Students perching in breakout spaces, conducting independent research on their own laptops. Every classroom bathed in natural light – and many with direct access to landscaped, outdoor space. Acoustics designed so teachers can be heard without raising their voices. User-controlled ventilation and heating systems enabling staff to cool down sweaty students or warm up a cold room. Some visionary – and some plain sensible – ideas of how a modern school should look and feel.
Exemplar school design involves using a generous set of design standards to create spaces that will inspire learning. Perhaps above all, buildings should be future-proofed: flexible enough to accommodate any changes to teaching that might occur in the next few decades. These are the ideas of LGA Architect Amy Corrigan, who worked on several Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects during her time at Nicholas Hare Architects. She lauds the ambitious BSF programme - which former Education Secretary Michael Gove recently admitted to regrets over cancelling in 2010 - for its “emphasis on good space, light and acoustic standards and on conducting engagement exercises with stakeholders. If you followed the guidelines, you could hardly help making really lovely and delightful spaces that would give the children a sense of pride about their school,” says Corrigan.
Corrigan believes aspects of these guidelines are highly applicable to the independent sector, usually on a piecemeal basis. Many private schools are at least partially accommodated in ancient (sometimes listed) building stock. “Through sensitive renovation and creative thinking, it is possible to really celebrate old buildings while providing great education facilities,” says Corrigan.
“Actually, what is of great value when working with a school is the engagement process. Sitting down with staff, students, parents and asking what the ethos of the school is, and how they teach there, can really influence the design of the classroom, department or facility.”
She talks about how independent schools tend to “understand that a well-designed, beautiful building will attract potential students – and they are in competition with other schools to do so.” A burgeoning trend is for independent schools to market themselves overseas, attracting students whose parents hold the British education system in high regard. However, these students can present the schools with a problem: their English is often not of a sufficient standard to allow them to thrive in the classroom. Small, preparatory facilities are being built to provide language foundation education so that such students can go on and succeed at an affiliated private school. There are opportunities here to create beautiful, flexible spaces that will make students feel comfortable and let the building evolve over time to accommodate changing needs.
Corrigan makes the point that school design requires expertise, because they come with a set of very specific requirements, “such as designing for safety and security, creating legibility through the school, and understanding how to weave the services discreetly through a building – particularly for science and technology facilities.”
She adds that architectural practices with a broad portfolio can draw on their expertise in other sectors to bring innovative solutions to bear on a school project. “In residential design massing is really important. That can be brought into school design to create a more human scale. Similarly, working in the commercial sector gives particular insights into creating value for money.”
Corrigan enjoys the fulfilment of working in the education sector. “I can’t think of another kind of establishment that has such an impact on peoples’ futures.”