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Guest blog by Victoria Thornton, Founding Director of Open-City and Farrell Review panel member (@OpenCityorg)

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The recommendations of the Farrell Review published today present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to place architecture and the built environment at the heart of teaching in primary and secondary schools in England. These could be implemented as early as September 2014, helping teachers to deliver the new National Curriculum, promoting regional and national opportunities to engage with architecture and the built environment, and setting the agenda for how we engage with PLACE in the context of formal education.

Education was one of the four main areas looked at in the Review which has reported to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and will inform policy decisions at the Department of Education (DfE).

Learning through the architecture, urban design and open spaces of our towns and cities is a familiar topic in many schools, which have benefited over the past decade and more from the architecture education work of the regional architecture and built environment centres, including Open-City’s Architecture in Schools programme for primary and secondary schools that has reached more than 30,000 young people.

This in turn has led to the development of innovative resources and training modules – in partnership with organisations such as the GLA and London Grid for Learning – that have opened up new ways of teaching and learning. Building on the success of recent years, on strong teacher partnerships and with the backing of the Farrell Review, we want to strengthen the use of architecture and built environment learning in schools across England.

The new National Curriculum for Schools in England

The new National Curriculum Framework will set out the statutory requirements for teaching and learning as well as assessment procedures that schools need to follow. For many teachers this is a time when they will focus on the impact of changes to content and assessment in their own subject area. This will be one of the challenges we face. The Farrell Review comes out a time of curriculum change, but also one when teachers are less receptive to additional influence.

Education reform: where are we and what does the future hold?

Our schools have changed a lot in the past ten years, shaped by past and present education reforms. We now have primary and secondary maintained schools, as well as a growing number of academies and free schools. This means that schools have more freedom to choose what they teach, with the non maintained ones exempt from teaching the new National Curriculum.

The government’s education reform agenda is aimed at raising standards in schools. A revised national curriculum, new qualifications and a new schools accountability structure are the main components of this reform. For the Farrell Review one of the most significant subject changes is to design technology, so that for the first time there are real opportunities for children to aspire to be the next generation of engineers and designers.

PLACE in the context of formal education

Schools are familiar with the importance of PLACE and would welcome the definition proposed under the Farrell Review. Engagement with Building Schools for the Future helped schools to understand landscape, planning and architecture, as has school participation in government backed initiatives such as Learning Outside the Classroom. The Engaging Places online portal, and the work of regional architecture centres and indeed that of Open-City means that growing numbers of schools understand and will be ready to embrace the idea of PLACE in the context of formal education and learning.

From the establishing of a National Architecture Competition and the holding of PLACE reviews, to the promotion of the Engaging Places portal and other teacher development support such as accrediting Continuing Professional Development, the Farrell Review recommendations will position architecture and the built environment as central in our education system. They will offer teachers the right level of support, but also inspire them at a time of curriculum change to explore for themselves the architecture of our towns and cities and to place learning in the context of the National Curriculum Framework for England.

The Farrell Review and teacher training

If successfully implemented the recommendations of the Review will inform the way teachers are trained and use architecture and the built environment in their teaching of each of the core curriculum subjects.

What makes the Farrell Review so exciting for the teaching profession is that for the first time an independent Review of this kind has looked in so much detail at learning in primary and secondary school settings and has come forward with recommendations that can really make a difference.

STEM Learning and the Farrell Review

We know there is a skill shortage in the UK’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors and the Farrell Review can help to address this. In the next five years the changes to education qualifications will be a positive move, in particular changes to design and technology teaching. At the moment one problem contributing to the skills gap for STEM careers is a lack of understanding among teachers and children about the options for jobs and careers in architecture and the built environment professions. A crucial next step will be to explore the major opportunity to align Design more closely with STEM in order to enhance creative and critical problem-solving skills in the next generation.

Schools have a statutory duty to provide independent and impartial careers guidance

The Education Act 2011 has placed schools under a duty to secure independent and impartial careers guidance for children and young people from Year 11 until Year 13. The Farrell Review can build on this new statutory guidance by making sure that as many schools and their leadership teams as possible are aware of the career opportunities for young people, so that more of them have the knowledge and skills to choose to aim for jobs in the PLACE sectors.

Looking forwards
The introduction of the new National Curriculum in September 2014 and the publication of the Farrell Review recommendations offer a great opportunity to start an exciting new phase in education, to inspire our young people and to enhance their skills, confidence and motivation through opening their eyes and minds to the built environment around them. At Open-City we look forward to being part of this new chapter in our nation’s education.

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