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Studio Schools

Author: Cate Newnessmith
Published Date: 14 December 2007

Studio Schools are a new kind of school that will provide young people with qualifications and a full range of skills - while also engaging them in working in, and running, businesses and social enterprises directly serving customers.

Studio Schools have been designed to help 14-19 year olds better prepare for the world of work. They draw on extensive experience from the UK and around the world and bring together a number of proven elements in a new kind of school that will provide young people with qualifications and a full range of skills - while also engaging them in working in, and running, businesses and social enterprises directly serving customers.

They will be small schools of aroundthree hundredstudents; they will teach the national curriculum through interdisciplinary, business-themed projects; every student will have a personal coach; and they will incorporate paid work. Their ethos will in many ways be very different from a traditional school, with a much stronger emphasis on practical work and enterprise. Their aim is not to replace other secondary schools – but rather to complement existing schools by providing an alternative approach suitable for young people looking for a more entrepreneurial option or alienated by traditional pedagogy.

Studio schools are a response to two major challenges facing the UK. The first is the challenge of youth disengagement from schooling. Large numbers of young people are continuing to truant, or to drop out into ‘NEET’ status; many of the key figures have either remained flat or have worsened over the last decade. There are many reasons for this but they include a perception that the current curriculum is not sufficiently engaging or relevant to them.

The second challenge is missing skills. Employer skills surveys regularly identify key gaps as including customer handling, oral communication, problem-solving and team working skills. Employers are seeking motivation and flexibility, willingness to work and learn as well as resourceful behaviour, mannerisms and confidence – but aren’t satisfied that school-leavers have these skills.


Academic evidence backs up the employers’ perspective. Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman’s research on non-cognitive skills has shown that they are at least as important as technical skills in determining employability, earnings and career success. In order to foster these skills young people need real, practical experience in their formative years. Yet, in this respect there remains a stubborn mismatch between what is provided by the education system in the UK and what is needed.

Over the last two years we have worked with academics, teachers and head teachers, further education principals and lecturers, employers and local authorities, to identify what should be done, and in particular to design a whole school model that would address these twin challenges. We have found many examples of good practice from around the world (ranging from California and Australia to Hong Kong and Paraguay), as well as from the UK, which have been drawn on to shape the Studio School model. We have also organised study trips to Denmark and the USA. From examples such as New Tech High, South Brooklyn High, Production Schools in Denmark and well as UK initiatives like the Active Learning Network and Opening Minds we have distilled an approach which is novel, but also strongly grounded in experience