As the national curriculum has changed and developed, primary schools have become increasingly aware of their responsibilities in science, information technology and design and technology. But resourcing these areas of study can be a costly business. Class sizes are growing and materials and premises are under pressure.
Traditional primary schools are general teaching spaces in which all the key subjects can take place in one room. All have access to a sink and wet area which are shared or sited within the teaching room. But with the growth of subject teaching, the standard primary classroom is not large enough if specialist furniture and equipment is introduced. And if the current rooms are not large enough, then some serious thinking has to be done.
Buttsbury Junior School in Billericay has taken the radical approach of turning part of its school kitchen into a design and technology room.
The colours are bright and the room is used fully, including the wall space. There is a mixture of furniture and equipment, side tables, two workbenches. The walls have shelving to display and store work in progress. The stainless steel kitchen sink was refurbished and retained, and is excellent for print making. All this has been achieved at a total cost of Pounds 20,000-Pounds 25,000.
The room is timetabled on a two-week cycle and the classes allowed to use the space rotate. The block time approach was used as many of the pupils have work in progress which can stay out on the benching overnight.
"Staff wanted to obtain the maximum flexibility from the availability of the room," explains head teacher Vaughan Collier. "It will be a purposeful workshop which doesn't have to be 'packed away' to permit other curricular activities to take place."
At Kingswood Junior School in Basildon, headteacher Martin Sadler has been through a similar process, in order to enhance science teaching in his school. He promoted the need for a specialist science teacher and from last September has had one in place to manage science and put the policy into action.
At present science at Kingswood Junior is taught in standard classrooms along with the other nine core subjects, but the school plans to start building a science laboratory during the summer vacation.
The new laboratory will be fully furnished and equipped for science teaching at an estimated cost of Pounds 70,000-Pounds 80,000. The school is so committed to this action that the project is being paid for out of school funds. It, too, will be timetabled in class groups.
At Newington Junior School in Ramsgate, the issue for headteacher Allen Roochove was how to integrate computer skills and creativity within the school. "Our children are part of the computer age - it's the world they already live in and we must provide them with the means to meet the challenges they will face," he believes.
His first plan was to convert a store area into a computer room. This was considered at length but rejected as the space was too small for a group of 30 pupils.
The next step was to view the school as a whole. Conflicting advice was offered regarding the use and positioning of computers. One train of thought was to have two or three computers in the library and the rest on trolleys in the classrooms; the other was to have a specialist computer room.
In the end, an existing classroom was converted into a computer resources room to teach the basic skills, and a network was laid throughout the school, linking the standalone class-based computers to the computer room, all for a cost of Pounds 80,000. Once the system is up and running, the school intends to have a dedicated teacher to take timetabled class groups.
These three solutions all have particular points in common: the opportunity needed to be recognised and the will was there to do something about it. The room was either acquired by taking space from another activity or by building additional accommodation, as in the case of Kingswood.
All the schemes have a capital cost and the on-going costs of updating the equipment and the supply of consumables has been acknowledged. Staffing is key to all these projects, either in the appointment of a specialist to manage the room or in the co-operation of the existing staff.
The main theme running through them is that the schools have recognised that the "standard" primary classroom will not cope with the demands of the national curriculum and they need to specialise. The standard-sized classroom has served them well, but times have changed and expectations have grown. The demands are high for both teacher and pupil. Specialist spaces with adequate timetabled teaching time, which is in addition to the class teacher's time, offer a viable solution. This trend in primary schools will continue as the subject areas require additional space, staff time, furniture and equipment.
Nick Carter is an education management and design consultant. More information on 01621 869357