Do Britain’s "Studio Schools" Have Ideas for American Higher Education?

We in the liberal arts college world talk a good game about “hands on” and “practical experience” and “learning outside the classroom,” but 99% of it amounts to little more than aspirational yammering. The modal form of implementation is an unpaid internship with a social justice slant. I’d guess that part of the problem is that we’ve allowed our various under-articulated motivations to be gathered under an umbrella term being hawked by NGOs whose ideological motivations we don’t really understand without every really having serious conversations among ourselves about the why and how of it. In short, we are pretty incoherent about how it fits into our overall educational philosophy.

An ongoing project in Britain called “studio schools” might have some lessons for us. Akin to charter schools in the US, it is sponsored by the Young Foundation. It is premised on the idea that conventional education over-values cognitive skills in a world where real projects require a wide range of skills and the capacity to work in teams involving people with diverse skill sets. Studio Schools derive some of its mode from guild era training when it gives kids opportunities “to work on real projects, within real teams, in real settings.”(Write to the Bone: Exploring issues in depth blog)

An important feature of studio schools is that they are not an alternative to the university track:

…a new concept in education, which seeks to address the growing gap between the skills and knowledge that young people require to succeed, and those that the current education system provides. Studio Schools pioneer a bold new approach to learning which includes teaching through enterprise projects and real work. …
Studio Schools are designed for 14-19 year olds of all abilities. … small schools for 300 students; … year-round … and a 9-5 working day…. Working closely with local employers, … offer a range of academic and vocational qualifications including GCSEs in English, Maths and Science, as well as paid work placements …. Students will gain a broad range of employability and life skills … and will have the option to go on to university, further training, and into employment

Although pitched as a secondary education reform, the studio school model may contain some ideas that could be adapted to higher education in the small liberal arts college context.  This six minute video is a good starting point.  The website of the Studio School Trust is a good next stop. 

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: