Everyday you learn something new, you see stuff you’ve not seen before. But it’s not often you see a whole new thing, something completely beyond thinking about. It’s not often you find a place of excellence which wasn’t founded that way. A place where the proverbial oil tanker has been turned. But today was one of those days.

Hosted by Kier, we took the Chief Customer Officer Forum to Northfleet Technology College in North Kent. Run under the PFI scheme, it’s a 3 year old building, that still looks brand new. It’s a comprehensive after 11-18 year old boys from a deprived area in which the grammar school kids have been creamed off. Not easy.

There are so many new things about the way the school is run so let me start with a headline or two.

The head had a hand in its design to create innovative features – It’s all glass so there are no hiding places. The toilets are all individual and in the teaching areas so no one has to move about and it avoids the commonest areas for bullying. The learning areas are open plan, with year groups learning together with 3 teachers, other people working in quiet zones (sic more on this).

The principle is that of moving from teaching to learning – This simple principle underpins everything that happens from the design of the spaces to the role of the teacher. We described the teachers as being subject matter experts on call to the kids. In those learning zones with 3 teachers, the kids can approach the teacher they want. They can also flag online for help as they work on their personal laptops.

The customer is the pupil – Everything is done in service of the children’s learning. The head spends a lot of her day listening to the customer and then aiming to deliver what they need through the staff and facilities.

A market of one is the objective – They want every child to reach their maximum potential, setting new levels of aspiration, beyond that to which they are normally exposed. A personal curriculum, a learning schedule based on each child’s needs is the objective.

The community is welcomed in – Parents were being shown round during building work. How many schools are there where you could wander through the lessons without distracting the kids, even when meeting another bunch of primary school visitors going the other way? And there’s an internet cafe in reception, open to the community.

The place reeked of respect – Lots of people working through their own initiative. And when we helped out a lesson in business studies with the sixth form, it was possible to see the ambition and open mindedness that has been instilled. The place was like new and its evident that kids treat the environment with respect.

So how much did it all cost? I don’t know, but it was a lesson. Without the excellent environment, could you get the shift in learning outcomes for the 1000 ordinary kids there in any one year?

What’s the cause of the change? Is it the passion of the head and the team? Is it the technology available? Is it the space? Yes, yes, yes and more – it’s a whole range of things combined, the sum of the moving parts.

An impressive day, yes, but in the debriefs, it caused immense energy in the business people, not least because so many of the lessons are transferable into business. A lovely example of “serving to lead” and of minimalist management. And a great example of how training at work can change.

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