of the other ‘rooms’ to continue our conversation.

One of my friends used to duck out of the fire escape in order to… erm… take the air. For most of every lesson. The teachers didn’t seem to like the arrangement because they never knew where we all were.

I didn’t do very well in GCSE technology. I can’t be sure but I think the school eventually put in partition walls.

About ten years later I was working as the Head of Science in a school in West London that was totally rebuilt under the Private Finance Initiative. The architects did some strange things like placing light switches in the corridors. We tried to tell them not to but we weren’t allowed to comment on details like that. Instead, we had to feed our thoughts into a ‘specification’ for what the building was mean to do rather than exactly what features it should have.

So we were given an open-plan Art department. The teachers didn’t like it very much because it was quite noisy and distracting.

We ended up ordering some partition walls.

And so I read with interest about a school building in Sussex that was unveiled in 2010 with open-plan pods catering for 90 students at a time. Apparently, the idea was to transform the learning agenda. However, according to a newspaper report, the layout was not necessarily popular with parents or conducive to high standards. The new principal wants a complete refurbishment.

In the meantime, they’ve put up some partition walls.

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4 Comments on “Do you want a learning revolution?”

  1. Open plan, with its close relative ‘semi-open plan’, was the standard new build for primary and middle once. I was head of a ‘semi-open plan’ middle through the eighties — that’s to say there were three and a half walls. I wasn’t used to it, coming from secondary, and we used bookcases to get a bit of enclosure.
    There are parallels with technology which has also been introduced at times just for its own sake, on the basis that everyone thinks it’s a good idea. We could list the expensive disasters, and name some schools if necessary. But it’s now clear that, properly applied in the context of a clear vision for teaching and learning, technology is not just useful but essential.
    So it is with the teaching environment. In our school we knew how we wanted to teach, and open plan didn’t fit. But teachers have a different idea of how they want to work with their students and an open plan ‘learning plaza’ fits that, then it will work (often with the help of technology) — and there are schools out there demonstrating that. There’s a parallel with forest schools. You cannot just timetable teachers to take some of their lessons out in the woods. If you do, then you court resistance. The vision for learning has to come first.

  2. […] academic base. Look at the example of Knowsley with its hi-tech, open plan learning spaces. Despite open-plan learning having a long, tragic history of failure, the well-intentioned folk who designed it in to a new […]


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