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From Zero To Hero

How a disused space has been transformed into a bright, colourful learning hub where students can develop their independent learning skills.

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Huntingdon Primary School in Cambridgeshire is growing; it’s becoming a three-form entry school and standards are rising rapidly. The head teacher leading this revolution is Elaine Lynch, who is also taking the somewhat unloved fabric of the school to task. A palette of bright colours, high impact displays and a new independent learning hub are helping the school’s environment match its bold aspirations for teaching and learning.

“Our teaching has improved enormously over the last three years,” explains Elaine. “We reached the point where we needed somewhere children could do some research, collaborate and develop better independent learning skills. We also wanted somewhere really inspiring, where children could come out of closed classrooms into an open space that presented a whole new approach to learning.”

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An ongoing programme of improvements to the school included an extension that left a disused area between a row of classrooms and the library. Rather than an ‘open forum’, Elaine wanted to create a series of flexible, separate spaces where children could work independently or in small groups but with some seating that could be used like an arena. The resulting Hub has been a huge success with students, teachers and parents.

 

Curves, colour and comfort

The centrepiece of The Hub is a large ‘S’-shaped screen clad in dry wipe writable Learning Surface®. Nestled inside the curves of the ‘S’ you find comfortable upholstered seating in bright purple and white circular tables with a bright pink edge where small groups can gather. Hugging the outside edge of one curve is tiered, upholstered seating where students can perch while writing on the LearningSurface® or gather in larger groups for instruction. The top seat is hot pink, the lower bright blue. (When the space was being designed we wondered if the colour of the top seat would deter boys from sitting on it, prompting a conversation about colour and gender stereotyping, but actually it hasn’t bothered them at all!) Students take their shoes off when they come into the Hub so they are more comfortable and to keep the seats clean.

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Around the outside of the second curve of the ‘S’ are shelves for storage and books. Three large dry-wipe tables with bench seats sit against one wall next to irregular shaped upholstered Lobe seating in hot pink, lime green and bright blue, at various heights to offer a comfortable place to work alone or in small groups. A touchdown point provides access to a bank of fixed computers and a lime green booth with a D-shaped table with writeable surface and upholstered seating creates the perfect place for small group work. Cylindrical upholstered stools are scattered around so students can move them to where they are needed.

 

‘Area envy’

“Everyone was bowled over by it when the Hub first opened,” said Elaine. “It’s a feel-good area; it feels special and the children feel privileged to use it. It helps develop them because they know they are important and valued and it improves learning. When it’s in use there is a calm, purposeful atmosphere, the children are completely on-task and focused. At a recent parent’s evening they couldn’t wait to show it off, they were so proud of it. The only downside is that it has created some ‘area envy’ because we’d all like to use it all the time! The teachers also feel better for working in a lovely environment and it enables a team approach to learning, we can hold little surgeries to support understanding.”

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With further extensions in the pipeline, Elaine is hoping to create more little pockets like The Hub and advises anyone considering a similar project to seek advice.

“You need to think through how you want the space to be used. It’s not what it looks like, it’s what you do in the space and how it supports your model of learning,” she explains. “The Hub wouldn’t be what it is without the input from Spaceoasis. We had an idea but wouldn’t have known what was possible without their input. They took the idea and really helped develop it into what it is now. So, as well as seeking their advice, I’d recommend people go and see other schools – you’ll be amazed at what you can do.”

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