Steve Fiet on Modern Learning Environments

In our first newsletter of this year, I touched on the subject of Modern Learning Environments (MLE) – and in this blog post, I would like to further expand on the topic which remains front of mind with parents and the media.

With our current government only contributing funding to new classroom builds that meet their MLE requirements, this has become a hot topic in the education world.  At Hereworth we are not supporters of the current government’s version of the Modern Learning Environment, and I firmly believe this kind of teaching is not the best way in which we can serve our boys and prepare them for the future.  So let me provide you with some more information about MLE and why we don’t endorse the approach.

MLEs are also known around the country as Innovative Learning Environments or Flexible Learning Environments.  Although the name may differ, they all refer to a teaching setting that generally comprises large open, flexible learning spaces that combine small and large areas, a number of class groups, mixed age groups, and involve team teaching methods.  Some MLEs around the country can have up to 100 students in one space.

Proponents of the MLE believe the flexibility of teaching spaces to be one of the real benefits.  Spaces can be expanded or reduced depending on what is being taught.  This is believed to enable personalised learning, socially constructed learning with collaboration, and peer learning.

I believe an important aspect in the design of effective learning environments is whether the space provides a setting that is conducive to learning, and specifically for Hereworth, is beneficial to the way in which boys learn best.

Amalgamating classes and ages leads to exceptionally large groups of children in one space, making it very difficult to tailor individual learning and meet student needs.   As the Principal of Ponsonby Primary School, Anne Malcolm, said on last night’s Seven Sharp “teachers have to really know their kids.”  At Hereworth we share Anne’s opinion.  We know from experience that tailored teaching and an individual approach brings out the best in our students, leading to higher levels of attainment.  Our vision is to provide a small nurturing classroom environment for our boys that is well resourced with modern equipment.

At Hereworth we do take some of the concepts of the MLE, for example, fluidity of space within a classroom and modern resources and technology and combine those with Hereworths nurturing classrooms with small numbers of students.  We are proud of the fact that our small class sizes and personalised learning programmes enable our teaching staff to guide each child on their learning journey.

My colleague and our Deputy Head, Deb Richardson, were only recently discussing that in a MLE with 70 plus students in a classroom, students are highly likely to fall through the cracks.  Here our boys have their own spaces where they learn to be self-managing and organised, and the small class sizes mean they develop a close rapport with their teachers.  As Deb says – “You can have a gorgeous space, but if you do not have the underlying pedagogy based on empirical evidence and best practice, the space is worthless.”

It is not a matter of not being willing to move with the times, rather we are dedicated to taking the best proven methods of education for boys, and combining them with the most up to date resources to ensure our children have the best education and learning environment possible.

As an independent school we are not compelled to adhere to Government initiatives in education and I feel very lucky that we have the ability to choose how we educate our boys.

Steve Fiet