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Failing secondary schools down to design, says study

A new study has pointed the finger at architects for failing secondary schools - not teachers.

According to research carried out by the University of Manchester, the lack of space in halls, gyms, canteens and other areas is largely to blame 'for many problems which blight today's secondary schools'.

The survey by Naomi Breen, herself a teacher, looked at the design of a clutch of post-war school buildings - nine in Burnley and nine in Berkshire.

Breen's early investigations have shown that the layout of some secondary schools not only 'impacts on the curriculum' but also 'encourages gender stereotyping, bullying, anti-social behaviour and alienation.'

A key problem, says Breen, is the shortage of space and overcrowding created by the raising of the school leaving age to 16, which was planned in 1944 and implemented in 1972.

However, architects designing schools shortly after the Second World War, she claims, 'were not allowed to plan and build schools for future changes in educational approach, use or size.'

Breen also says that these space shortages were compounded in 1950, by government regulations to save space and costs which led to dual -purpose areas such as combined hall and dining rooms and merged corridors and classrooms.

She said: 'As a result of chronic lack of space, multi-purpose rooms are still common in many of these schools today, despite the problems of food, mess, noise and waste.

'After 1944, the shanty towns of temporary school buildings became a permanent feature of many modern secondary schools and this impacted on their effectiveness.'

'Teachers had little or no say in the design of schools and interpretations of the architect's work lay firmly at the feet of educational theorists,' she added.

However, RIBA president-elect Sunand Prasad has hit back, claiming that to hold architects responsible is incorrect, misleading and not backed up in the study.

He said: 'The research sounds very interesting and highlights areas such as bureaucracy, cost cutting and short-termism - so to [sum this up with a headline saying] the architectural profession is to blame is totally misleading.

'What is interesting are the findings that show that school environment does impact on performance.'

by Richard Waite

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