Building schools right now, very quickly, without thinking about the future too much

February 25, 2008 at 1:49 pm Leave a comment

A few days ago there was yet another blow for the Building Schools for the Future programme with press reports claiming that only 9 new schools are open instead of the 100 that are supposed to have been completed by now. Surely it shouldn’t just be a numbers game. OK so only 9 schools have been built, but what of those 9 schools? Have they transformed learning like they were supposed to? There are other, arguably much more fundamental and important questions we should be asking — for starters, who and what schools are for? — instead of just churning out new buildings for the sake of it.

The BSF programme could and should be such a massive opportunity — to rethink education and to transform learning for so many people for who education didn’t work or isn’t working for. I really worry sometimes that we’re going to miss our chance and make many of the old mistakes again. I’m sure many people involved in the process are well intentioned, but whether these good intentions and big visions are making an impact on the buildings that are being designed, commissioned and built right now is questionable.

Workshop at Futurelab

Last week we held a small half-day workshop here at Futurelab to begin to explore the some of the issues around personalisation and the design of learning spaces. We had representatives from a variety of fields including: architecture, policy, teaching, construction/design and technology. One of the activities was to think about the key issues that might underpin a ‘design brief’- for a learning space for a) one single group or class; b) a ‘year group’ and c) a whole school. There were probably more questions than answers but there were some really interesting issues raised.

No one knows exactly what the future holds but surely we shouldn’t just wait for it to happen to us and then lament that our buildings aren’t right – surely we should at least endeavour to pre-empt what changes lie ahead – and maybe shape them even?

Perhaps some of the questions that arose out of the workshop last week might stimulate debate and creative thinking for those embarking on redesigning their learning spaces.

The design process

  • Why do students seem to be largely if not totally excluded from the process – after all they are the ultimate consumer?
  • Shouldn’t the design/re-design itself be seen as a valuable learning experience?
  • Do teachers and students really know what technologies are available now or possible in the near future?
  • How can we help/support schools to think more radically and longer term in their designs?

The spaces/buildings

  • Can we develop a ‘learning building’. In other words where the structure and infrastructure, walls, floors ceiling and outside spaces are actually artefacts from which we can learn?
  • Can we develop more ‘intelligent’ and reactive, sustainable and flexible buildings?
  • Do we need fixed internal walls? Do we need fixed spaces?
  • Does a learning space have to be just one site?


  • Should schools become places the whole community can use equally or regularly?
  • Does everyone have to be there all the time?
  • Can anyone use the facilities for learning purposes?
  • Should we think in terms of ‘a community’ rather than classes when we design learning spaces?
  • Are schools currently under-used – should they be multi-use, multi-function spaces?
  • How much space can be personalised by learners – and what exactly does that mean?


  • Shouldn’t there be more focus on the technologies, such as video and teleconferencing or tools that allow greater collaboration that allow these links rather than using fixed ‘walled’ technologies largely used as one way content delivery technologies?
  • How will locative technologies, GPS, cell technology and so forth change our view of where and what learning takes place?
  • What are the possibilities in terms of touch screen technologies and how might we consider the tactile and multi-sensory stimulation that they afford as part of the design in learning spaces?
  • Can/should learners use their own devices?
  • Should technology be like a ‘utility’?

A full write up of the workshop will be available soon from the Futurelab website.

Author: Tash Lee, Flux, 14th February 2008


Entry filed under: Events, ICT, Learning, Pedagogy, Social Impact. Tags: , , , , .

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The purpose of this blog is to provide insight into the impact of computer games and pop culture, and effective ways of incorporating the positive surplus into learning experiences.

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