Schools going vertical and students going well

In this post, C4IE Voice and Wellbeing Program Co-Leader, Associate Professor Jill Willis, discusses a new research project exploring innovative Urban Vertical Schools. 

Schools are notorious for worn wooden stairs, hot bitumen quadrangles, and classrooms with narrow doorways, slow fans and flickering lights. These older structures must be retrofitted to meet contemporary building access standards to ensure all students can physically access their classrooms.  

While ease of entry and mobility for all is a critical starting point, the physical design of school buildings also impacts student engagement, learning and wellbeing. For example, comfortable, creative and collaborative spaces assure students that schools are welcoming, their ideas are encouraged, and they are connected to others.  

Although new schools are increasingly being built with the capability and wellbeing of students at the forefront, those in capital cities face a new challenge due to low availability of land. This has resulted in a new type of school in Australia: vertical schools in the middle of capital cities that blend in with the other high-rise buildings.  

High rise building with cars out the front
Fortitude Valley State Secondary College

Urban Vertical (UV) schools require designers and school leaders to think in new ways. However, with no evidence-based precedents to guide designers or educators, and no formal knowledge sharing processes to draw on the experiences of pioneers, robust multidisciplinary research on this new type of school is needed. 

QUT has partnered with one of these pioneering UV schools: Fortitude Valley State Secondary College (FVSSC).  

FVSSC Foundation Principal, Sharon Barker, together with Dr Prue Miles, has led conversations with QUT academics about how FVSSC can improve their day-to-day operations and foster a community of learners who are bold, resilient and kind.  

These conversations crystallised into a multidisciplinary, multi-partner research project with two other innovative and pioneering UV schools: Adelaide Botanic High in South Australia, and Prahran High School in Melbourne, Victoria. The research aims to: 

Learn from the aspirations and experiences of pioneering designers, educators and students

Enable the pioneering students to share their stories about how UV school designs impact their learning and wellbeing

The project, ‘Impact of urban vertical schools on students’ capability and wellbeing’, has just received $363,854 in funding from the highly competitive Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Scheme and more than more than $1.1m in cash and in-kind partner contributions. 

A highly creative multidisciplinary research team, led by evaluation expert, Associate Professor Jill Willis, includes six members of QUT’s Centre for Inclusive Education (C4IE):  

This diverse research team will work with students and teachers from the three UV schools and eight innovative Industry partners to produce visual evidence maps about how physical, digital and social school spaces impact students’ capability and wellbeing:  

Linkage Vertical Schools Group. From left: Dr Prue Miles, Dr Andrew Gibson, Professor Jill Franz, Dr Nick Kelly, Associate Professor Jill Willis & Associate Professor Jenna Gillett-Swan.
  • Fortitude Valley State Secondary College 
  • Adelaide Botanic High School 
  • Prahran High School in Melbourne 
  • Australian Secondary Principals’ Association 
  • Cox Architecture 
  • Gray Puksand 
  • ThomsonAdsett 
  • BFX Furniture 
  • Hutchinson Builders 
  • Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Corporation 
  • Sound Off for Schools 

The insights from this innovative research will help guide school and design leaders and provide a visual evidence map for schools designing spaces where all students feel welcome and want to contribute their ideas.  

Stay tuned on the C4IE website for updates as the project develops.

In the meantime, check out C4IE’s upcoming Inclusive Education Forum “Reducing Exclusion through Inclusive School Reform” (September 17, 2021).  This important event features new research on the use of exclusionary school discipline with a focus on the over-representation of Indigenous students and how to break Australia’s school-to-prison pipeline. 

Speakers include C4IE Director, Professor Linda Graham, who last year chaired the Inquiry into Suspension, Exclusion and Expulsion processes in South Australian government schools, and Ms Jadine Chou, Chief of Safety and Security for Chicago Public Schools. Join us to learn more about the local contours of this problem and find ways to solve it. For the first time we will also be livestreaming the event, ensuring access to important research evidence and knowledge no matter where in the world you are!

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