Because you are worth it

6th April 2007 at 01:00
School buildings should be designed to suit pupils and to encourage more personalised learning

PEOPLE WHO build large secondary schools for up to 2,000 pupils should be put in jail, according to Keir Bloomer, the outgoing chief executive of Clackmannan-shire Council.

"Our schools are far too big," he said. "As adolescents, young people need to be nurtured but not have their noses rubbed in it."

Mr Bloomer, a former teacher, union activist and education director, said the secondary school of the future should be a lot smaller and offer nurture and personal support to teenagers. Its job was to develop "whole human beings". He was speaking in the first of a series of masterclasses, "The School as a Home for the Mind", run by the Tapestry education partnership, of which he is a director.

Mr Bloomer also criticised some public private partnership school building programmes, saying the unimaginative designs and use of poor materials sent a signal to young people that their educational experience was not valued.

A school building had to make it clear to a pupil as soon as he or she walked in the door that "you are worth it", he said. Otherwise, young people would not be motivated to take an active part in their learning.

Mr Bloomer's comments coincided with a report by the British Educational Sup-pliers Association and the British Council for School Environments, which called for better designs of schools.

The report said pupils should be involved in the planning process. Schools in the future would need more spaces where children could learn through computer technology and more "social spaces" where they could follow independent study in a less formal environment.

Although confessing to be "no friend of PPP", Mr Bloomer said one of the criticisms often levelled against public private partnership funding - that councils are usually tied into arrrangements for 30-plus years - was unjustified.

"Any building is a long-term investment," he said. "You are not going to put up a school, however you are paying for it, and decide that, because it's not quite what was wanted, it should be taken down and something else put up."

The advantage of PPP arrangements was that they ensured the schools were properly maintained - something that local authorities had "not been terribly good at".

However, schools needed to be in a position where they offered young people a more varied experience and motivated them to continue learning after they left school. Currently, pupils do around 98 per cent of their learning on-site and, because of timetabling restrictions, go around in "herds" of 25 to 30 students from one classroom to another.

"In theory, staff could move - they might not like it, but they could," Mr Bloomer suggested. "But instead, the pupils move - so a building has to cater for lots of movement and room utilisation becomes less efficient."

Schools faced a future of more personalised learning and assessment, a stronger impact from ICT and more synthesis of knowledge, Mr Bloomer continued. This meant spaces would have to be more adaptable.

Schools might be more like conference centres, he ventured. And perhaps, rather than sporting and expressive arts facilities being housed in schools, pupils should make more use of outside facilities based in the community.

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