Ahead of next week’s BSEC event, Pascale Scheurer redefines the future of education building before

It’s not every week you challenge a secretary of state to a duel. Michael Gove’s disparaging remarks about architects at the Free Schools conference left me no choice. Differences aside, however, I do believe his free schools policy is an act of maverick genius. Were not a single free school to open, the debates raging now would still be a potent outcome. I’ve been invited to a round table on accountability to parents with shadow education secretary Andy Burnham and the Reform think tank, on the same day as I deliver an EcoBuild talk on delivering sustainable schools in a time of reduced spending, before heading to the National Curriculum Review evening event and launch of Katharine Birbalsingh’s new book, “To Miss with love”. The twitto-blogo-sphere is pregnant with new ideas on the purpose of education (#purposed) and the methods and technologies used (Trad or Rad? #LWF11). Meanwhile, teenagers are redefining their engagement, with commitment replacing conformity (#battlefrontuk) as a model for educational compliance. So who owns education?

At BSEC, it’s definitely the kids. Once again we are delighted to be running the “Design My Learning Space - Live!” event, with 10 primary and secondary schools and 10 young architects taking part. Children from two Hackney schools will be designing the curriculum, timetable, management structure, branding and spaces for the Hackney Free School for Creative Entrepreneurship, which I am leading the bid for and talked about in my column on 28 September 2010. If we haven’t redefined the future of education, and designed the schools to go with it, by the end of the two days, I shall go home very despondent.

Not that I’m worried. Last year, one visitor described our stand as: “like stumbling on an oasis after trudging through a desert”. They said: “We’d heard the politics, the pedagogy, the problems and the practicalities - here, real children were making wonderful, three-dimensional models of their own ideas for desirable learning spaces.”

The success of the event is due in part to the alignment of thinking and practice between EC Harris - the sponsor - and Surface to Air - the facilitators - delivering an exciting and valuable experience for the young people. Just like school should be. Design My Learning Space has a long tail. The winning schools and several of the architects were invited to design eco-pavilions for the Prince of Wales’ Start London grand exhibition last September, supported by UBM and Surface to Air, as well as RIBA YPP and constructed by Willmott Dixon. The Duchess of Cornwall was particularly enraptured by the nestling pigs, while our “fertile void” outdoor learning space (95% recycled construction materials) is still in daily use by Global Generation at the Kings Cross Regeneration site.

This year the judges are a cross-party select committee of influential people who are redefining how schools will be funded, procured and managed: Tim Byles, Lord Jim Knight, John Waldron, Katharine Birbalsingh, Simon Lucas, Rachel Jones and myself.

Simon Lucas, director of education at EC Harris, and I were sharing a bottle of rioja last Thursday, musing on the future of design for schools. EC Harris is the project manager for Toby Young’s free school, and, in parallel with the James/Hood review, are working on critical aspects of design, delivery and value innovations specifically to meet the demands of the new educational and economic landscapes in which we now operate.

Simon’s work is moving thinking forward in recycling non-education buildings. We busily sketched our ideas out. “Basically it’s a big lightweight Tesco shed, with a tea cosy thrown over it, sunpipes for natural light, a big green garden on the roof, plug and play partitions and mezzanines pre-plumbed with services including ICT. Job done.” We looked at our napkins: we’d just designed ExCel. “It’s the perfect 21st century learning space.”

BSEC is where the education debate is at. Come and add your ideas to the Hackney Free School interactive wall at the Free Schools Hub, and the “love-it-or-loathe-it wall” on the Design My Learning Space stand. We hope to see you there.

Pascale Scheurer is director of Surface to Air Architects