Building the world of interiors

22nd July 2011 at 01:00

It's that time of year when schools are moving on. Children are moving up to primary, secondary and university. Staff are moving out to grass or pastures new. And schools themselves are evacuating old buildings and transferring to new ones.

Wherever they go, the school environment will be crucial to staff and pupils; welcoming, attractive surroundings can lift the spirits of young and old alike. This week, Highland received the keys of its new Milton of Leys Primary, with classrooms opening onto their own outdoor spaces for growing plants and cultivating young minds (p21).

Outdoor learning is thriving in schools around the country, where ecoflags are hoisted by the day, testament to the environmental awareness now being instilled in children from the youngest age. Take a school like Cornbank St James in Midlothian (p21), where every class from nursery upwards is growing its own fruit to turn into crumble, harvesting its own grain to bake bread, or picking its own potatoes to make soup. It's remarkable how outdoor learning, environmental education and Curriculum for Excellence are cross-fertilising in healthy projects for all ages.

But it's not just the outdoors being used to stimulate children; the indoor environment is just as important, as architects and council planners have learnt. Award-winning Dalry Primary, featured in this week's News Focus on school buildings (pp10-13), surrounds children with views onto the Ayrshire countryside, murals of cattle on classroom walls, a giant abacus doubling as ornament and learning resource, a technology centre in the form of a brain. It's an imaginative environment that will spark creative thinking. It's fun, attractive, exciting. Who wouldn't wish for a school like that?

The most notorious corner of a school remains its toilets - dirty, smelly, unhygienic, as researchers at the University of the West of Scotland and West Dunbartonshire Council have found, and scenes of the worst bullying. Even here the planners and architects are introducing a breath of fresh air, as pupils of Dumbarton Academy will discover when their new school opens its doors.

Scotland's famous Victorian schools are grand examples of handsome architecture, many of them, but they can be intimidating relics of an austere age when children sat silently in rows. The concrete edifices thrown up in the Sixties for the post-war baby boom were blights on the landscape, cheap, heartless and uninspiring spaces where the imagination was dulled.

The new schools for the future reflect a different era where the child is at the centre and architects listen to pupils and staff, reflecting on how their designs can work with Curriculum for Excellence and the local environment. Gradually they are changing the way children learn and behave, opening windows on the landscape and windows in the mind.

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