Do you remember your school? Were you comfortable, warm, relaxed? Did you find the place attractive? Was it a building to enjoy or to be proud of? And if your memories of school are more current, is it a modern building, well designed, open, healthy, flexible and capable of adapting to different moods and purposes?
Actually, I suspect most of us take schools for granted; you go, you go through a school day, you come home. But in fact there’s a lot more interest in schools and their design than you might think. Schools are not just big places, they are also bases for some of the most important times and ideas of your life. You grow up in them, learn in them, play in them, for 15000 hours of your life ( That is an actual calculation).
So shouldn’t a school building being well designed and ‘fit for purpose’? Lots of things can make a difference here. One example of poor design was a well known, big secondary school in London. Very fashionable, and bearing all the hallmarks of the architect’s drawing board, the problem is that it was made of ( very fancy ) glass, with everyone inside baked in hot weather and frozen when it was cold. Or at least that’s what was said. At the other end of the scale, a very plain old school in the north of England played classical music instead of sounding a bell or buzzer to mark the change of lessons. And do you know what? Everyone walked round that school calmly and sensibly – Quite a nice surprise.
In the last few months a national newspaper and a commercial partner have run a competition for school building or resource design. Some of the entries have been fascinating. They show pupils’ ( and teachers’ ) real concerns and interests. For example, there’s been an increasing awareness of the need to help children and young people relax. The effects of pressures such as tests, exams, tight scheduling and the sheer numbers of young people kept together have suggested that calmer approaches might mean better performances. So schools have come up with a ‘counselling cube,’ an aquarium, and a sensory bus. Conservation has figured greatly, with lots of gardens and green energy including a water wheel. Computers are recycled. Add an international element to all this and you get a beehive project managed in association with a twinned school in Uganda.
Of course, there are lots of ‘learning platforms’. Perhaps most important of all, the most successful entries in this competition had what they call ‘a strong student voice’. Wouldn’t all this help you learn?
I'm semi-retired after a successful and much enjoyed career in education. Funnily enough, my last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. I've had an interesting career, in schools, colleges, adult education, the Arts and a few other bits and bobs. At one stage I was also a local authority inspector. Now I'm a school governor, and am enjoying watching my young grandchildren go through their own first experiences of school. Through these articles I hope to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested!