Clearly, the majority of my work is with schools and colleges, and for obvious reasons I don't publish details of those projects until they're completed (when you can see them on this page). But here are are some of the other things I get up to:
I believe that Spaceoasis is one of the best educational furniture manufacturers in the UK. I first properly came across them when I completed the FF&E consultancy at Wapping Free School where they became the default manufacturer for the scheme. After that, one thing led to another and in 2014 they invited me to lead all their education projects.
I'm passionate about the design learning spaces which is why, too, I edit Learning Spaces magazine on behalf of the Imaginative Minds Group. Originally launched as Twenty-first Century Schools magazine, Learning Spaces has a readership of around 5,000. You can subscribe here.
Stephen Heppell and I have chatted for what feels like years about furniture for learning: the need to find a middle ground between the conservatism of traditional approaches and the cost and complexity for those who innovate. These ideas are coming to fruition, and we hope, very soon to be able to share them with schools and colleges.
I've helped i2i with the design of the central feature stand at BETT for a number of years, a collaboration that will continue next year where we are looking at how we can reflect changes in teaching styles with how both the Senior Leaders and HE seminar spaces are arranged.
I'm also continuing work on my book, Designing Schools from the inside out. As a taster, here's the preface:
I started to write this book during the midst of the UK’s Building Schools for the Future programme, launched in 2003 by the then Labour led government. I never felt fully comfortable with it – considering that too much emphasis was placed on the creation of glass palaces – “merely backdrops” I once rather cynically commented “for photographs of grinning politicians” – and insufficient on the creation of interiors which supported teaching and learning. But when, following the general election of May 2010 and the removal of the Labour government by a coalition of its Conservative and Liberal opponents, the new Education Secretary, Michael Gove axed the programme in an act of such brutality, many who had become involved in the delivery of it and yet who shared concerns, were, nonetheless still left reeling.
But I am an eternal optimist: the glass is half full, not half empty. Perhaps, I felt, that this represented an opportunity to redress the balance. It took me back to a Friday, two years earlier, during the autumn of 2008, when I had taken some visitors from Holland (who were involved in furnishing educational environments there) around two schools in the UK. In the morning to what Alastair Campbell would once have called a ‘bog standard’ comprehensive – albeit one in a prosperous market town, and in the afternoon to a year-old city academy. “Never before”, they said at the end of the day “had they seen such two extremes: neither school would have existed in Holland.” Parents of the students of the comprehensive would, if it been in Holland, have been queuing up to withdraw them first thing on Monday morning had they witnessed the environment in which they were being taught, they said. Students in the brand new academy, on the other hand, were surrounded by riches the like of which they had never seen before.
This observation had brought me up short. My own son attended the comprehensive and I was, then, a governor there. What I had seen that day was, albeit hideously under-invested (the school’s budget allowed just £8 per student per year, for example, to spend on furniture and equipment) an environment which was calm and in which there was pride (no litter, no graffiti, flowers in brick planters in the playground). Students all appeared on task, and without exception were polite and courteous to the group of visitors going around their school. The school was, and remains over-subscribed and still has excellent results both at GCSE and A Level putting it in the top three schools in the county. Checking the academy’s results a couple of years later, on the other hand, showed below national average results at GCSE (the Academy does not have a Sixth Form) and their students’ attainment remaining “unsatisfactory”.
Was this evidence that my previously firmly-held belief that environments have an effect on learning outcomes was ill-founded? Was I derelict in my duty both as a parent and a governor in allowing the comprehensive school to continue in the way it did? Or was it, in words that became linked with the American elections of that year, proof that you can put lipstick on a pig – but it’s still a pig?
Regrettably, despite much soul-searching, I could conclude little: even with the publication of metrics – numbers by which parents are theoretically able to compare schools, it is difficult to usefully contrast the two establishments – they serve different communities and have different leaders and teachers. But my conviction of the need to continue rebuilding and remodelling our schools was strengthened. Whilst it is impossible to argue that we must concentrate first on areas of greatest need, and I had long resigned myself to the realisation that the process in which I was so closely involved professionally would have little or no affect on my own son, perhaps I had become too accepting of the poor state in which we have allowed our nation’s school estate to fall. The need to get major capital projects right is as important now as at any time in history, and I felt that we’ve not been doing that. The time has come to do it differently.