Articles, Blog

Geoff Mulgan: A short intro to the Studio School

Geoff Mulgan: A short intro to the Studio School

What I want to talk about today is one idea. It’s an idea for a new kind of school, which turns on its head much of our conventional thinking about what schools are for and how they work. And it might just be coming to a neighborhood near you soon. Where it comes from is an organization called the Young Foundation, which, over many decades, has come up with many innovations in education, like the Open University and things like Extended Schools, Schools for Social Entrepreneurs, Summer Universities and the School of Everything. And about five years ago, we asked what was the most important need for innovation in schooling here in the U.K. And we felt the most important priority was to bring together two sets of problems. One was large numbers of bored teenagers who just didn’t like school, couldn’t see any relationship between what they learned in school and future jobs. And employers who kept complaining that the kids coming out of school weren’t actually ready for real work, didn’t have the right attitudes and experience. And so we try to ask: What kind of school would have the teenagers fighting to get in, not fighting to stay out? And after hundreds of conversations with teenagers and teachers and parents and employers and schools from Paraguay to Australia, and looking at some of the academic research, which showed the importance of what’s now called non-cognitive skills — the skills of motivation, resilience — and that these are as important as the cognitive skills — formal academic skills — we came up with an answer, a very simple answer in a way, which we called the Studio School. And we called it a studio school to go back to the original idea of a studio in the Renaissance where work and learning are integrated. You work by learning, and you learn by working. And the design we came up with had the following characteristics. First of all, we wanted small schools — about 300, 400 pupils — 14 to 19 year-olds, and critically, about 80 percent of the curriculum done not through sitting in classrooms, but through real-life, practical projects, working on commission to businesses, NGO’s and others. That every pupil would have a coach, as well as teachers, who would have timetables much more like a work environment in a business. And all of this will be done within the public system, funded by public money, but independently run. And all at no extra cost, no selection, and allowing the pupils the route into university, even if many of them would want to become entrepreneurs and have manual jobs as well. Underlying it was some very simple ideas that large numbers of teenagers learn best by doing things, they learn best in teams and they learn best by doing things for real — all the opposite of what mainstream schooling actually does. Now that was a nice idea, so we moved into the rapid prototyping phase. We tried it out, first in Luton — famous for its airport and not much else, I fear — and in Blackpool — famous for its beaches and leisure. And what we found — and we got quite a lot of things wrong and then improved them — but we found that the young people loved it. They found it much more motivational, much more exciting than traditional education. And perhaps most important of all, two years later when the exam results came through, the pupils who had been put on these field trials who were in the lowest performing groups had jumped right to the top — in fact, pretty much at the top decile of performance in terms of GCSE’s, which is the British marking system. Now not surprisingly, that influenced some people to think we were onto something. The minister of education down south in London described himself as a “big fan.” And the business organizations thought we were onto something in terms of a way of preparing children much better for real-life work today. And indeed, the head of the Chambers of Commerce is now the chairman of the Studio Schools Trust and helping it, not just with big businesses, but small businesses all over the country. We started with two schools. That’s grown this year to about 10. And next year, we’re expecting about 35 schools open across England, and another 40 areas want to have their own schools opening — a pretty rapid spread of this idea. Interestingly, it’s happened almost entirely without media coverage. It’s happened almost entirely without big money behind it. It spread almost entirely through word of mouth, virally, across teachers, parents, people involved in education. And it spread because of the power of an idea — so the very, very simple idea about turning education on its head and putting the things which were marginal, things like working in teams, doing practical projects, and putting them right at the heart of learning, rather than on the edges. Now there’s a whole set of new schools opening up this autumn. This is one from Yorkshire where, in fact, my nephew, I hope, will be able to attend it. And this one is focused on creative and media industries. Other ones have a focus on health care, tourism, engineering and other fields. We think we’re onto something. It’s not perfect yet, but we think this is one idea which can transform the lives of thousands, possibly millions, of teenagers who are really bored by schooling. It doesn’t animate them. They’re not like all of you who can sit in rows and hear things said to you for hour after hour. They want to do things, they want to get their hands dirty, they want education to be for real. And my hope is that some of you out there may be able to help us. We feel we’re on the beginning of a journey of experiment and improvement to turn the Studio School idea into something which is present, not as a universal answer for every child, but at least as an answer for some children in every part of the world. And I hope that a few of you at least can help us make that happen. Thank you very much. (Applause)


I can appreciate that some people only want to do one thing with their lives. Personally, I think that's short sighted, but they can always do more school later if they want to change career paths. What I'm more concerned about is the education of the general public on issues that they will essentially have to vote on. If people don't understand a broad variety of things, they really can't make choices that are informed, and if anything our society needs to make MORE informed choices.

@cboehm24 He said the schools would be for 14-19 year old's. I really don't think basic skills would still needed to be gone over by then. Those things can still be taught through activities anyways if needed.

All kids need is pigheadedness – just keep going to work, when that job finishes then get another job and keep going day in day out.

@voutasaurus i know how you think and feel, thought about this issue my self, but we cant get that much knowledge, we just have to trust other people. like i do when i put my car to service or repair. or when i go to the doctor. our world contain so much information, we cant just know it all, thats why we specialize. i completely agree that we cant make choices about things we know nothing about, but thats why politicians have experts on each field. but i disagree with your thought special educa

This flips the core ideas but also which students excell. Those that have problems now and find standard school as a turn off will thrive – however those that do well will do much worse.
Generalising it as completely changing attitude and saying (paraphrasing)"kids like to work in teams, they like to work on real world problems and thrive on doing than listening" is just going to swap all the problems. We need schools where they change to the childs needs, choice of how they are taught.

@darth612 One of the consistent criticisms leveled at primary schools by secondary and pre-secondary teachers is a lack of basic reading comprehension by 7th grade. And if you're pulling your "work force" for "activities"…which, I believe, would be lecture-based instruction…the very thing he's trying to avoid…then who is completing the contract? This model sets up a dynamic where those who need instruction are actually a drag on the "real" task–doing the work of NGOs.

@Dixavd I agree with this. I for one never liked projects at school as i am more of an theoretical person. But the studio school is still a good idea for those who are more practical. They should create a system in which both systems (regular and studio) are implemented.

PS: TED needs more math 😐

this is certainly a good idea if you want to prepare people for a job, however education isn't just about that. education, especially academic education, should be about acquiring knowledge for it's own sake.

My daughter's technical high school was a lot like this. Students who wanted to got into the nation's top engineering universities. Those who didn't go to college got, and still have, jobs. Even in this economy. I don't know of any of her classmates who are unemployed.

Not sure about the science (lies, damn lies and statistics) and know that learning environment is deeply affect the quality of teaching. That quality is perhaps represented by some of the things Geoff is talking about here. So do we need whole new schools to achieve this or just better, more animated and passionate teachers? I'm for the latter. By the way, smaller schools is something I agree with.

yeah…. but how do the children know what to do with there lives at a teenage age? I mean sending your children to an "engineer studio" at the age of 15-16 is in my opinion wrong.. I mean im in university know at the age of 22 and I STILL dont know if im happy with what im doing. Obviously it depends on the person but still i dont think teenagers can choose careers for the next 40 years of there life at the age of 14..other than that great idea.. finally someone stepping forward in education.

That's why the studio schools have a small number of pupils, kids who already know and what they're motivated to do in life. By working on something hands on, it causes them to love it even more and ensure that it is what they want in life. Best of all, it's free of charge, so if in any case the child doesn't like what they're doing, no money was wasted in tuition and no one is left in debt, unlike with many graduates from colleges in America, who are drowning in debt.

@ytxstream acquiring knowledge for its own sake? please no !!!!!…. the world needs people who APPLY their knowledge otherwise we will all end up as academics. The world needs people who do things, make things and sell things.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *