Breaking the mould

10th February 2012 at 00:00
With its learning `plazas', teachers as `facilitators' and lack of traditional classrooms, Cornwallis Academy in Kent, pictured, is the latest experiment in bringing teaching into the 21st century. Do such innovations signal the beginning of the end for the traditional 30-pupil class?

With their smooth, blocky exteriors and tasteful green and grey cladding, the Cornwallis and New Line Learning academies do not look like schools.

These twin palaces of education, a few minutes' drive apart on the outskirts of Maidstone, would fit in perfectly on a high-tech business campus. Walk through their main entrances and you are greeted by cavernous atria like mini Tate Modern turbine halls, with modern office receptions on one side and buzzy open-plan cafeterias on the other.

They feel like state-of-the-art airport terminal buildings or software company HQs. Only slight scuffs betray their real role as English secondary schools.

The effect is entirely intentional. Chris Gerry, the former headteacher and brains behind the academies, does not believe that the traditional physical and pedagogical models of education do pupils any favours.

He is convinced that if they are to succeed in the real world, they need to learn how to function effectively in it - while they are still at school.

"You have to provide environments in tune with the world that people understand," says Gerry, now executive principal of the Future Schools Trust, which runs the academies. "Schools are very bizarre places - with school furniture, design, canteen spaces you never see any place else. So the idea was, `How could you make a space that is a destination environment?'

"You don't want a design that is like some institution. You want people to want to be here."

You can read the full article in the February 10 issue of TES.

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