Growing schools of the future

The open learning space at Our Lady of the Assumption Primary School at Strathfield North. Photos: Giovanni Portelli
The open learning space at Our Lady of the Assumption Primary School at Strathfield North. Photos: Giovanni Portelli

One of Sydney Catholic Schools has become one of the first in the country to be constructed out of natural timber.

And with the sustainable and energy-efficient materials used in the award-winning design, comes a new way of teaching which empowers the students to decide how they want to learn.

Education has been turned on its head with traditional classrooms and rows of desks becoming a thing of the past. Teachers no longer sit at the front of the classrooms and there’s not a door to be seen.

Our Lady of the Assumption Primary School at North Strathfield now enjoys learning spaces without walls confining them to specific areas.

Built on a tight urban site within the already established local community, the school was forced to think differently and creatively to maximise space and deliver a state-of-the-art learning environment.

Everything is visible in the school, and with no internal walls dividing classrooms, students are free to make use of all areas.

Even the staff room and principals office are in full view with students able to witness teacher collaboration.

Technology is anchored at either end of each floor, with a small reading room in the centre to allow for small group or individual learning.

The new design even incorporates a suspended reading net to encourage quiet reading time in a fun and welcoming environment.

All furniture is movable so students are free to take their learning outdoors or remain inside.

Toilets are all located close to learning spaces, allowing students to use them quickly as needed and not miss out on class time.

Sydney Catholic Schools project manager Paul Gibson said the school has been designed to provide students with the best learning environment possible.

He said students are able to choose how and where they learn, enabling them to become more independent and to prepare them for further education.

“This design has very much empowered the students to make up their own mind about how they want to learn,” he said.

“Traditional learning had students sit and be spoon-fed information at desks, this way they have to get up and work out what they need for themselves.

The corridor which has been incorporated within the open learning space.
The corridor which has been incorporated within the open learning space.

“Based on research out of the UK called Clever Classrooms, it really does empower the students to make learning work best for them.

“If a student wants to sit with others and work they can do that, or they can pick up their chair and go somewhere quiet if they prefer.

“The overall design which is based on the research has shown the undeniable benefits of students flexible learning modes.”

Our Lady of the Assumption Primary School Principal Catherine Young.
Our Lady of the Assumption Primary School Principal Catherine Young.

Principal Catherine Young, who spent seven years with Paul Gibson on the design, said she was very proud of the learning experience the school is able to offer.

“Nothing has been built without a reason, everything has been designed to maximise the learning experience for the students,” she said.

“We believe Our Lady of the Assumption to be a futures-oriented Catholic school.

“It is clear that the 20th century learning model is dangerously irrelevant to our children today.

“As a future-focused school, we seek to make the learning environments relevant to our students, all the while exercising stewardship of resources.

“The students at OLA are learning how to learn through active, rather than passive learning.

“You need a very dedicated team of staff to make this model a success, and I am very proud of the way they have embraced the changes and made it work.”