2015 CEFPI Conference Thoughts - Day One

Published: Wednesday 3 June 2015

CEFPI Australasia has just concluded its showcase annual event, the regional conference, with this year attendance creeping up to a record-breaking 577 delegates. After two and a half days of engaging speakers, intriguing site visits and fascinating networking sessions with friends new and old, it’s time to reflect on the conference and discover what we learnt. 

Day One

ACT Minister for Education Joy Burch opened the conference with a discussion on the important partnerships that could be fostered between families and schools, with schools as a central community asset. It is beholden on all communities to allow valuable and meaningful access to education for all members of the community, regardless of background or the personal obstacles we each face.

Ewan Mackintosh, of No Tosh, carried on this theme of collaboration and partnerships with an important discussion on who gets listened to in a workshopping process. Although some resources claim that anyone can be a designer, this leads to the question of whether they should. Of more importance is surely to ensure everyone can be a leaner – that everyone has the resources to learn, but also feels included and part of the process of developing their own learning. Ewan shared with us his process of ‘designing the route to define the destination’ using No Tosh’s methods of problem finding, audacious goal setting and developing the means to move between the two. During many design projects it can be beneficial to step back from buildings and look at the strategic and programmatic bases for the school as a whole, and always provoke and question along the journey.

Kathryn Greiner OBE presented her ideas for increasing the quality of education in Australia by increasing equality in education. There are still a number of people in Australia who do not have access to quality education and Kathryn demonstrated the results of this through comparison of Australia’s PISA scores with other nations’. While we understand new skills are required for new learners, successful outcomes also require the input of better teacher training as teachers adapt to new roles and new methods. Ideally, schools should be developed as community hubs for lifelong learning.

A panel session between Ewan, Kathryn and Justin Garrick of Canberra Grammar School developed the themes of new methods of learning and why these are required. We have all been through some kind of an education system, and constantly need to fight against the ‘but it worked for us’ mindset. Although some of the old systems still work, some need to adapt, meaning parents, teachers and school boards need to adapt also. Ewan raised an interesting point of developing thinking / learning skills rather than absorbing knowledge ie teaching students how to think like a historian, rather than teaching history. An additional important point was raised around schools’ strategic planning – that this should be a perpetual process with perhaps a building as the outcome, but not necessarily. Schools need to decide, and design, where they are heading and how they want to get there, before the thought of a building is even considered. This way buildings are developed to provide more than just structure and shelter – they reflect the school’s ethos and learning directions.

After a quick lunch it was on to the buses for some site visit action. I visited two schools, both with incredibly interesting sustainability inclusions and new methods of teaching / learning. Both schools were large in size and in cost by my (Perth-based) standards, and the pressures of a rapidly increasing population were evident. St John Paul II College, designed by Collins Caddaye Architects incorporated team teaching and large internal spaces for a range of activities. An activated internal learning street through the centre of the school provided opportunities for groups to break out and come together, and the bane of most schools – lockers – was dealt with in a neat manner, incorporating them into seating spaces through the spine. The external hard lines and cold materials belied the natural timbers and large glazed areas inside, oriented to respond to Canberra’s climate. The bright and bold Harrison P – 10 School by May + Russell Architects in corporates colourful solar chimneys, rainwater tanks and appropriately located louvres internally and externally. Large internal spaces were created and recreated via large movable screens and glazed doors with the ability for team teaching and stretching the space to accommodate various activities. As such a large school with a large age range, it was good to see the changing nature of the learning spaces, both internal and external, as the students progressed through the age groups, appropriately modelled to suit their needs. I was impressed with how both schools dealt with the issues of such a large student population with architecture that felt secure, considered and student-centred. 

Dani Martin

EIW Architects

Photos by Dani Martin