School spotlight: Kelvinside Academy

With what’s most important in education regularly debated, Kelvinside Academy has laid its cards on the table. Its new innovation school values problem-solving over grades – and it’s spreading the message

Five numbers

Founding year: 1878

Pupils: 660

Staff: 100

Fees per term: £2,800–£4,460

NuVu build: £2.5m

Kelvinside Academy is a co-educational independent school in Glasgow for nursery to senior school pupils. With history dating back to 1878 and an impressive category A-listed building, it has many features of a traditional independent school. However, Kelvinside is not a school to rest on its laurels and has made a £2.5m investment into on-campus innovation school NuVu, which is now open and being used by pupils.

NuVu was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2010 by graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The idea is to focus on creativity, with pupils working on collaborative projects to develop solutions for real-world social and environmental problems. Pupils work in theme-focused studios instead of classrooms, have access to state-of-the-art technology and have timetable flexibility. There’s also no grades – no, you haven’t read that wrong – instead, a digital portfolio captures stages of project development and skills learned.

At first, Kelvinside led a NuVu summer school in 2017 where pupils worked with a roboticist and a bio fashion expert, leading to another summer school in 2018. Positive feedback encouraged the school to create its own school of innovation.

Imogen Gillan (S1) at Nuvu Innovation School

At Kelvinside, NuVu is led by MIT graduate James Addison and director David Miller, who has previously taught and started his own educational games company.

But why invest in such a big project that some may see as a risk? Dan Wyatt, Kelvinside Academy’s newly appointed rector, says instead of a risk, it is a choice to be agile and different.

“One of the things about being a medium-sized independent school with a dynamic board of governors is that when we looked at what NuVu offers, we really see the value in conversations about the future of education and being at the forefront of that,” says Wyatt.

He continues: “It can be seen as a risk, but we see it as a choice which is one of agility and of difference.

“Out of all the excellent schools in Glasgow, we are really preparing our young people for the world. We’re listening to leaders like Sir Ken Robinson, who talk about schools not being fit for purpose and crushing creativity, and we are showing a key point of difference in the marketplace.”

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The new model of education is one Miller thinks will appeal to current employers: “We’re hearing the same stories from academia and from industry that they’re fed up of being sent kids that have yet to be taught how to think.

“In a sense, what the NuVu model does is teach children that life is about solving problems and that there are multiple solutions to problems. Regurgitating information to pass an exam is not a model that can pertain for too much longer.”

Staff CPD on the educational model of NuVu has been key and on Kelvinside’s first in-service training day of the year, every member of staff took part in two-hour innovation school session with Addison. Wyatt says: “What was great about it was that it highlighted the creativity in the teachers. We want to foster this love of creativity.

“We feel that the innovation school can help with bridging some of the skills gaps and can upskill our teachers as well as our pupils.”

This should absolutely not just be for an independent school; it’s got to have a broader impact

Inventors’ paradise

There are 46 students in the senior school who have opted for NuVu as an option so far. They use industry-standard tools like Rhino software and Fusion 360, giving them a headstart when it comes to applying for jobs.

They have already used the 3D printers and laser cutters to develop prototypes to help elderly people enjoy activities they love. Inventions included a Zimmer-gardening frame for planting and watering, a device to help wheelchair users play golf and a hat to aid balance. “Some of them will grow up to be famous inventors, I’m sure,” says Ester, a resident at Balmanno House Care Home.

Pupils create solutions to real-world problems

Does the model work?

Miller says: “We had our first parents’ night recently with S5 and S6, the final two years, and they could not have been more positive about what this was doing for their children, and their sense of engagement and purpose. We live in such uncertain times and in a sense, the school is preparing young people for the uncertainty of the future.”

Wyatt adds from his own experience: “I’ve been observing some of the classes and it is normally common to hear a bell go for lunch and see children hurrying themselves to go play, but what we have in the NuVu studio is children wanting to complete a bit of work before they go have their break. That level of engagement is a joy to see.”

The school is working with local schools but will start taking the model out to local authorities and governments, as well as heads of education within Scotland, the rest of the UK and Europe.

Miller says: “This should absolutely not just be for an independent school; it’s got to have a broader impact.”

An intelligent idea backed by experts that seems to solve a problem many are talking about within education.

Will it catch on? Only time will tell.

Miller concludes: “It’s a really powerful model because what propels the learning is the desire to solve the problem, which is the other way around from a conventional education where the exam is the main point of the narrative of learning. For so many children, that narrative just isn’t strong enough.”

Five facts

1. Kelvinside Academy pupils use iPads from nursery and are taught coding skills from junior school

2. Kelvinside is a category A-listed building in Glasgow

3. Kelvinside ran its first NuVu summer school in 2017, another in 2018 (when it started building the NuVu campus) and opened NuVu in 2019

4. Forty-six senior school students have opted for NuVu so far

5. Dan Wyatt was deputy rector for four years before becoming rector this year

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