13 December 2008

Building Schools for Today

Building Schools for the Future (BSF) is the UK Government's programme for rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school with the aim of raising educational standards.

I was delighted yo have the opportunity to visit one of these new schools recently when a committee that I am on held a meeting there.

First impressions are good. The entrance area has double height glass and is an open welcoming area.

The posts are for students to record their entrances and exits, no more paper registration forms. This is good technology but does give the school rather the appearance of a tube station.

These impressions quickly change when you leave the entrance area and enter the main hall/atrium, and then it looks much more like an airport.

Some constructing is still going on, and things may improve, but while the size of the space is impressive its appearance is not.

The space lacks structure and it is not clear what the purpose of any area is. There is also a confusion of materials used including the metal and wood seen here, but also terracotta bricks, blue bricks and orange plastic.

It's all rather a mess.

On the upper floors the feeling is of a typical office with grey carpet tiles and grey doors. There is nothing here that suggests that this is a school or that it has been built for the future.

I went in to some of the classrooms and was very disappointed.

They looked just like any other classroom with normal desks arranged in straight rows facing the whiteboard at the front and with the teacher's desk in a corner.

The only noticeable difference was that the classrooms were smaller than those that I am familiar with.

The unusual features of the school can be seen in this picture from the top floor looking back across the atrium.

The two curved rooms with large windows overlooking the atrium are the Learning Resource Centre (Library!) and the IT suite.

Apparently these are the cool places to sit and be seen.

The lit area on the ground floor is toilets. The pupils suggested that these open directly on to the public areas to prevent bullying etc. but I am not convinced that this is a good idea. Being bright blue and orange does not help either.

The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of any innovation or forward thinking in the teaching areas. The classrooms were normal and normally equipped, there were no other teaching spaces (apart from the end of one corridor which had a table in it) and the solid construction gives no flexibility for the future.

It seems bizarre to me to design a school that is being built for the future around technology that is just a few years old, desktop PCs and interactive whiteboard, when it is clear that the technology will change several times over the next twenty years or so, and so will teaching styles.

This school is a missed opportunity.

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