Blog: Teaching environment vs Learning environment – Paul Stallan, Stallan-Brand

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The Education Buildings Scotland Conference seeks to bring together different sectors across the learning estate to celebrate what works in re-thinking spaces for learning. It allows them to share insights on what’s possible to support improvement. A&DS has invited a number of design professionals to share their ideas. The focus of the blogs is on the voice of young people. In this blog Paul Stallan, Design Director, Stallan-Brand, argues that Scotland’s school buildings are a barrier to delivering the Curriculum for Excellence. 

Imagine an architectural practice from a far-off galaxy visited earth to design a new school building that was to support Scotland’s ‘3-18 Curriculum for Excellence’ without cultural bias or a historical perspective … outcome designs would not resemble any of our existing or exemplar schools currently being promoted.

Our ‘departmentally’ designed schools are preventing our teachers from delivering new learning in the manner that Scottish Government, the Schools Directorate and Education Scotland intend. Scotland’s school buildings are compromising the delivery of the Scottish Governments progressive ‘3-18 Curriculum for Excellence’. This matter is one of the very serious obstacles that requires to be addressed to realise improved learner outcomes and most importantly tackle the mental health crisis our young people are experiencing.

Tensions between space and practice

Pupils and teachers are struggling with unacceptable pressures especially in the secondary years due to a conflict between new learning practice and the physical environment to accommodate this pedagogy. This tension is further compounded by the collapse of the nurture agenda in secondary education which blindly prioritises student attainment over wellbeing.

Our 3-18 Curriculum promotes five learner stages across the learner journey from early years through to sixth year. Each learner stage is supposed to encourage creative, collaborative and cross-subject thematic working. Our current secondary schools are ‘siloed’ the opposite of what the Curriculum for Excellence recommends spatially. The majority of our schools are therefore presenting physical environments that inhibit the curriculum, partition culture and challenge emotional development.

Speed of Change

How can our existing schools be so out of kilter from our curriculum? Simple … the speed with which learning has changed within a single generation has been unprecedented. The fundamental DNA of the 3-18 Curriculum that prescribes that learning should be a ‘student centred cross curricula experience’ should have blown the ‘old body’ school model out of the water and been the genesis of a new approach.

We urgently need to ‘re-choreograph’ the spaces within existing schools and re-brief our new school designs. Stallan-Brand with Scottish Borders Council is changing the school model to address the opportunity that the Curriculum provides. Our ‘Jedburgh Intergenerational Learning Campus’ is unique in its spatial arrangement designed to be ‘a school without corridors’. Jedburgh is the opposite of institutional, our plans will not prescribe a boring routine and patronise … rather our environment will help them design their own journey.

The driving force behind the design of the school is students, the students take ownership over their teaching space and encouraged to curate their own learning. Our design avoids the typical routine of high school where students are dislodged between lessons hourly to traipse between generic classrooms to any of sixteen subjects. Rather than provide small, enclosed rooms that are in the domain of the teaching staff for an individual subject, lessons are to be delivered in a larger student space with teachers travelling between.

Flexible Spaces

Clusters will be structured to support; gathering, presentation, listening, reading, socialising, retreating, cooking, making and study all interlinked in the one volume. The prospect of a ‘flexible studio’ where space can be configured will be more engaging and very different to what some imagine as unbounded ‘open plan’ … it’s not open plan, its interactive. These larger flexible spaces allow a variety of settings and style of working helping to promote the overlapping of subjects and greater team-teaching opportunities.

Our practice is committed to working with progressive local authorities to deliver school that liberate learners so that education can be more fun, more creative, more engaging less stressful. The epidemic of poor mental health across our young people terrifies us. Please help us reimagine the school experience.

Paul Stallan, Design Director, Stallan-Brand

Image: Teaching Environment Versus Learning Environment

Read more about the Education Buildings Scotland Conference 2018 here.

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