Working paper #3

Rethinking Urban Schools

Working Paper #3, 20 March 2015

Ian McShane

This paper discusses some challenges for the provision of schools and schooling in twenty-first century urban settings.

Current growth in Australia’s major cities, notably Melbourne, is placing pressure on the provision of educational and community infrastructure in greenfield suburbs and in the repopulating inner suburbs and CBD. Growth projections also suggest that infrastructure provision will emerge as a key issue in re-generating middle-ring suburbs.

In this light, the paper questions whether a conventional school model with a large physical footprint and suite of single-use facilities is well suited to emergent conditions of urban growth and densification.

In response, the paper argues for an educational model that promotes the closer integration of schools with their surrounding physical, institutional, technological and environmental settings. We describe this as an urban school model.

Discussion of urban schooling in the academic and policy literatures has focused on inner cities and disadvantage. We argue for the reworking of this concept and its application to schools and schooling across metropolitan regions.

Key points made in the paper are:

– Educational planning and provision is a notable gap in urban research and urban planning, hampering coordinated policy and practice in these two areas.

– School planning in urban settings should follow a set of principles directed towards engaging schools with challenges of urban sustainability across social, economic and environmental dimensions.

– Policy options for managing educational land assets through demand cycles, especially in inner urban areas, require further research and discussion.

– To promote equity, social mix and efficiency, school planning needs to engage with policy and planning debates around housing affordability and transport-oriented development.

– Climate change and community resilience are emerging as increasingly significant elements of local governance in the twenty-first century. As key local institutions, it is likely that schools will be called upon to play a leadership role in this area.

– As public wireless networks extend through cities, schools are well-placed to contribute to network provision and access, and take advantage of the pedagogical possibilities of ubiquitous mobile connectivity. This emergent field requires nimble policy responses.

– Spatial and fiscal constraints will be important factors in encouraging educational partnerships and facility sharing. Attention to ‘soft’ infrastructure, including specialist infrastructure brokers, can optimise investment in such arrangements.