High-school teachers have asked for more research on what they say is a "dangerous experiment" of putting several classes together in multi-teacher "modern learning environments".
The Post Primary Teachers Association resolved at their annual conference in Wellington today to "challenge the Ministry of Education on the need to research the effectiveness of flexible learning spaces in terms of their impact on student achievement, student wellbeing, teaching and learning and teacher satisfaction."
"We need to do this research to be sure that this is not just a dangerous experiment on the most vulnerable in our society," said Birkenhead College teacher Austen Pageau.
The new multi-teacher spaces are becoming common in primary schools and the teachers said the ministry was now pushing secondary schools to adopt them as well when new teaching blocks were built or rebuilt.
But, the Ministry of Education said it was not "pushing" schools to adopt modern learning environments but did encourage flexibility as a feature of all spaces.
Pageau said he visited the new Haeata Community Campus, a Year 1 to 13 school for 950 students which opened in Christchurch this year, and asked the principal about the effect of the large spaces on children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who were easily distracted.
"He said there was one student who had more trouble at his previous school and did better at Haeata," Pageau said.
"I challenged him and he said, 'I will have to agree with you that this is not the school for those specific learning needs, we can't cope with them.'"
Pageau said research showed that children with ADHD needed to sit in front of a class surrounded by quieter students and with close supervision by a teacher.
"The research shows that students with ADHD have trouble with self-motivation, have trouble with self-management," he said.
He said about 7 per cent of children had ADHD.
"There are two or three kids in every class of 30 who are going to be affected by this."
Some teachers disagreed. Paul Stevens, who teaches in modern learning environments at a new senior high school in Auckland, said they all had breakout spaces which worked well for students with ADHD.
"Generally it works well," he said. "We have a strong support structure for those students so that it does work for them."
Haeata principal Andy Kai Fong said he would never have made any blanket statement about whether shared teaching spaces worked for any group of children, because it depended on each child.
"My response to parents and teachers and students with diverse needs is that there are some that come into our environment and really thrive, and there are some who have struggled," he said.
"They certainly have the potential to be quite lively environments. For some kids, they will struggle with that.
"But we have also had some kids with learning needs from other schools that have settled really well, and the style of teaching is really good for them.
"People go to schools. For some it suits and for some it doesn't."
He said all large teaching spaces at the school had four, five or sometimes up to seven smaller glassed-off spaces around them that could be used for small groups or individuals.
He believed the advantage of having teachers work in teams was that they could build the students' skills in collaboration and self-management.
"The stand-and-deliver style of teaching that I grew up with, with single-cell desks facing the front of the room and the teacher doing most of the talking, and we listened and took notes and regurgitated it come exam time - that is over," he said.
"Learning now happens in very different ways, in different-sized groups, sometimes in a large group, sometimes in a smaller group."
Ministry of Education acting head of education infrastructure service Rob Giller said flexibility as a feature of all spaces built by the ministry was encouraged so they could be easily re-purposed as needs changed.
Ministry-run projects started with an education brief based on the school's specific vision for teaching and learning and that drove the design and construction of the project.
"That means the schools themselves determine how the learning spaces are configured and built," he said.
More research on modern learning environments was already underway, some funded by the ministry and some from overseas projects, he said.