Kingsdale School in Dulwich, south London, has just come out of special measures - 18 months of investigation into why it was failing and how to set it right. However, with the School Works initiative in association with the Architecture Foundation, it is trying to overcome its 'problem school' label. The pupils, aged between 11 and 16, have put together a performance to demonstrate what the school means to them and how it needs to change.
It is one of the submissions from educational psychologists and engineers to a review committee that will decide on the work that architect de Rijke Marsh Morgan (dRMM ) is commissioned to do. The inquiry into the effects of the built environment on the school will result in a capital project with a guarantee of at least £5 million government funding.
Foundation project director Hilary Cottam hopes that the project will raise a debate about the role of design in secondary schools. Cottam wants to explore how the built environment is linked to social policy outcomes. School Works differs from other consultations by politicising the process.
Working with dRMM - which was controversially chosen in February after an arrangement with Dominic Cullinan Architects fell through - performance artists have been collaborating with children through workshops. The artists have pulled disparate ideas into various pieces about identity and belonging. The performance started with a claiming of territory - 'This is Kingsdale School' - before a welcome in a number of different languages.
The stage backdrop was a mural, a plea for self expression and a place for it. Wild-style graffiti spells out 'unity' and the complex lettering, which requires concentration to decipher, is a metaphor for the acquisition of knowledge.
In the performance the pupils made connections between the built environment and themselves in the 'Lotus Poem'. The image of blossoming pupils was linked to the flowers and jewels at the bottom of the mural as four older girls sang: 'Pupils are the life of the school. The school is the life of the pupils.' Alex de Rijke of dRMM says that the performances have contributed to 'a definite lift in morale'. In conversation children say they want more places to sit with benches in the playground. De Rijke says dissatisfaction with play spaces was a consistent theme in the workshops he took.
Head teacher Steve Morrison is willing this project to work: 'We hope the ideas are provocative enough, we want something to stir us'. He is aware how important this project is to the school and the children who study there. The lessons of the project will also have a wider application, and a manual will be published to disseminate the details of the consultation process.
The School Works team and the school are attempting to transform attitudes to design consultation as well as the culture of the school and the education system. And the children? They just want their own spaces.
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