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Why good learning environments matter

Personalising learning

In March 2006, the then education secretary Ruth Kelly announced an independent review of teaching and learning. The report, 2020 Vision, presented a view for personalising teaching and learning for children and young people aged 5 to 16. In effect, a personalised approach to learning begins with an in-depth understanding of each learner's needs, and then seeks to provide relevant and challenging opportunities that support them as they progress. The report made clear that there was no single blueprint for a school designed for personalising learning but suggested that we could start to predict some of the ways in which schooling might look different in 2020 including:

Changes to the traditional school day and greater access via the internet to interactive learning opportunities, enabling 24-hour access to learning

Some stage not age models of school organisation, in which students are not routinely taught with others of the same age but, instead, according to their attainment

Integrated and extended organisations, which have school functions at their core but are not constrained by them, incorporating other services in a learning centre

More all-age schools, abolishing the need for transition between the primary and secondary phases

School designs that deliberately do away with long corridors and hiding places, with a positive impact on behaviour

Spaces that can be used for more than one purpose, and classrooms that support a range of teaching approaches

So 10 years on (and only four years away from 2020), how far have we come in achieving that future? Well, much of the report's findings remain current in terms of what schools are looking to deliver for their young people. However, the challenge is implementing change in the face of reduced budgets and a more standardised approach to school design - which makes, for example, eradicating the much disliked corridors more difficult.

Yet schools can still do much to personalise their learning environments and make changes within existing buildings. And they can use the process to unite and involve the school community in thinking about what would make the most impact by asking questions around specific themes linked to school priorities for teaching and learning. Responses are often illuminating. In one school where I worked with all Year 7, 8 and 9 students, they said that their school should:

Make the most of ICT developments, creating fantastic learning spaces that integrate ICT across the school and use up-to-date technology to allow them to access their work through mobile devices

Have learning spaces with good natural light and be well ventilated: flexibility of space was key, with a good mix of formal teaching, practical and informal spaces and the interesting concept of creating pupil governed and teacher governed learning spaces was discussed

Have areas of the school that they could have ownership of, particularly social spaces (both internal and external) related to year groups but they also felt strongly that this responsibility should be earned and should link closely with school merit and reward systems

Have a more relaxed dining experience, dining was an area that students felt could be significantly enhanced

Have visible means of security so that they felt safe at all times

Have a variety of external spaces which were well thought out to provide for those who wanted to let off steam and those who wanted to sit quietly with friends

Be welcoming and accessible to all

Be a sustainable, low energy building, students wanted to be able to play their part by recycling

Inspire all who used it.

All good, sensible ideas, which formed part of the brief for their new school so the architects could take account of student views. I have heard similar comments in all the schools I have worked with and many of them can be implemented in new and existing buildings through working together and through initiatives such as the Smarter Spaces Campaign. So what are you waiting for? You can make change happen at any time. And it is nearly 2020 after all!

Dr Sharon Wright is the founder of Creative Wit and has over twenty years of experience in education innovation, and is a Governor of Ealing Fields High School in west London. She has led major school makeover projects for the British Council for School Environments showing that you can change learning environments on a small budget and in a short time.