Planning the world of school – together is better: an inspiring example from Neustadt am Rübenberge
By Burkhard Jonck (Neustadt am Rübenberge integrated combined school), Hermann Städtler ('Bewegte Schule'), Andrea Wendland (Wendland, Pötter, Kriebelt, Landschafts- und Freiraumplanung GbR), Arne Nuttelmann (Neustadt am Rübenberge)
The integrated combined school in the town of Neustadt am Rübenberge in Lower Saxony is located in a rural area and has a total of 1500 pupils. In it are amalgamated the three different branches of schooling available in Germany and pupils can also graduate from it with a qualification for admission to higher education. The school has received several awards for its use of the so-called 'Neustadt model' to help pupils determine what form of qualification they need for their future careers through cooperation with the Neustadt vocational college and businesses located locally and throughout Germany.
In addition, it is one of the model schools of the 'Bewegte Schule' programme of Lower Saxony, a concept designed to introduce more physical activity into the learning process.
Planning became necessary because of the educational profile of the school and its structural condition; it was originally built 45 years ago and its age is particularly apparent in the case of its outdoor facilities.
Although some of the changes made to the school’s outdoor spaces had resulted in improvements here in the past, such as the construction of a modern sport complex with covered sports field and skatepark, the school still required upgrading both internally and externally.
To ensure the success of the project, it was essential to achieve a unified outlook shared by both the school and the local authority in Neustadt. The purpose of involvement of the local authority at an early stage as contracting party and technical planner was to streamline the planning process, to combine the available skills (in terms of technological, educational, and sports science expertise) and to avoid misunderstandings and mistakes. The result was a collaboration between equals that, unsurprisingly, generated synergies and transparency when it came to the aims and strategies of the stakeholders.
The educational approach taken by the school first needs to be considered
The focus on the potential capabilities and strengths of teaching staff and pupils means that there is activity-based training in the skills required to learn within the school itself and in social contexts. The curriculum and educational methods employed prioritise providing pupils with the abilities they need to themselves determine how to act within the school environment to ensure that they are provided with the skillset they need to be self-reliant in later life. Hence, the involvement of pupils in the design of their learn and living spaces is both part of their education and a matter of course.
In an era when society is undergoing a major transformation, it is not sufficient to consider how to appropriately structure the learn and living space of school pupils in isolation. Necessary is a radical rethink of educational and local concepts that provides for collective structured action on the part of all involved in schooling.
The fundamental changes to the educational concept in Germany require a major reassessment of how schools are to be constructed if the aspirations with regard to support and stimulation of individuals are to be met.
In view of this, new concepts for the educational approach at the Neustadt school were drawn up:
- Introduction of a lesson rhythm that provides pupils with individual learning time over the whole day
- Activating teaching and learning forms that promote self-reliance
- Teachers working as a team
- Interdisciplinary collaboration
- Less instruction and more autonomous learning driven by curiosity
- Skills-orientated teaching (accent on abilities rather than simply provision of information)
- Increased inclusiveness and heterogeneity of school classes
- School as a learning structure
The approach taken by Neustadt local authority is as follows:
In view of the transformation taking place in the German school system, the local authority has assumed responsibility for efficiently dealing with the aspects of school and extramural activities at whole day schools, making these for example into meeting places and social venues for young people, thus taking the burden off other municipal facilities. In addition to continuing to provide a location for relaxation and exercise while also now acting as learning and living spaces, the outdoor grounds of the school have assumed a further important role, that of social venue for various actors and age groups in which these can undertake a range of leisure activities outside school hours.
The open spaces were designed with four main themes in mind: environment, creativity, exercise and self-motivated activities.
In the following, we provide a brief outline of the considerations involved in the transformation of the outdoor area from an empty to a learning space. The aim and focus of planning for the outdoors were derived from a concept entailing the development of spatial installations that would have extensive links with the school curriculum. The four core aspects were based on lesson material and recent structural projects, such the planting of a climate-stabilising forest (5000 trees in 2018), the creation of a school pond (2019), the building[A1] of a sports complex, skatepark and the construction of areas for sculpture and outdoor stages for arts, theatre and music events.
Planning as a comprehensive inclusive process = targeted consultation model
At the commencement of the planning phase, the core aspects were defined that provided the underlying structure for planning phase 1:
- Learning linked to real life (global contexts, interactions, complex thinking)
- Health (salutogenesis: rationale, viability, sense of purpose of own outlook)
- Novel encounters with the living world
Planning level 1 = needs of users
Identification of actual user requirements in connection with educational aims during inspections of the site in the company of a. the teaching staff, b. the pupils and c. the parents on the basis of a concept of prestructured part spaces (in this case, 19 separate areas).
Planning level 2 = structural space concept
Concrete education-related focuses derived from subsequent combination of the results for each group following evaluation and appropriate weighting by the planning team.
Stage 1 - Definition of four basic themes for the outdoor spaces - Environment, exercise, creativity and self-motivated activities (informal)
Stage 2 - Assignment of lesson-relevant material to the three part-spaces that would promote options for sustainable development, formal and informal learning and complex scenarios that would encourage challenging social interactions.
Planning level 3
The variety and diversity of educational aims and needs necessitates the grouping of material. During the ongoing process of discussion with the school and the representatives of Neustadt local authority a draft plan was generated that combined the requirements of the school and the authority.
Planning level 4 – Implementation
The following activities are currently in hand as preparation for implementation:
- Costing by the representatives of the local authority
- Preparation of phased plan with the setting of priorities
- Decision-making by the relevant political and local authorities
- Search for sponsors
Together is better
The Neustadt combined school will thus be able to provide services to the local community, enhancing the quality of life in Neustadt because of what it is able to offer. The adaptation of the school learning environment to meet contemporary needs creates links with subsystems, thus delivering opportunities for informal leaning outside the school curriculum. The school thus assumes social responsibility for an educational landscape that is accessible for the community as a whole, combining learning opportunities with user interests. The essential aim of promoting a sustainable enhanced quality of life in the community by means of the provision of learning spaces also ensures that the residents will identify more with where they live. In addition to this, they will have a space that can be used on afternoons, evenings, weekends and school holidays. In view of the typical school timetable, it is apparent that there are extensive options for use outside school hours ‒ not just by pupils but by everyone.
The deliberate adoption of an approach that provides for a 'planning phase 0' ensures that planning can be sustainable. This concept involving consultation with stakeholders that puts interests first and then rapidly defines ideas in a concretisation phase with the participation of users, interested parties and experts is particularly suitable for exploiting the full potential of available skills. During 'planning phase 0', it is possible to establish shared views and to take another look at what a school can be ‒ in this case, a living space for the whole community.
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