High ceilings and high ambition: Kingsdale Foundation School

It takes real vision to look at an old gym building and see its potential as a vibrant centre for forward-thinking academic excellence, but at Kingsdale Foundation School in Dulwich, south east London, vision and ambition are second nature.  Leaders at Kingsdale are described by Ofsted as ‘tenacious in their pursuit of outstanding outcomes for pupils’ with Headteacher, Steve Morrison, instilling a culture of innovation and evolution that continually strives for excellence.  This Ofsted Outstanding school is not content simply to adhere to traditional models of teaching; staff here constantly challenge the status quo, developing a student-centred approach where the teacher facilitates the learning experience and acts as a catalyst for each student’s development.

The school recognises the vital role that learning environments play in delivering its ambitious vision.  Kingsdale occupies buildings dating from the 1950’s that have undergone continuous refurbishment to keep pace with its dynamic approach to teaching and learning.  Recent developments include a Flexible Learning Centre for students in the Upper & Senior Schools (designed in partnership with Learniture’s parent company, Spaceoasis), which has different zones that enable Kingsdale’s more senior students to further develop their independent learning skills.  When the old gym was left empty after the superb new sports facilities were installed, Headteacher, Steve Morrison, saw another opportunity to continue the evolution of his visionary approach.

Building on their work on the Flexible Learning Centre and looking to create fresh, modern spaces that offer a greater variety of learning opportunities than a traditional classroom, the school approached Learniture.

An ideal learning environment
The gym was subdivided into ten classrooms, retaining the maple floors (complete with court markings) and the 4.5m ceiling height, which means these learning spaces are both well-lit and well-ventilated, creating an ideal learning environment which helps students  concentrate.  Excess CO2 and insufficient light levels are common in classrooms and they can negatively affect pupils’ ability to stay alert and receptive.  Each of the new classrooms has Learniture’s Acclivity chairs and agile Smile tables with LearningSurface writable surfaces.   The furniture can easily be reconfigured to suit the lesson.  For example when practising speaking skills in languages, students can quickly assemble tables in pairs so they can face each other comfortably.  Equally, if teachers want their students in rows, they can do that too.  The agility of the furniture means it does not dictate how each space should be used.  The potential is there to experiment with new ways of doing things, but each individual teacher and class can take it at their own pace.

The breakout spaces between the classrooms feature the Heppell Bench from Learniture, which can be used as tiered seating, as a sitting-height large collaborative dry-wipe worksurface with bench seating or as a standing height, dry-wipe collaborative work surface.  This flexibility means students and teachers can choose how they use the breakout space, arranging the furniture to suit.  Enabling a degree of autonomy over the learning environment reaps significant rewards, with research showing a clear link between a sense of ownership and increased productivity.

Maximising potential
Headteacher, Steve Morrison, comments; “At Kingsdale we are focused on enabling each and every learner maximising their potential by personalising our curriculum provision to suit their preferred learning styles.  We achieve this by prioritising learning over teaching, our physical environment facilitates, not dictates our approaches.  Our dynamic and fluid spaces encourage self-reflection; they allow pedagogical practices to evolve such as embedding a flipped learning environment; this evolution makes it possible to keep our learners at the centre of what we do.  The classrooms in our latest building innovation are a great example of how our non-prescriptive approaches work.”

Learniture Divisional Director, James Clarke, explains why gradual change can help ambitious, innovative schools who want to try a more collaborative and creative style of learning, “Kingsdale ‘s learning environment is agile and learner-led, they have been evolving their spaces into places that act as a catalyst for learning, spaces that promote creativity, spaces that are light, airy and modern.  It can be quite a leap to go from direct instruction to a completely fluid way of learning where different groups of students are doing different things in various zones in the same space. So it helps if you can take the initial steps quite gently, build consensus and allow people to explore this new approach.  By installing moveable dry-wipe tables and chairs, like they have at Kingsdale, you can try moving things around, see how that feels right and gradually you begin to understand the impact of an agile environment. Spaces that can be flexibly used.”