Congratulations to the board and senior management of Auckland Grammar School for standing firm on the type of building that suits the Grammar philosophy and pedagogy, instead of blindly following the latest fad that all school buildings must follow a certain style.

This "one size fits all" mentality, I thought, had disappeared with the greater autonomy given to schools by the "Tomorrow's Schools" policy. However, it seems we are witnessing centralisation creep once more, reducing autonomy and forcing schools into a straitjacket. The fact that AGS paid 75 per cent of the cost of the teaching block from its own resources no doubt encouraged the school to finally get the sort of teaching spaces it wanted.

Grammar eschews beanbag lessons in $6m classroom upgrade

Apparently, research has shown that these prescribed modern learning environments (MLE) - open-plan classrooms, bean bags, break-out rooms, inter-disciplinary studies and facilitators rather than teachers - improve student achievement. I always thought it was the quality of teaching that improved student achievement, not the style of buildings.


Great teaching relies on things that have been around for ages: good subject knowledge, good classroom control, good communication skills, passion for your subject and for kids. It has nothing at all to do with building style.

Indeed, education researcher John Hattie in his ground-breaking book Visible Learning makes it very clear what the main determinants of improved student learning are, and modern learning environments don't get a mention.

Interestingly, Hattie's research shows that teachers providing immediate feedback to students and the positive relationships that excellent teachers are able to make with their students have the greatest impact on student achievement. Direct instruction, the teaching pedagogy favoured by AGS, is the third most powerful teacher factor in raising student achievement.

Of course this push for MLE is all bound up with the simultaneous drive for inquiry learning, individualised instruction and problem-based learning. In other words, modern learning environments are an integral part of the constructivist theory of teaching in which the child chooses what he/she wants to learn.

Again, Hattie refutes this emphasis. He makes it clear that teachers must see themselves as "directors of learning", not facilitators, and that constructivism is "almost directly opposite to the successful recipe for teaching and learning".

Education is fertile ground for pseudo-science.

Like MLE and constructivism, we also have learning styles, thinking skills, multiple intelligences, brain gyms, flipped classrooms all promising to revolutionise the classroom.

In my mind, unless you can be sure that all these revolutionary educational innovations and new-style classroom blocks are better than what we already have, and will provide the silver bullet to improve student achievement, we are best to show some common sense and restraint.

• John Morris is a former headmaster at Auckland Grammar School