Glömstaskolan: The School in a Class of its Own

Posted By: Bradley Palmer

With a new approach to education that breaks all the rules.

In the lush, green, forested region just south of the Swedish capital, there’s a school that breaks all the rules; one that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘special school’. Because even before you set foot inside, it’s evident that this is no ordinary educational establishment. This is a radical – and very refreshing – departure from the way schools look, the way they’re laid out and even the way they’re run.

For a start, there are no corridors – and in many of the rooms there’s not even any furniture. None at all! The whole edifice centres on a huge, airy atrium full of fresh air and sunlight – this is a key part of the architect Asa Machado’s vision. This atrium is designed to be the heart of the school. ‘Like a big tree’ is the way it’s described – a simile that’s pretty accurate when you see how inspiring is this open space – how it basks in the sunlight and helps the entire building breathe. 

Full of fresh air, light – and enlightenment

And that’s not the only aspect that comes as a breath of fresh air. There are no toilet blocks – the lavatories are individual, neatly, and easily sidestepping all those spats about gender, and they’re actually built into the classrooms themselves. This, along with great expanses of glass, in interior walls as well as exterior ones and narrow stairs, means there are no spaces away from teachers’ eyes where bullies can go unseen. The fact that you can see into every room before you enter means no room holds any fear for even the most nervous of pupils – and although there are no classrooms in the old-fashioned sense of the word, the architect has made sure there’s privacy at all times for anyone who wants or needs. But what’s all this about no furniture? You’re probably asking… Well, yes, it’s true, but this is simply a way of building total versatility into the design. Many rooms are, indeed, empty, until they’re equipped with the most suitable furniture and equipment for a specific purpose – lecterns and raked seating to turn an empty room into a lecture theatre, for instance. It’s all about freedom and choice. The kids are free to move furniture around at will – and they don’t have to sit at a desk. They can lie down on the floor if that works best for them! Proving that this commitment to ‘what works’ is a real one is the fact that an architect visits twice a year to shift things around according to what’s working and what isn’t.

‘I want it to be good for you and I will do what makes you good’

This is the school’s one and only rule – more of a mantra, really. It means that pupils and teachers actively discuss what would and would not be appropriate and helpful behaviour. So they feel respected and empowered in their ability to influence things – and they accept responsibility for what results.

‘We like bruises! We learn from them!’

Of course, some areas have to be specifically equipped, such as the green room for making films and the ‘concrete jungle’ outside where the kids enthusiastically take part in Parkour. The obvious question from a bystander is ‘don’t you get bruises?’. And the children’s’ invariable answer is as concise a summary of the school’s philosophy: ‘We like bruises! We learn from them!’

You could call it the school of hard knocks – but that would be to do it a disservice. The place is suffused with kindness – and even with just two actual lessons in a day, it’s quite amazing how effective this approach has proved – especially with children who have been failed by the traditional school system. 

It’s an entirely new paradigm that proves that ‘when you treat children like adults and give them freedom, they don’t become hooligans but quite the opposite – they become engaged and responsible.’

For a more detailed analysis of this fascinating, inspirational approach to schooling, how it works so well, check out this article from Medium here.