Seing Differently

In October Alison Clark and I presented our work on Ashmole Primary School in a presentation called 'Seeing Differently' at University of Cambridge Faculty of Education. We discussed how the Mosaic Approach works, and how we implemented it in practice through the design of the project. This presentation was part of a book and film launch of 'Principles of Primary School Design' led by Dr. Catherine Burke as part of Place Academic Group.

Free schools seminar

I was involved with establishing an event for New Schools Network with Ben Rich Associates for groups starting their own free schools. I contributed to a presentation with fellow Places and Spaces members Andy Beard and John Waldron looking at key aspects about school design, and helped to prepare design guidance for free schools which was launched in October. Located Here.

Waiting for 'Superman'

In November 2010 I initiated and partnered with BCSE and Paramount Pictures to set up a screening and debate of 'Waiting for "Superman." From my knowledge of charter schools in the US and in particular in my home town of Philadelphia, I knew that this film would be an excellent platform to debate the connections between charter schools in the US and free schools in the UK. The event was hugely successful with 230 people in attendance, and here's a summary of the outcome:

Ahead of Waiting for “Superman's" official UK opening, British education policymakers, teachers, parent groups, designers and building contractors attended an exclusive screening of Waiting for "Superman" in London on 22 November. The event was a collaboration between several organisations: British Council for School Environments, Teach First, The Sutton Trust and Jennifer Singer Education Design, with help and support from Paramount Pictures.After the screening, we held a debate to explore the connections that can be made between education reform in the US and that of the UK, and the lessons that can be learned particularly from the growth of charter schools in the US. Our panel members were Brett Wigdortz, Founder and CEO of Teach First, Ian Fordham, Deputy Director of British Council for School Environments (BCSE,) James Turner, Director of Projects and Policy for the Sutton Trust and Janet Cullen, Headteacher of Lea Valley High School. Chaired by BCSE director, Ty Goddard, the debate highlighted areas of learning between the two education systems; patterns of education reform and response to education disadvantage and failure. 

While the panel and audience acknowledged that there are clear differences between the two countries, we noted that there were many similarities as well. As illustrated in the film, many felt that education systems can fail to meet the needs of a significant minority of young people and parents, and change can be frustrated by layers of bureaucracy and a lack of accountability.

The panel and audience agreed that the key to improving schools lay in investing in teachers, and that organisations like Teach First (similar to Teach for America in the US) were helping to encourage good quality teaching applicants. Parental and community support was also seen as vital in our quest to overcome educational disadvantage as was the need to renew the education infrastructure.

While it was felt that the film portrayed only the high-achieving charter schools, we were particularly interested in the KIPP Schools as a model of education that was scalable yet also supported personalised learning. Janet Cullen pointed out that KIPP's supportive ethos does not have to be limited to charter schools per se and could be applied to any state school. 

As the UK has recently launched free schools, similar to the charter schools in the USA, the film chimed well in terms of the need for greater choice and rigour to expand opportunities for students, particularly for those from less advantaged backgrounds. Ian Fordham made an important point that free schools in the UK, which are pioneered mainly by parent groups, should be more innovative with regard to the curriculum, pedagogy, learning environment and their overall aspirations for teaching and learning. We need to be braver and challenge and support schools further, and this is where Waiting for “Superman" really inspired.

Waiting for “Superman” is at Curzon Soho and Picture House Clapham from November 26th.

Waiting for Superman screening
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