30.08.1974

The University goes to School – Opening of Laboratory School and Oberstufen-Kolleg

The Laboratory School has a special educational profile: Pupils learn in open-plan spaces instead of cramped classrooms, are not graded until year ten and work in mixed-age classes. In the Oberstufen-Kolleg (sixth form college), pupils are not graded in the initial phase and participate in two-week long projects held in each semester that reflect the school’s interdisciplinary philosophy. When Hartmut von Hentig, professor of education, was appointed to Bielefeld University in 1969, he wanted to transfer the principle of interdisciplinarity of the newly founded University to teacher training: he created the school as a “laboratory” in order to directly combine theory and practice.  

  • Aerial view of the university campus from the east, in the foreground the Laboratory School Oberstufenkolleg (sixth form college) and behind it the main university building, 1975.

    Photo: Günter Rudolf
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 01548
  • Laboratory School and Oberstufenkolleg (sixth form college) after completion of the extension work on the main university building, 1974.

    Photo: unknown
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00130
  • Dens built by pupils in the Laboratory School, 1976.

    Photo: Jürgen Volkmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00552
  • Typing lessons in the Laboratory School, 1976.

    Photo: Jürgen Volkmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00554
  • Design and Technology lessons in the laboratory school, 1976.

    Photo: Jürgen Volkmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00555
  • View of a learning field in the Laboratory School, around 1975.

    Photo: Jürgen Volkmann
    Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FOS 00557

But Hartmut von Hentig was not content with just changing the methods of teaching, he also wanted to change the content that was taught. From 1970 to 1974, a building commission drew up the learning objectives and curricula of the two schools and planned a building to suit these needs. The basic idea was to establish a democratic school culture that conveys the values of co-determination, self-determination and social responsibility to the pupils. Openness, both internally and externally, remains an essential principle of both experimental schools, which is also reflected in the school architecture.

In the laboratory school, for example, there are no classrooms, but the lessons take place in so-called ‘fields’. The basic concept sees the school as a living and experiential space and as a society in miniature. It was also important to place both school projects under one roof in order to cultivate commonalities and exploit synergy effects.

Anecdote by Hartmut von Hentig, the founder of the school projects, on the special features of the laboratory school. Interview of 20.10.2017.

Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld, FS 228

School as “experimental laboratory”

On August 30, 1974, the joint building of the two school projects was handed over to Bielefeld University in a small ceremony. On 9 September the school doors finally opened, with the school projects starting exactly one month before the topping-out ceremony of the main building. Lessons in the laboratory school started with 180 children, more than 800 were registered.

Lessons in the Laboratory School in 1985, material from the rough cut of the Laboratory School films.

Source: Universitätsarchiv Bielefeld

The name “Laboratory School” was deliberately chosen because it was to be less of a model school and more of an experimental school. At the laboratory school, students are taught from years 0 (pre-school year) to year ten, whereby the transitions from one year to the next are fluid. The school is divided into four levels, which provide open teaching in multi-age groups. First and foremost, the Oberstufen-Kolleg had the conceptual task of didactically mediating the transition from general education to specialist studies.