The consultants behind the controversial layout of Grand Cayman’s Clifton Hunter High School have defended the futuristic design of the $110 million facility.
An inspection report criticized the “open plan” layout of the school, saying it was creating noise pollution and limiting teaching styles.
Now, two consultants who worked on the design say it was effectively set up to fail.
Stephen Heppell, one of the key proponents of the new school design, said the original design was supposed to be accompanied by a fundamental shift in teaching style. He said political changes meant teachers did not get the support and training they needed to use the space effectively.
He took issue with the term “open plan” and said similar school designs featuring “modern agile spaces” in place of traditional classrooms had been extremely effective elsewhere.
“By not using the Clifton Hunter school buildings to their potential, children have inevitably not shown the kind of dramatic gains that should and would have occurred if the buildings had been used the way they were designed.”
Prakash Nair, president of Fielding Nair International, which was also involved in the design concept, said the building’s design could only work “within the context of a comprehensive transformation of the entire educational system in the Cayman Islands.”
He added, “It is hardly surprising that the design as built failed to deliver as promised because the process was, for all intents and purposes, designed to fail.”
The original plan for both Clifton Hunter High School and the as-yet unfinished John Gray High School was for an open layout with no traditional classrooms and no dividing walls between learning spaces.
The concept changed when a new government took over in 2009 and sanctioned design changes, including the addition of acoustic partitions between learning spaces.
Mr. Nair said this approach hampered the project and left the school caught between two approaches. The result, he said, was “completely dysfunctional and fit neither for a 20th nor a 21st century educational model.”
Mr. Heppell said the term “open plan” was inappropriate for what he describes as “agile multifaceted spaces.”
He said a lot of “misleading nonsense” had been discussed about the layout. Similarly designed schools had been effective all over the world, he said.
“These spaces allow a proper diversity of teaching and learning strategies in a way that traditional ‘cells and bells’ classrooms cannot,” he said.
But he emphasized that a shift from “stand and deliver” teaching to a more modern approach is needed. With greater student engagement, he claimed, concerns over noise levels would fall away.
“Staff needed the correct support from people who know how these spaces work,” he said.
Mr. Heppell, who helped write a teaching guide for a similarly designed school in Perth, Australia, said lesson planning, collaborative teaching and longer timetable blocks were key to making effective use of the spaces.
He said the school came out of an ambition for world-class education in Cayman.
“That dream can still be achieved, but it won’t be achieved by retrenching the old methods that weren’t working before anyway.”