Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When is a school a school?

I was privileged to be given a tour of a new school recently.  It was, without exception, the most exciting school building I have ever been into.

The design of the buildings was thoughtful and, dare I say it, “modern”.  ICT was present everywhere (but not always obvious), major walls were sound “proof” but flexible in that they could be opened (in effect removed) to increase teaching space and allow for co-operative learning, or inter-class interactions.  The school had avoided the trap of creating computer labs - instead each area had access to a half dozen or so desk top machines which were supplemented by a generous supply of lap tops via a booking system.  Wireless technology with fast connection speeds was ubiquitous and covered every area in the facility (or so we were told). Teachers had pleasant individual office space.  Each section of the school, or “pods” as they were called on site, contained significant art installations.  Large windows dominated the wall spaces filling the  facility with light and enhancing the impression of spaciousness. Classrooms seemed to have adequate resources. One of my fellow visitors commented that the staff room had the feel of an upmarket hotel rather than a school staff room.

Outside it was just as impressive - attractive from all angles, functional yet not overly institutional.  Play areas were clearly well used and functional.  It was, quite simply,  a wonderful building - but it wasn’t a school.

Then the siren went.

The empty rooms quickly filled with chatter, children moved to desks, teachers started explaining tasks, students started asking questions, books were opened, computer screens burst into life, the sounds of productive work became the back-ground audio-track for the visit.  Parent helpers slid quietly into a classroom to be greeted with smiles and accepting nods of “hello” from the students. A class of children walked past in an orderly but not overly regimented group. Seeing their teacher smiles burst onto the faces of the first few students as they entered the room.

Then it was a school.


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