Futures for English School Design

The following is a list of things we learned during the Education Estates conference, held in Manchester on 10-11th November 2015. We’re not promising they’re all news to you and we’re still unsure what they might mean either now or in the future. We are not experts in building construction; we do have some knowledge of construction’s implications in practice and will come back to these points in the future.

Besides, part of the reason for this blog is that no-one can be an expert in all of the bits between building and education but that shouldn’t stop us trying to make links¹. Treating a complex system as simple in order to make one part of the job easier is a recipe for very poor system design overall. And in education, temporary solutions to specific, immediate problems have a tendency to outlive their ‘sticking plaster’ design life² and become applied to issues for which they were never intended.

Please contact us to raise further points or to suggest corrections: architectureandeducation [at] gmail.com

Points raised at the conference:

Demographics / Economics

  • Successive governments have not prepared sufficiently for the ‘bulge’ in primary (soon-to-be secondary) students
  • The extent of BSF encouraged the view that every school in the country would get at least a refurbishment if not a rebuild. Because schools were expecting this promise to be fulfilled, many school buildings were not fully maintained therefore and there is now a backlog of maintenance that needs to be done
  • In London, the cost of land for a new school is now greater than the build cost
  • Schools design could become far more flexible as a way to adapt to shrinks and bulges in areas that are particularly sensitive to demographic fluctuations so that primary schools could become secondary schools, or be ‘all-through’ schools.

General Issues re school building / legals etc

  • Free schools are not subject to guidance on external area, ventilation or lighting
  • Government has a manifesto commitment to open 500 free schools by May 2020. Most projects only have a single bidder from contractors and many have none at all
  • A lot of consideration at the conference was given to how private companies might be more closely involved with school activities in the future – specifically for students to become more readily employable. The interface between pupils and those coming in from outside might not be equipped with  suitable places to meet/work together in ways that fulfil safeguarding requirements
  • Concerns about lack of time to think about pedagogy.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) and current school building.

  • The EFA is the client for new schools, not the LEAs or schools themselves
  • The EFA is considering renting buildings to use as schools and currently investigating the ‘repurposing’ of 20 supermarkets for new school sites
  • The £/m2 of PSPB schools is ‘up to’ 35% less than BSF schools. See an earlier post by Emma on this
  • There was speculation that in the future there could be a change in calculation of building/adaptation costs from metres squared per person to per person per year.

¹= Stirrat Johnson-Marshall paraphrasing Bertrand Russell: “in almost all the fields of human endeavour, significant advances can no longer be made by the individual because the field of contemporary knowledge was too extensive to be mastered and applied by a single person. He said that the arts and painting and writing were exceptions, but I am sure that the art of building is not.” (Saint, 1987:252)

²=This paper (From HORSA huts to ROSLA blocks: the school leaving age and the school building programme in England, 1943–1972) gives a good account of a previous school building programme and perhaps explains why the points above should be discussed and thought about much more openly, and for longer.

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