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A small country has a big start

Neil Munro reports from the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow

"Agility" is the key to the future of schooling - and Scotland is better placed than larger countries like England to practise it.

So ran a central message from Stephen Heppell, director of Anglia Polytechnic University's Ultralab learning technology research centre, in a video link address to last week's Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow.

The renowned futurologist said: "Schools were designed for productivity when they should be designed for creativity, and we have got to shift the balance from one to the other."

Professor Heppell called into question the way schools are designed and organised, and the effect this has on learning.

"It doesn't matter how barking mad the design of a school is," he commented. "What matters is how much children are engaged in it. We need to be brave. If we involve children in the design of their environment - even if we get it wrong and even if it's bad - children will do better."

Professor Heppell said that the arrival of the digital age will affect the way schools are designed. "It will mean children moving around less, for a start," he predicted. Schools would therefore not require corridors whose only purpose is to aid pupil movement. The space saved would add 25 per cent to the area of a school.

"I remember asking one youngster what was wrong with the design of his school and he told me: 'They keep moving us around'."

Professor Heppell applied his theme, "goodbye productivity, hello creativity", to other aspects of school organisation. Why could a faculty of sport not be located in a recreation centre, or a faculty of business in a retail park?

This was one example of his call for "agile" thinking, which he defined as schools evolving constantly. "It may be, for example, that some youngsters learn more effectively when they are listening to Eminem, others to Mozart.

It may be that such approaches will work in one place but not in another: we simply don't know.

"What we do know is that we have got to change over time. Eminem may be fine now but if we expose people to that music in a few years' time they might be repelled by it. The key thing in all this is to involve young people and their parents."

Teaching, too, must be put on a new footing, Professor Heppell said. He added: "We need a fully doctoral profession to deal with the complexity."

Creativity was also the theme of an address by Nicholas Janni of Olivier Mythodrama, a consultancy which he runs with Richard Olivier, son of acting legend Lord Olivier. They have pioneered the use of drama, and Shakespeare in particular, to improve people's leadership capacities.

Henry V was used by Mr Janni to demonstrate the key techniques that "star performers" deploy to maximise their performance. This included the kind of self-awareness of his "dark night of the soul" which allowed the king to inspire his troops to victory in battle.

Mr Janni's consultancy takes as its starting point that everyone has "a latent talent for creativity, imagination, vision, motivation and communication."

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