Design principles

As we learn from our own work and that of others we are identifying certain design principles that we believe are vital for all learning institutions


The 21 trust believes that schools should be on a human scale. School 21 has just 75 students in each year and this is enabling our teachers to develop relationships with all the students, as well as the students getting to know each other better. Small coaching groups of 12 to 15 allow even deeper relationships to develop and mean that our teachers can monitor learning and wellbeing progress in a genuinely personal way.

Talking is important and doing it well is vital to both learning and future success. So it makes sense to us to place talk at the centre of learning and we have seen this have a huge impact at School 21. In fact we think it is so important we have started a campaign to promote speaking skills in schools across the country. 


We believe that wherever possible learning and assessment should be authentic. This means that there should be a real purpose to the work so that it can be assessed in the 'real world' as having value (or not!). Project Based Learning is a well known methodology for this but there are lots of other opportunities to create a more authentic learning journey for students. 


Building knowledge is vital but must be developed in combination with attributes and qualities like spark, craftmanship and intregrity. Our first project, School 21 has been exploring ways to layer them together, so for example studying a book about a disabled child growing up also served as a study in humanity, bullying and presented lots of opportunities to further speaking skills.

We subscribe to the belief that teachers' skills are more important than any system or structure. But this means all teachers should be constantly working to broaden their teaching 'tool kit'. This starts with teachers learning from each other; for example all teachers learning drama techniques, deep structure questioning, Philosophy for Children, Project Based Learning, coaching, critiquing and feedback techniques.

Students do their best work when they are feeling confident, secure and happy. Learning institutions have an important role to play in this. There are specific programmes schools can follow to foster wellbeing; helping children form meaningful relationships with students and teachers, involving them in their local community and giving students a voice that is heard.