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Children reveal the secrets of good design

CHILDREN in East Sussex have been teaching professional architects how to design better schools.

The group of 11-year-olds at the Thomas Peacocke school in Rye, which is in special measures, were given eight weeks to design their ideal school on the latest computer equipment. Next week they will attend a video conference with architects to submit ideas such as surround-sound systems, wall-sized interactive computer screens and amphitheatre-style classrooms.

The children believe huge screens will give them quick access to information and arranging desks in a crescent will promote open discussion.

The My School pilot project was launched by education consultants the Virtual Business Academy and architects RTKL to address problems highlighted in a recent Audit Commission report on the Private Finance Initiative in education. The commission criticised the quality of many new PFI schools.

Paul Hanegraaf, RTKL managing director, said the architects were learning a lot from the children. "The children are driving this project forward in ways we never expected ... They are teaching us where to look. The PFI mission is not informed enough by education and curriculum. Issues important to children ... should find their way into school design."

Peter Lancaster, chief executive of the Virtual Business Academy, agreed:

"A school should be built from the curriculum up," he said.

Sponsors are being sought to extend the pilot to nine more schools. Pupils on the programme reach national curriculum standards in information and communications technology.

Sponsors help buy equipment: Thomas Peacocke got pound;30,000 of computer equipment donated by AutoDesk and Acer.

Michael Buchanan, head, said the project had raised children's expectations in a "difficult", rural school.

"The children know what works and what does not and are not constrained by the traditions of adults. They have a refreshing take on the school environment."

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