Education in the UK: small is beautiful

In the UK, daycare remains the preserve of two social types, each at opposite ends of the wealth divide. Firstly, for the children of relatively well-to – do working parents who can afford to pay for private and very expensive daycare; secondly, it is reserved for children of the non-working poor, who benefit from free daycare through services like Sure Start, who provide targeted, fully subsidized family provision directed towards the poorest communities in Britain.

Daycare is not available for the majority of lower to middle class children simply because it is unaffordable.3 Parents of these children continue to go out to work. What happens to their children before they are admitted to mainstream school aged 4? The reality is they are ferried around between friends, neighbours and relatives, they attend shoddy part-time facilities in church halls, or part-time sessions in mainstream school nurseries. Through this experience they may feel marginalized and uncared for, as they learn to survive in a regime where they understand that parents simply cannot cope with their need for love and nurturing, which only time and space can provide. In a society where a market place for labour consumes people’s time voraciously and dictates that parents work long hours, young children pay their own price. The allocation of wealth in these Anglo-American societies is largely based on non communal anti­social values.

However, from the age of five (or in some cases aged four), children spend much of their time in school. Primary school is a good experience for many children. Up to the age of 8 or 9, most of these young people will behave well and work harmoniously within a nurturing setting. Further up the education line, just when children have found their feet, they have to move on, to a secondary school. For the most part, they and their parents will get another stark reminder of the market place which prevails in education. If their parents can afford it, some lucky children will be taken out of the state sector at the age of eight or eleven and sent to private schools. There, class sizes will be small, with specialist support for those who need it and perhaps most importantly, a good quality environment. Alternatively, parents may be lucky enough to find themselves living in a middle class area with a good local school, which maintains its standards by selecting children who fit the middle class profile. What happens to the remainder? They will almost certainly experience extremely poor education because it will be carried out in old run­down buildings with poor facilities in class sizes which are too large to cater for diverse social and educational needs. In an environment which one teacher describes as ‘continuous low level insubordination’, the minority of bullies will be allowed to hold sway over the majority of students and thus establish an anti-education culture. This drowns out the needs and aspirations of those receptive students who want to have a decent education. Children in these places will dwindle their class time away, until they come out at the other end with half an education. Another teacher puts it more emotively:

…in my own school what finally makes me break down and cry is the quiet child who sits through all the abuse and sexual garbage littered throughout every lesson and break, six hours a day, five days a week, and comes to me at the end of the lesson and says: ‘What was that X squared, miss?’ He is the one I have flashbacks remembering at two in the morning.4

As an architect working solely in the education field (and therefore someone who visits lots of schools and talks to many teachers), my perception is that modern education is fine for students of above average self-motivation and self-discipline, but it damns the rest. It also damns the teachers. A recent report on secondary school teachers in the UK indicates that they are spending so much time dealing with worsening pupil behaviour that they are battling to ‘be allowed to teach’.5 This independent report shows how fundamental rights of teachers within the UK are being ignored, as they are forced to work in cramped, overcrowded environments full of abuse and threatening pupil behaviour. How often teachers are criticized for poor performance yet the most basic architectural function, that of having enough space within the teaching environment to fulfil their task, for example, is denied to them. Many schools do not even provide staff with office space to carry out lesson preparation. As for more sophisticated lifestyle props, such as gyms for use at lunchtimes, these are unheard of; yet consider many contemporary office buildings which provide such facilities as part of a sophisticated support system to retain and promote the well-being of their staff. Today schools still rely on a conveyor belt approach to education, in a world which is geared towards the individual.

Many of our political leaders lecture us about creating a market in education based on ‘choice’ as being the way to go. Yet for the majority there is still simply no choice. Aged 11, children look in vain for hope in these chaotic places and for many there is very little hope to find. There is simply not enough specialist care and attention being spent on the state education system to reach those children who really need support, for their benefit and for the well-being of society as a whole. The real needs of children, and in particular their parents, are largely ignored in all of this, and the new replacement buildings for education which are coming on stream within the UK seem to be at best peripheral, at worse reinforcing of the status quo. This is a pessimistic view admittedly, however it feels like an accurate one from where I am observing.

I wish to emphasize here that I am no collectivist willing to sacrifice his own family wealth to the education and well-being of other people’s children through higher taxation. Like most other people brought up in the new global market place, my motivations are in the main selfish. I am lucky enough to be able to send my children to private education or in the case of the youngest child, to a religious well-funded selective school with good facilities where respect for teachers is enforced. The onus is placed on parents to ensure their children comply with rules and discipline. Feckless parents will be found out, and their children will be dumped out of the school to return to the local comprehensive. Everyone understands the rules; break them and you are out. However, through the misty memory of my former liberal past, I still regret that much of the mainstream education system is highly flawed, with little compensatory funding for schools with educational disadvantages. These schools, particularly at secondary level, are failing our children and those teachers who must put up with challenging and disruptive behaviour. What is the main problem?

It would appear that education is playing to a tune of bygone times. Education within the UK, in its basic structure, has hardly changed since the nineteenth century; it is largely conducted in class sizes of around thirty students, organized in a hierarchical form, with children all in age-related ‘squads’. Yet society has changed. For example, the relatively recent transformation of communications technology makes the world a far more intimate place, yet at the same time one which is incredibly complex and in many ways chaotic. In his seminal book on children’s digital culture, Douglas Rushkoff puts it in somewhat extreme terms:

… The degree of change experienced by the past three generations rivals that of a species in mutation. Today’s ‘screenager’ – the child born into a culture mediated by the television and computer is interacting with his world in at least as dramatically altered a fashion from his grandfather as the first sighted creature did from his blind ancestors 6

There are many other aspects of children’s material culture which have altered out of recognition. However there is little new educational practice which truly reflects this seismic shift. Even recent initiatives such as the UK Government’s ‘Schools for the Future’ document, shows little real innovation taking place.7 It is full of colourful images wrapped up in seductive computer graphics which tend to disguise the reality of the architectural structures described. For example, the projects featured maintain the closed classroom format, each one accessed from a long dangerous corridor. And it is an understandable outcome reflecting a centralized educational curriculum which has barely changed in a century. For example Richard Aldrich compared the new National Curriculum introduced in 1988 to the old Board of Education regulations issued to state secondary schools in 1904:

… There is such a striking similarity between these two lists that it appears that one was simply copied from the other, although the term ‘modern foreign language’ in the 1987 excludes Latin which featured prominently in the secondary

school curricula of 1904___ Thus in essence the

proposed national curriculum in so far as it is expressed in terms of core and foundation subjects, appears as a reassertion of the basic grammar school curriculum devised at the beginning of the twentieth century by such men

as Robert Morant and James Headlam___ This

curriculum is now extended to primary and comprehensive secondary schools. .8

Thus a dumb, boring, rigid, educational conformity dictates the main architectural straight-jacket for all new school buildings within the state sector. School buildings are for the most part antiquated, or in the case of new schools, of fairly shoddy quality. As a result, schools do not inspire their people; they are always constrained by limited budgets and lesson plans which carve the student’s day up into arbitrary snapshots, so that each student can get round and get their bit of art, maths and english, etc. To quote again from Rushkoff: ‘If like immature children, we steadfastly maintain our allegiance to the sinking, obsolete institutions of the past, then we will certainly go down with the ship.’9

Today, what makes a good school is the people, the structures and the ethos that they promote through their care for the individual, and his or her individual needs. Part of John Edward’s research in Chapter 3 illustrates the reality of how little time teachers spend with children on individual tuition in a class of thirty (approximately 45 seconds per pupil per lesson).

A good building will help to raise standards generally, however, it will not change the condition of those unruly students who for whatever reason feel bored and alienated from education, and in many ways, from polite society as a whole. Their behaviour is learned and mimicked from a combination of too much trash culture, poor parenting and lack of discipline and mutual respect shown in society as a whole. It is the role of education to win these people round in order that they can play an active and fulfilling role in society. Part of the need for this is to prevent them from

Education in the UK: small is beautifulEducation in the UK: small is beautifullllust D

(a) Floor plan shows a number of spatial ideas which emerged from the participatory process including Hot Pods, multi-use rooms shared by four classrooms, and Arts First, positioning art studios and the gallery space at the front of the building. Gallery space adjacent to the art studio with moveable wall panels to create flexible art spaces.

(b) Architects Weisz and Yoes’ photocollage shows the school’s entrance. Children will literally take to the street as the school utilizes the dead end street as a playground. The former factory building now has a colourful new fapade.

(c) Internal views with retractable ‘up and over’ walls to provide a fully flexible environment. Published from Adam Lubanski material.

Education in the UK: small is beautiful

Подпись: Illust D (Extended caption) Innovation in the design and procurement of schools. Bronx School for the Arts is a public charter elementary school that opened in the South Bronx last year. The school is founded on the principle that arts education is critical to human development and learning and is the creation of a grass roots team of educators, parents and community residents. Bronx Arts is located in the Hunts Point area, a growing community surrounded by an industrial neighbourhood. The selection of the school site was particularly important. A number of criteria were established including its location in the heart of the community and its proximity to the school's partner, Bronx Arts Community. Also, space for a pre-school was required, a single-storey building for accessibility, large column spacing for flexibility and the potential for some outdoor play space. Therefore a former factory building was selected which was robust enough for conversion rather than demolition. A deep participatory process included parents, children and community residents all coordinated by the developers, Civic Builders, and the architects, Weisz and Yoes Architects. They came up with the following community design guidelines: • achieve a balance between order and spontaneity • emphasize spillover spaces for small groups • cluster classrooms to share multi-use spaces for small group work • produce flexible spaces driven by an openness to change and opportunities to partner • create spaces that allow teachers to function as professionals and support parents as partners in education • display artworks throughout the school including privileged spaces for gallery shows, 'free' spaces for kids to design and display spaces for teachers, community members and artists • incorporate the community experiences into a coherent approach to the school facility • provide colorful light-filled playful and textural experiences • promote the healthy development of children. The process has enabled an interesting mix of public and private finance to create a small-scale facility right at the heart of the community with a walk in off the street feel. This is also a very economical project to build and maintain and most importantly the stakeholders have had a genuine say in its shape and development. Currently, people are much more aggressive in defining the places where they live, their locality. This is an example where the local community took the initiative - the scheme is both site-specific and user-specific. It develops connections with the surrounding community, has a sense of arrival and is inherently secure, yet welcoming. It provides a variety of individual and group learning places which encourage connections across age divides.

jeopardizing the education of others. Education must go further, it must be better, it must be innovative, it must in some localities spend more of our money to compensate for poor social conditions and most importantly, it must be local.

In the Netherlands, a debate emerged from the beginning of the 1990s as to how best to address the issues facing schools in areas of high economic and social disadvantage. So-called compensatory funding, directed towards areas of high migration from the 1960s had not really worked and it was recognized that a less centralized more municipally based system would better address the particular needs of each locality.

An Educational Opportunity Policy was launched in February 2000 which directed funding towards the grass roots. Part of the deal meant that
municipalities had to confer with school governing bodies to draw up an action plan to realize a coherent compensatory policy. However, specific research in each school became the starting point for this planning. By asking the right questions they endeavoured to identify the real problems which required solutions. A mirror was held up to the schools through dialogue based not just on inspection evidence, but also on pupil and teacher interviews, classroom consultations and other supplementary data.

This is a real turnaround in policy, and recognizes that society is more dynamic than ever, repeatedly subject to major changes. The approach offers an evolving process which is not set from the centre, rather it grows organically from the community itself. ‘…With the school as the

starting point, and choosing concrete objectives, there are guidelines for the actions that schools can take. Leaving the choice with the schools emphasizes their autonomy and uniqueness. There is after all, no universal recipe for tackling educational disadvantage.’10 Our extended caption on the Bronx School for the Arts in New York is a case study which recognizes the need for schools to grow out of the local community rather than sitting beside it, closed, separate and autonomous.