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#GREATSCHOOLS: Think Tank

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With a newly elected Conservative government in place, Hawkins\Brown, Aecom, Urban Projects Bureau and Creative Wit identify four areas where architects can influence the next generation of schools

Funding and estates

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The Conservative Party victory in the general election means market forces will play a greater role in school life. Architects must understand the drivers behind the funding if they are to deliver well‑designed schools over the next five years

‘The government is shifting away from local authority managed schools to independently controlled academies. This means schools will take charge of their destiny. The government’s capital funding regime  may seem hard to understand because money comes from five or six streams, but there is a rationale to it. Each funding stream addresses a particular need and eligible schools can bid for this money – leveraging the available government funding to achieve their overall development strategy. Architects need to understand this funding so they are better equipped to help the schools to develop their strategy and get the best value from the available money.’
Mairi Johnson, Aecom

‘A number of academies are selling off bits of land to build housing on, and using the funds to upgrade their buildings because they know the funding is not going to come from anywhere else. But who is advising the schools about their real estate, and are they getting good value for money?’
Sharon Wright, Creative Wit

Sharing facilities

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The poor state of some schools’ specialist facilities and the lack of funds to overhaul them means architects need to think laterally to meet staff and pupil needs. By designing shared central facilities it could be possible for a school to serve the wider local community

‘With some schools having very poor specialist facilities there is the opportunity to build a science and design technology facility in an area where five or six schools can come and use it, and the staff are employed centrally. The children have a day to do the curriculum and you don’t have to upgrade science labs in five schools.’
Sharon Wright, Creative Wit

‘The same is true of a community sports facility, which could be built off-site to serve several schools and the local community and, in certain circumstances, and provided that sports provision is maintained, may allow for land to be sold for other uses.’
Roger Hawkins, Hawkins\Brown

The logistics and practicalities of teaching within shared facilities is not something to be underestimated. However, we can help schools to explore options so that they can feel confident in taking what is essentially a commercial decision.’ 
Carol Lees, Hawkins\Brown

Long-term thinking

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School design is strongly influenced by the ideology of the incumbent government. Therefore architects need to design a greater level of flexibility in order that school buildings can adapt to new pedagogic models

‘We have developed a funding and spatial strategy for an academy for 2020, 2030 and up to 2040. Each administration can keep updating the vision and strategy. The alternative is schools just bid for funding and sometimes get a new boiler or a new drama studio. It is all piecemeal. This design thinking is the profession of architecture rather than this ridiculous reduction to building fabric or style.’
Alex Warnock Smith, Urban Projects Bureau

‘When you design a school you know that in five years’ time pedagogy will change when the government changes. We need to think of a school in waves of refurbishment – five, 10, 15 years – and set up funding in this way.’  
Michael Riebel, Hawkins\Brown

The school experience

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As schools behave more like private businesses they will be in competition with one another to attract the best teachers and students. Architects can draw on their experience in the private sector to help them achieve this.

‘It’s quite interesting to see how work culture is changing and if that could be reflected in school design. We looked at the Vittra Schools in Sweden which model their school after a fun creative workplace, like Google. The only thing that is flexible in the school is the students. The school stays the same and the students move around. It’s all furniture-driven.’ 
Michael Riebel, Hawkins\Brown

‘We find more and more that schools are asking us to revamp their sixth form as they are losing students. They are asking what they do with interiors? Although it seems superficial, it is really not in the sense of rebranding the environment, which is what you would do with new offices or any institution.’
Alex Warnock-Smith, Urban Projects Bureau

‘The old chestnut is cost versus value and how can we tackle that in this sector. If you could allow some flexibility around area targets, you could focus on improving the quality of the space.’
Roger Hawkins, Hawkins\Brown

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