MANY of the 12 local education authorities given funding under the Department for Education and Skills' Classroom of the Future scheme will see the building projects completed next month. The DfES split pound;10 million among the LEAs selected for designs that embraced developments in education and technology, tackling such issues as extended school use, ICT and sustainability.
Given this brief, however, projects differ wildly in their interpretations of the future. Everything from futuristic robotics and 3D cameras to a mobile, state-of-the-art ICT classroom and learning pods are being tested.
In Sheffield, the LEA teamed up with the department of architectural studies at the University of Sheffield to create meaningful designs for new classrooms at four local schools. One secondary school, two primary schools and a special education school were chosen to spread the benefit of the funding.
Plans include updating the ICT centre at a technology college to create a link with the City Learning Centre; replacing four mobile classrooms at two primary schools while emphasising flexible learning spaces and the integration of technology; and a new science building at a special needs school that would also be used by mainstream schools.
Andrew Beard, head of planning and premises of the Education Directorate at Sheffield City Council, says: "We didn't just want interesting experiments.
It's interesting innovation but it also solves existing problems on school premises." The council and university gave each of the four projects to independently practising lecturers within the architecture department.
Sarah Wigglesworth, of Sarah Wigglesworth Architecture, designed the science building at Mossbrook special school (pictured above). She says:
"Our particular school is for disabled primary school kids. Mostly they are autistic to various degrees: some are physically disabled, have poor eyesight and so on. We wanted to make a building which was highly sensory and tactile so that the architecture itself is a stimulation and a world of adventure."
The site at Mossbrook overlooks a pond, which has been developed as a teaching resource. "Here," Ms Wigglesworth says, "there live bats, badgers, birds and newts, all of which we are monitoring using web cameras which relay into the classroom." Inside, it is "fully wired in a grid throughout the floor" and has large, walk-in closets to store the equipment needed for teaching science.
Sheffield received pound;1.5m from the DfES and other sources to complete its four classrooms of the future.
In Cornwall, the Camborne-Pool-Redruth Success Zone received pound;650,000 from the DfES towards a total of pound;1.65 million spent on its ambitious view of the classroom of the future.
"This hasn't got to be a little bit different: this has got to be absolutely breathtakingly different," says CPR Success Zone director Paul Hanbury of the building proposals to add on a sustainable Education through Space Centre (ESC) at Camborne School and Community College, built in the 1960s.
Plans include the expected laptops, plasma screens and wireless technology, but the ESC goes much further with its vision: it intends to create a simulated remote mining expedition to Mars. It wants to set up a separate mission control centre, a link with NASA, video-conferencing facilities within the UK as well as to the USA, and a link with American radio telescopes.
But local resources and overspending have hampered progress. The original design was over-budget and the project cannot find any contractors willing to take on such challenging work.
"It's been a long and somewhat arduous route, but I'm determined to get something truly inspirational," Mr Hanbury says.
DfES: Stands K20X20
Design Council: Stand C68