How to design the future of education

“I’m not having a year 10, as a school principal I’ve completely lost faith in year 10!”  Colin Simpson, Principal Richmond High School.

I just love a non conformist, out of the box idea that speaks directly to the rebel in me.  Particularly one that relates to disruption in a high school context!  But wait, I’m not a truant 16 year old anymore and my parenting instinct just kicked in. And…  woah… here come the questions:  How will this work exactly?  Is this good for my kids?  What does success look like in this scenario?

Pause, take a breath and let’s find our more.

Colin Simpson, Richmond High School’s Principal gave a very interesting presentation at Melbourne Design Week on Designing the Future of Education, hosted by Hayball Architects.  And I wanted to share some of the ideas he raised.

The equity in education problem

What is equity in education? Does it mean equal opportunities for success? Is it about outcomes, resources, funding or academic success?

My view is that all Australian kids should be able to access a high standard of education.  This should be regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status.  When Colin suggests the answer to the equity problem is good local schools, he has my ear.  Because I tend to agree with him. 

The standards need to change.  So that in the future, parents can be confident that when they send their kids to a local school, they will get the same education opportunities as every other child. To me, this means an education that suits the needs of the child.  Not one that is solely focused on academic achievement and measure by ATAR, PISA or standardised tests.  It should not all be about academic achievement and getting them a spot at Uni.  But rather one that helps them develop their own unique talents and interests.  And helps them grow and develop into a person who can meaningfully contribute to the world around them.   

If parents choose to send their kids to an independent or Catholic school, it should be for reasons other than than the idea their child will receive a better quality of eduction than offered at the local public school.   

Currently (and sadly) I think we all know this is not the case, for starters many suburbs don’t even have a local public schools.  As was the case with Richmond and Prahran until 2 years ago when the schools were built.

Student Agency

This is a really interesting concept that I’ve only come across in recent years.  I’ve mainly heard it referenced by teachers.  In social science, agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.


Student agency seems to be actively encouraged at Richmond High.  It’s demonstrated through activities such as including students on on staff selection panels for year 9.  Not to just observe but to be part of the process. 

Imagine being able to hire your own teachers!  To my mind, if you have some say in it, you’re going to be more likely to enjoy the classes, turn up and be invested in the teachers success as well as your own. 

I’m looking forward to asking the students more about this and how it’s working out.

Senior Studies

Colin talked about getting rid of year 10.  What he means is that the school is going to launch straight into senior studies.  There won’t be this odd kind of ‘get ready’ year 10 that many schools currently have.  It’s a year where many teachers feel that students disengage, become bored and frustrated, act out and generally it’s a tough year. 

In 2015 one in four Australia students did not finish year 12.  This also comes back to the equity in education issue.  Colin’s approach to launch straight into senior studies could be an innovative way to try and tackle the early school leaver rates.  He explains that students can do as many subjects as they like and finish in 2 years. Or they can stick around for 4 years if they’re a learner who needs more time.  Students can also take on some University subjects that count towards their degree.  If that’s a path they want to pursue.  It’s all part of leading the way in designing the future of education.

This individualised approach where students can control the speed of their learning to suit their own needs also comes back to encouraging student agency.   Volunteering and paid employment is also earmarked to commence in year 11.

It was a great opportunity to hear Colin speak at Melbourne Design week and learn more about his plans for Richmond High School.  We also caught up with Assistant Principal’s James Taylor and Victoria Triantafyllou to learn more about the school culture and planned curriculum so don’t forget to subscribe to the Innovation High’s YouTube channel so you can see the videos in the coming weeks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on equity in education, student agency and the approach Richmond High is taking to designing the future of education.  So please drop me an email or contact us.You can also leave a comment under the video on YouTube or on Facebook.

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If you wanted to do a bit of research on any of the above, I found these sites and articles really helpful.

Thinking Maps Equity in Education: What it Is and Why it Matters

ABC News One in four Australian students drop out of high school

OECD Equity in Education, Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools