Kent represents Britain's social diversity and economic disparity in microcosm. While proximity to London and Europe provides tremendous wealth and professional prospects to some residents, many others are struggling to capitalize. The county sees its future prosperity rooted in a revived educational system.
Five years ago a countywide review of the secondary system revealed that 46 percent of Kent's 16-year-olds were leaving school without the necessary qualifications to satisfy either a university admission or an employer. Further research showed that obsolete facilities and a dated curriculum have stifled student development and the county's ability to leverage its geographic good fortune.
As part of the largest school improvement program in British history, the county of Kent is pursuing a 15-year, £1.8 bn ($3.6 bn) program that will see a revamp of the school curriculum, as well as the rebuild and refurbishment of more than 140 educational facilities.
Building schools of the future, Kent is challenging accepted conventions of how schools should look and function. The British school may never be the same.
Image: Northfleet Technology
In order to overcome the institutional obstacles to educational achievement, Kent County Council and its school administrators have embarked on a far-reaching plan that will overhaul the existing school system. The objective: improving current academic attainment levels by 30 percent.
Guided by visioning sessions with key stakeholders and best practice research gleaned from schools in Scandinavia, China, Australia and the United States, the Council issued an ambitious report that sets out the strategic redesign of the current school system. The report, "Nurturing Autonomous and Creative Learners," outlines academic and vocational pathways that will meet the differing needs of students by providing individualized learning programs.
For the new curriculum to take full effect, Kent has looked to Gensler to help envision and design educational facilities that foster innovative learning environments. "We've torn up our existing educational model, because it isn't working," says Karl Limbert, program manager for Kent County Council. "We're inventing a new model of learning, and we're discovering that design is a powerful model for getting there."
In contrast to the conventional one-size-fits-all school building, Gensler has designed interactive spaces appropriate to the individual. Activities will drive the use of space and how learning takes place. In this new model, the flexibility of space for multiple uses is paramount.
"Moving away from the old models of school design means abandoning the existing language and preconceived ideas of classrooms, assembly halls and corridors," says Philip Gillard, Gensler's project principal. "It also means foregoing accepted educational design standards.
"Our approach from the beginning was that education comes first, and we would use design as a tool to facilitate that," Gillard says. "So we began by asking teachers and students what they needed in order to accomplish innovative, stimulating and viable learning environments." Supporting the differing learning models, such as visual or kinesthetic, as well as more traditional methods, means providing a range of flexible spaces suited to modern teaching techniques.
Kent's leaders recognize the task of rebuilding the school system is significant — not just in scope, but in potential impact as well.
"We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve the lives of an entire generation of children in Kent," Limbert says. "Our most significant challenge is creating stronger, safer, more successful communities. Education and learning are keys to our core strategy for achieving that goal."
The first phase of construction begins in the summer of 2008. Thirty-three schools are planned for the opening phase of transformation.
Rupal Shah—Gensler Firmwide Communications
Owen Raggett, Anna Robinson, Tosh Townsend (Gensler—London) and
Leah Ray (Gensler Firmwide Communications)
Kent County Council Schools Project Team
*For detailed information, please roll over imagery on individual story pages.
For more information on Kent County's Building Schools for the
Future (BSF) Programme: www.kent.gov.uk/bsf
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