Friday, 13 February 2009

Building Schools for the Future and Futurelab

Futurelab have just released a document called 'Transforming Schools for the Future?'. Download it from here. Four contributors have written short essays designed to stimulate thinking around the BSF process. Tim Rudd (Senior Researcher at Futurelab) argues that BSF will be more effective at changing learning for the better if young people are given a genuine voice in designing these new schools. His argument is very compelling. Tim recognises that personalisation if it has any meaning must imply student choices and empowerment. So, he argues, BSF should embrace learner empowerment. I find this an attractive proposition. I am a great believer in the idea that the means make the ends. The argument would be stronger if it was not based solely on logic. Unfortunately he doesn't refer the reader to any examples of this working in practice.
Nick Page is next and makes some similarly straightforward proposals to improve BSF. He wants greater preparatory work with schools. He wants more testing and experimenting before schools begin. I particularly appreciate his reference to City Learnining Centres (p 11) as good places to do the experimenting. He says 'Every project should have a link university who can help provide the research methodologies and support'. I'm sure most observers would say these are very sensible ideas. His focus on the human process of thinking through the whole thing makes a lot of sense. It made me think about the PWC report I wrote about a few weeks ago - visible here. Lack of funding to schools to help them prepare is highlighted in the report.
Rosemary Luckin, (Professor of Learner Centered Design, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education) has, in my opinion, some of the most interesting reflections.
'Teachers have a vitally important role in the realisation of the transformative power of technology, but this role is continually evolving and teachers need support to operate effectively in a ‘perpetual beta’ world.' (p 14) This made me stop and think for a minute. What makes google docs so powerful is their ability to add functionality, or alter the interface on the fly. They can watch the effects and decide whether or not to keep the change or try something else. Teachers should be able to use technology to support a similar process with learners.
She says on page 15 that BSF needs to 'explore how the school can be designed in a manner that enables it to continue to evolve'. A fabulous point I think. Learning is at the centre of this dynamic, and without the ability to change, what point would there be in educationalists and learners finding out what is effective and suboptimal in their buildings?
Bob Harrison of Toshiba Information Systems is the last contributor. I was struck by this question.
'How do we create a climate for the education workforce to innovate and be creative within a system which is “internally consistent and self sustaining”?' (p 20) This is at the heart of much of the weaknesses in BSF at present. I remember PM Tony Blair asserting that standards not structures matter and being sceptical. Very often the former are shaped by the latter. Our present school system creates institutions that are extremely risk averse and defensive. If BSF can be a tool for decoupling some of the engines that create this climate in schools then I'll be delighted.

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