November 5, 2019
Recently, I attended the Education Estates show in Manchester, which brings together people from education design across the world. The UK Government gave several talks on subjects such as planning and new school building programmes and they had the difficult job of presenting updates on future plans at a time of real uncertainty.
I left the event feeling low. While it was great catching up with friendly faces, it was depressing to learn about the current state of building new schools in the UK. It made me question if we are doing the right thing. I thought about this from a teacher and a child’s perspective and realised that, in many cases, we are taking space away from them. In a drive to save money, we are stripping away ‘unnecessary’ spaces from educational institutions such as outdoor spaces and indoor teaching and learning spaces. Our job as designers and architects should be to have a positive impact on education, not a negative one. Space is not an ‘unnecessary’ item that can be disposed of during austerity; it is in fact, an essential element of effective learning environments.
Why do we need space? The most effective schools Contents Design has developed have benefitted from additional learning spaces that are outside traditional classrooms. Spaces that allow for informal collaboration and interaction to take place or for moments of calm, contemplation and reflection when required. Learning spaces outside classrooms help to improve self-confidence and promote independent learning. We witnessed this in the schools we designed during the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) programme.
The BSF programme was scrapped in 2010 with critics saying it was too costly. Whether you agree with this or not, it is fair to say that now, we have gone too far in the opposite direction.
We are giving teachers less space to teach and children less space to learn, which feels like a step backwards, not too dissimilar to Victorian schools in some cases. This does not feel right for future generations.
So what can we do? Add more space, that’s easy – although this will have to be paid for with additional funding from the Government and that’s not simple. We could be more innovative with the space we have. The desire to have a positive impact on education is alive and well with designers and architects, however, we need the Government to buy into this new, innovative approach.
We need to question how, collectively, we create new inspiring schools.
Ironically, we have to look to the past to see good examples of building schools for the future. We need to get back to a more sustainable approach to school design, inspiring environments that allow both teachers and children to thrive and excel, triggering their appetite for lifelong learning.