Overcrowded schools an opportunity to disrupt not maintain the status quo. The current model is broken.

Students in Sydney’s North Shore government schools are overcrowded. The solution seems to be a simple mathematical equation. If we need to accommodate 360 more students , we need to form 12 classes and then find 12 classrooms in which to house them:

360 ÷ 30 = 12. Simple.

Presumably, it also means that every student needs a desk and chair – usually two children to a desk. So 180 desks and 360 chairs will be needed. In all, a basic procurement formula will be applied. When you have the one of the largest education systems in the world, as we do in NSW, the formulas just seem to be universally applied.

It’s time to think differently. Maybe a different model would also have cost-saving advantages?

When facing a challenge like this one, we also face an opportunity:

Maintain the status quo


Disrupt the status quo

Governments seem less enamoured with disruption, so they seek to maintain, after all, there is a formula. This is an opportunity lost.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to meet up with Stephen Heppell. The question was asked about Interactive Whiteboards* – to which SH answered that he thought they were past their use-by-date, but if they are there “only if you have three of them in a space”. For the design of spaces he recommends the rule of three:

one: never more than three walls

two: no fewer than three focal points

three: always able to accommodate at least three teachers, three classes

(*for the record, IWBs, in my opinion, maintain the status quo, just a bit sparklier)

Let’s look at the maths again – 360 students in three classes would look like this:

360 ÷ 120 = 3

If I were the education minister, with 360 students and a blank slate, what I would do?

Put larger groups together – age based or multi-age

Fit out and resource a space for at least 120 students

Windows, natural light and wide doorway openings

Have three teachers working as a team

Create nooks within the open spaces

Have walls and windows to write on

Use carpet and soft furnishings and the floor

Have a no shoes inside school, or have ‘inside shoes’

Ensure robust wifi for mobile technology

Have devices on hand as a natural part of learning

Help parents and teachers to think differently

Equip teachers with tools for learning that are necessary today

Be resolute about the future

And what I wouldn’t have?

180 desks and 360 chairs, especially those that enable rows

Interactive whiteboards

An obvious front of the class

Bare brick walls

Limited natural light

One teacher: One class (1:30)

Anybody telling me “Well, in-my-day…”

I have the wonderful opportunity of visiting many schools around the world. I observe that when students are provided with:

Freedom to move, explore and be curious

Spaces for learning to support this

Teachers who inspire, facilitate and encourage (and like them)

Then they are capable of deep, quality learning.

Please disrupt. The current model is broken.


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