'Shoddy schools shame Scotland'

28th November 2003 at 00:00
An eminent eco-friendly architect says that the Romans had a better idea of how to hold heat than some of those involved in the pound;2 billion refurbishment of Scottish schools.

Howard Liddell, a visiting professor at Oslo University and now head of the Gaia Group in Edinburgh, warned a Scottish Executive conference on rebuilding the school estate that things had gone badly wrong in the first stages of the programme, dominated by the public private partnership (PPP).

Airless, poorly ventilated and overheated rooms are said by teachers to cause drowsiness and illness and Mr Liddell agrees. A "pandemic" of asthma and related illnesses among young people is being exacerbated by the materials and systems used in schools.

Mr Liddell recently led a Scottish study visit to cutting edge schools in Norway and believes we should follow its best practice - including scrapping mechanically driven heating systems in new schools.

One school in southern Norway, where temperatures can dip to minus 20, uses heat generated by the children's bodies to do the job of central heating systems. "With 150 watts per child and 35 kids in the room and you hold that in, you have got yourself a heating system," Mr Liddell said.

First thing in the morning, classrooms needed a small boost but after that there was no need for central heating. Parents were right behind the development.

Mr Liddell said it was "insanity" for PPP companies, concerned about long-term costs over 30 years, not to consider the green options that are available and which are cheaper in the long run. "We are so far behind," he said.

Schools in Norway were constructed on the principle of "build tight and ventilate right" but in Scotland ventilation consisted of "wind and draught" which teachers could not control.

Sealed schools in Norway had the right idea, Mr Liddell said. In Scotland, teachers who complained about heat and lack of air were advised to open windows or turn on extractor fans - using extra electricity.

Mr Liddell accused the conventional Scottish building industry of "throwing experience from the office block at schools".

Keir Bloomer, chief executive in Clackmannanshire, criticised many existing developments which were based on outdated ideas about the curriculum and learning and done on the cheap. Airport terminals were better designed, built and equipped than some new schools. "The values here are all wrong," Mr Bloomer said.

He believed many recent school buildings were based on the factory concept, were far too big and geared to "the timetable and subject-driven curriculum".

Future schools, Mr Bloomer told the conference at Heriot-Watt University - addressed by no fewer than three Scottish Executive ministers - would have to be more adaptable and flexible. Walls should be movable to accommodate more use of ICT and individualised learning. Social spaces and study areas would have to be expanded.

More learning, such as citizenship and enterprise, would be based in the community and outside school hours. That might include sport and the arts.


Builders and bankers prefer to start from scratch and do not want to refurbish schools, the conference heard. Robert Young, project director of HGB, which runs a new campus in Dalkeith, said contractors could not control the risks. They were also concerned about penalties for running late. Banks which fund PPP projects favour medium-sized projects. Small and large schemes are said to bring more risk.

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