students on the sofa

Step into the future of education at the latest Next Big 10 meeting

It is the dawn of an exciting day at Atelier 21 as it hosts the Spring 2024 meeting of the Next Big 10. Delegates from schools across the country join forces, engaged and committed to being pioneers, changing the future of education in the UK.

As the delegates arrive they are welcomed and embark on a tour, a unique chance to see a ‘future school’ in action. The anticipation of the visitors is palpable and the atmosphere within the school as creative and electric as it is every day. Nothing is staged, set up or prepared for the visitors, they get to see and experience a real day in the life of the students and staff at Atelier 21, as it unfolds.

Touring the school with Hayley Peacock, the visionary founder, every aspect of the school’s approach and intentional design is highlighted. The atmosphere in the rooms, the curriculum, the philosophy, the approaches to learning all shine through as the delegates converse amongst themselves, experiencing a school that is more like a home of learning for the first time. Throughout the primary years and the upper school, to the eldest students eagerly engaging in their IB lessons ready to complete their studies next year, the pupils are engaged, focused and relaxed.

A sense of awe, wonder and curiosity exudes from the group as they witness a school unlike any they have visited before. It is a true example and lens on what is possible when the whole school is actively engaged in creating and designing the model for an education fit for the future not designed for the past, refining constantly as they grow.

The buzz of inspiration and anticipation continues as the delegates leave the school grounds. They walk down through the dappled sunlight, surrounded by greenery, past the lake in Broadfield Park to continue their day of learning, sharing and expanding educational horizons beyond the conventional.

Gathering in a conference room at the K2 leisure centre, the delegates cluster around tables as Hayley shares the foundations and philosophy behind the creation of Atelier 21.

“We approach learning intentionally differently. Not just the curriculum, we have a completely different set of aims which are holistic and focus on wellbeing. We build our whole approach focused on deeply understanding and meeting the core needs of a child.

“Our approach focuses on hands on learning by creating a space of mutual trust, respect and psychological safety. It is a totally different educational lens because, unlike traditional approaches, we do not prevent pupils from developing agency and self-management, we actively encourage and support it.”

Following Hayley’s inspiring and thought-provoking introduction, the passionate and dedicated Year 3 teacher, Jess, takes centre stage to delve deeper into the philosophies that underpin the foundations of the curriculum content and delivery. This covers how the project-based and child centred approaches are woven together seamlessly with the Reggio Emilia approach and Guy Claxton’s (the Patron of the school) learning powers approach.

Jess explains that she and the Year 2 teacher, Kelly, have been working together since September to define ‘what is project-based learning?’ With the majority of timetable restrictions removed from their classes, the teachers have been able to operate an innovative process of learning following the structure: teacher provides a provocation with a hypothesis; supported by the teacher the children generate wonderings and a line of enquiry; the teachers then use ‘skills slams’ to assess where the children need specific learning or skills input; finishing with reflection of the progress and project.

As the provocations have evolved and developed from the children’s own interests and hypothesis they have been used as the defining terms in the learning journey, allowing the explorations to extend in to art, science, life cycles, food, literature, religion and many more topics – all fueled by the children’s desire and immersion in the project-based approach.

As a teacher, Jess reflects and echoes the sentiments of many Atelier 21 teachers …

“It is simultaneously the most challenging and most rewarding way of teaching and educating young minds. You have to let go of your lenses as a teacher to allow, trust and be curious about the lens the children are approaching learning from.”

At Atelier 21, teachers have to be responsive, innovative and creative adopting a facilitation and coaching role rather than a traditional didactic approach to teaching the expected content at the defined time.

With delegates from a wide range of schools, the day continues with a real contrast as the head teacher of Laybridge High School in Bolton takes to the stage to share the school’s pioneering approaches to learning.

With 1100 students it is a mainstream secondary school serving a population rich in cultural, language and learning diversity. One of the key focuses for this secondary school is to emphasise the incredible opportunities that come from spending time with and learning from people who are different from you. With significant constraints and requirements to meet as a large state school, the focus is on trialing pioneering approaches to learning in a single class, in one year. To do that within a large school takes courageous, forward-thinking leadership evident in all the members of the Next Big 10 group.

Over a productive buffet lunch, colleagues from across the UK share their experiences, ask questions and delve deeper into the morning’s discussions. The afternoon programme sees focused working groups blending educators from across a range of institutions. Each group is tasked with a project to research and create materials to be shared across the network.

With a number of the Atelier 21 staff members joining forces with others, the largest working group is focused on the role, need and development of learner profiles. It is a topic that Atelier 21 staff have been grappling with, just as they encourage students to grapple with challenges they meet. The need for effective learner profiles capturing, presenting and sharing the skills, dispositions and competencies that students develop, especially through the IB years, is a complex and multifaceted topic. As the conversations continue, the group explores technology solutions that are being trialed in some schools, have conversations about what are valid questions to answer in the creation of an effective tool and share best practice that each can develop and tailor to their educational setting.

An enlightening and inspiring day for all, the event highlights the importance of being part of a network of like-minded, pioneering educators, all committed to changing the face of education in the UK and beyond. The aim being to make education fit for our children’s futures not our pasts and meeting the diverse needs of today’s world.