Interview with @stephenheppell about future schools, including his “rule of 3” (

Here’s an excerpt from a fairly wide-ranging interview. It’s four months old now, but I’m guessing only a minority of those passing by this site will have seen it before… The quote, “Schools are full of things that our descendants will look back on and laugh out loud at”, seems especially plausible.

Let’s talk about the teaching and learning environment. What should the third millennium school look like? 

I have a simple rule of three for third millennium learning spaces:
• No more than three walls so that there is never full enclosure and the space is multifaceted rather than just open.
• No fewer than three points of focus so that the “stand-and-deliver” model gives way to increasingly varied groups learning and presenting together (which by the way requires a radical rethinking of furniture).
• Ability to accommodate three teachers/adults with their children. The old standard size of about 30 students in a box robbed children of so many effective practices; these larger spaces allow for better alternatives.

None of this is about fashion — it is about effectiveness and, of course, there is a great deal more detail to give regarding building this environment: detail about the 24/7 nature of learning; the value of learning outside the classroom; the acceleration of stage-not-age; or the inspirational role models derived within vertical age structures. Perhaps most important of all is the sense that each year — as is the case with medicine, car design, technology, even cooking — if we feel we have not made progress in our approach, there is a palpable sense of wasted opportunity and of slipping back. For 30 years in education, it seemed as though each year was judged only in direct comparison with the previous year — the curse of criterion referencing — as though there were some merit in not progressing. How foolish!

In reality, what do schools today look like? What can we do to change that?

Schools are full of things that our descendants will look back on and laugh out loud at: ringing a bell and expecting 1,000 teenagers to be simultaneously hungry; putting 25 children together in a box because they were born between two Septembers; assessing children based on how well they work alone; and so on.

But schools can be wonderful places — just think of the Christmas production, or school musical, and you will see a large hall filled with children of all ages, determined to create the best ever version of Grease (or whatever), with youngsters chasing the older ones, their role models, who in turn gain from working with the youngsters. Small groups are working on the front-of-house details, the choreography, painting the set, rehearsing scenes, sorting out the lighting technology, and doing all of this in parallel. If things are not going too well they will stay late, come in early, work though weekends…it is a clear vision of just how wonderfully seductive learning might be, yet schools seem not to notice this and put the same children back in their boxes, only to be amazed at their disengagement.



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