Imagining School

Boldly Reshaping Education

Studio Schools: Is the UK on to something?

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By:  Alex Wenzel

If you haven’t heard about them before, check out the Studio Schools popping up all over the UK.

Why they exist

High school students are bored, teachers are frustrated, parents don’t know what to do.  The modern high school model simply doesn’t work with all students.  Set up for university admission and conformity  to a body of knowledge that is outdated and often useless, our modern high schools today fail to answer the questions of ‘why is this important?’ and ‘why should I care?’

Employers are disappointed with the results.  Students entering the job force lack the skills they need to be successful.  They lack the non-cognitive skills such as motivation and resilience as well as communication, collaboration, and problem solving skills.

Studio Schools exist for these bored students, giving them an entirely different approach to learning and work.

How they do it different

Among the elements of a Studio School are small school sizes that make the learning environment more supportive and personalized.  The curriculum is almost entirely project-based.  The project have extensions into the community and students are often commissioned on real projects for businesses like a health report for their local hospital or a business brief for a local employer.  The curriculum is still based on national standards and can prepare students for university or for employment and entrepreneurship.

What I think is the most critical part of their innovative model is the non-cognitive skills for employment that are woven into the curriculum.  Among those, ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘relating to others’ stand out for me.  The technology age has posed a real need for these skills as well as empathy, understanding, and honesty.  Studio Schools respond to this growing need articulated by employers and put it at the forefront of their model of education.

Authentic challenges, team work, and the support from a community of other teachers, students, coaches, and professionals, make Studio Schools a model for student success.  The research is there to support it.

Is it working?

Two years after the opening of the first two Studio Schools academic results showed the poorest performers jumping to the top quartile.  Here Geoff Mulgan talk about it on TED:

The popularity of Studio Schools is spreading quickly, mainly by word of mouth, and transforming the lives of teenagers that are really bored in traditional school.  This may not be the universal answer for every student, but it certainly serves some students very well.

What if we imagined school is small pockets like this?  Unique, small communities serving small populations of students.  Let’s let go of our ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Author: wenzelalex

International Educator interested in rethinking education for a sustainable future.

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