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Building great schools


This week the AJ, in partnership with Hawkins\Brown, launches a campaign to put design quality right at the heart of the debate on school provision. Roger Hawkins explains why we need an action plan

Hawkins\Brown has been working successfully within the education sector for many years. Like many others in the industry, we experienced the frustration of the Building Schools for the Future programme where we were kept at arm’s length from users and where teams bidding against each other wasted huge amounts of time and money on unrealised designs. The problems that BSF, the subsequent Priority School Building Programme and Free Schools were intended to address have not gone away. If anything, they are getting more urgent.

The pressures on current school buildings are huge. We are living through a period of huge population growth with a birth rate that continues to rise. The reality is that there are insufficient school spaces for all children, currently a problem which affects primary schools but soon also to be a significant secondary school issue, too. The situation is compounded by an ageing building stock and public spending being at an all-time low, with our ability to invest constrained by the bigger financial issues across the world’s economy.

The pressures on current school buildings are huge

How then do we ensure we provide the best school buildings for future generations to learn in? As a profession, architects have a huge amount to offer the school conundrum. Architects are naturally enquiring people. We have an ability to see the bigger picture and can objectively review the state of the estate. We can look past any ad hoc additions to propose the creative re-use of existing buildings, even where the school must remain in operation throughout. We can design new buildings which work well within the existing campus, or as a standalone school.

Hawkins\Brown has teamed up with the AJ to promote further discussion on the design and delivery of school buildings. Over the next few months we want to actively seek out opinions around school design with other school experts, so architects, educationalists, school communities, headteachers, funding bodies, clients, councils, the government and whoever else will speak to us.

With a general election round the corner, this appears an optimum time to keep school design on the radar. We need to understand the policies of each of the political parties and review the impact of a possible change of government. How can government policy inform better school design, and how can architects inform better policy?

Ultimately, what we aim to develop is an action plan to enable the delivery of appropriately designed quality school places with children at the heart of the proposals.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Industry Professional


    Couldn't agree with you more and keen to get involved. Whatever the colour(s) of the next government there's no doubt that we have a huge challenge to meet demand. The danger for the profession is that we fall into the trap of just saying we need more money - we need to be more creative than that as it's very unlikely that £/m2 rates will improve after May.
    So we need to be asking how we can use space more effectively? Whether a 'traditional' arrangement of classroom spaces is the most efficient/ effective way of delivering the curriculum, and so on. Timetabling is another area where we might find significant opportunities to make better quality spaces that work for more of the day. I could go on...

    Philip Watson (Atkins)

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  • Roger,
    We would be really happy to share our knowledge and experience to help this debate move forward.
    Richard Hyams

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  • Hi Roger,
    I am keen that pressure is brought to bear on the EFA to revisit the design and cost parameters that they are using for school projects, to ensure consistency and perhaps more importantly, to allow sufficient room for Architects to put their lateral thinking to good use for the benefit of pupils and staff who use our school buildings for the long term, whilst making best use of the budget provided.
    We would be delighted to share our experiences and give our thoughts to help move the debate forward.

    Adam Clark
    Halliday Clark Architects

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