The Big Question: What can teachers tell architects about school design?

Each week, we’ll speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world.  Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate

This week’s question: What can teachers tell architects about school design?

Teachers need to be more involved in the Government’s Building Schools for the Future scheme, research shows. The government programme aims to upgrade or refurbish every secondary school in England by 2020.

Evidence presented by the Teacher Support Network and the British Council for School Environments in June this year highlighted two problems: pressure on architects to design schools within tight deadlines and a lack of teacher involvement in developing design.

Further evidence comes from a survey last year, which involved 530 teacher respondents: 87% of respondents believed that poor design adversely influences pupil behaviour; 60% believed that their school surroundings were not flexible enough to support curriculum delivery, while only 12% of teachers thought that their school provided an effective learning environment.

Recommendations from the report called for teachers to be given free time in order to contribute to design and information about long-term plans for schools. Additionally, local networks should be established between schools, advisers and building companies to improve their level of input. Jim Knight, the Government’s schools minister, has recently said that teachers would be included on design panels run by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

Related articles:

Teachers have designs on new buildings

Here are some thoughts from the school community:

“During my PGCE year, I remember teaching in a school that was so unbearably hot in the summer that the children got incredibly agitated and could not concentrate at all.  It was deeply uncomfortable for me too.  At the end of the course when I had to apply for jobs, the design of the school building was a very important factor in deciding whether I would accept any job offers.

“Take outside space, for instance, schools need covered space so that children can always go outside at break and lunchtime, even if it is raining.  It’s really important because if children stay in the same environment all day, their concentration span deteriorates greatly.  They need to get out and run around in the fresh air.

“Also, practical considerations such as position of power sockets and network points should also not be underestimated.  In my current school, thousands of pounds have been invested in technology, but a simple oversight of the position of the network point means I cannot get the full benefits of my interactive white board without trailing a cable across the room, which of course is a health and safety hazard. 

“Additionally, specialist rooms such as an art or design and technology suite would enable children to use the correct equipment with ease.  This would save time in setting up and clearing away; washing up 30 paint pots in one sink takes a long time!

“We also need room for flexible seating plans in classes, and enough wall space to have two white boards.”

Jane Bardoe, primary school teacher, London

“Technology is probably the single most influential factor for the next 20 years, so any new-build would have to take into consideration the necessity to accommodate any potential changes such as every child having their own interactive desk space rather than a traditional desk.

“I actually prefer the old Victorian school buildings with high ceilings and heavy walls.  I feel you get a very real sense of owning your own space rather than your space overlapping with several other classes.  Some of the modern open plan designs of the 1970s and 80s lent themselves to an unordered atmosphere.

“Local authorities and governing bodies who own the purse strings will probably have the biggest say in relation to new-builds, but we could take into account evidence from techno-friendly schools being built in countries more known for radical design, e.g. Scandinavia.  Over there, figures suggest they have been exceptionally successful.  I also note that the USA is now turning its back on a very large institutions and is breaking them up into units of a more manageable size, high schools with 1200 students will be broken into four units of 300 pupils each which gives each ‘mini-school’ the vibe of a small, primary school-sized institution where relationships between staff and students are very bonded.”

Philip Johnson, primary school teacher, Staffordshire

“We are in the middle of major works at our secondary school; one £3m block has just been completed and another major piece of building work is underway, and more in the future.

“Our completed new block is originally designed, very smart and useful.  It provides us with much needed, modern teaching space, a theatre and canteen/restaurant as well as community facilities.  However, there are a few small things that would have made it even better had the relevant teachers been more involved in the design.  Often these are fairly simple things but ones which are impossible to change once the design has gone so far.

“In the past, architects have added features into refurbished buildings that no teacher would have considered.  Simple things like the position of power sockets in peculiar places can make a teacher’s life very difficult.  However, with the latest project teachers are being involved at a much earlier and before work is completed, which means mistakes are less likely to occur. 

“We recently carried out major refurbishments to some offices for the senior staff who were fully involved in the design.  The end result is that they now work more efficiently because they have had design input and feel more valued as their opinion has been sought. 

“The design team is actively seeking staff opinions, which has to be a positive step.  Therefore, I can only welcome Jim Knight’s proposals.  I have no doubt that teachers will find the time to have input into school design as it is in their best interests.”

Dave Parker, deputy  secondary headteacher, Harrow

What do teachers know that architects don’t about school design?  Post below and share your views.