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What makes for #Greatschools?

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[#GREATSCHOOLS] Different schools require different approaches but there are some principles that will always be relevant. Hawkins\Brown has distilled its extensive experience down to 10 key points

1 Wise clients

A wise client recognises the bigger picture, is not scared of making difficult commercial decisions and knows not to throw good money after bad. Our school-building stock needs investment. We need to help our school clients make wise decisions so they make best use of their sites and provide great buildings for future generations to learn in.

2 Longevity

For too long schools have been adapted and expanded with a ‘make do and mend’ attitude. The most sustainable approach should be to design for the long term. In many of our recent school projects we have found it is the newer buildings on the estate (say, 20 years old) that require replacing rather than the older more historic ones. We are currently enjoying working with the London Borough of Southwark on its primary school expansion programme as it has put longevity at the forefront of its brief, obviously balanced within tight budgets and timescales.

3 Establish what is needed

Our approach to all school projects is to ensure we have a clear brief. We need to really understand how an existing school works; what’s good and what can be improved. Only then can we make a truly effective intervention. Talking to the school community (staff, children and parents etc) and getting their buy-in means they are super-keen to be involved to make a successful project.

4 Robust, low-maintenance architecture

School buildings need to be like solid toys that can stand some tough love. Ongoing regular maintenance is a rare phenomenon in schools. A solution is required that is cost effective, simple to build, easy to use and economic to run.

5 Adaptable, adaptable, adaptable

The ability for a school to adapt allows it to support a variety of teaching methods both now and in the future. Breakout space and an ability to adapt larger spaces to accommodate smaller groups is really important. Corridors aren’t simply used for circulation but for extended learning. ICT is changing faster than anyone can second guess. Who’d have thought five years ago that tablets would be a key tool in the modern classroom. We need to ensure the infrastructure can allow this to happen.

6 Get the toilets right

Ask any school pupil what they are concerned with most and you will find a preoccupation with toilets. Getting the apparently small things right has the largest long-term impact on a school community. Decent toilets make such a difference. They limit bullying opportunities and provide privacy to maturing children. We know from experience how often children avoid having a drink during the day just so they don’t have to visit the grotty toilets.

7 Kit of parts – same but different

No single school is the same as the next (and thank goodness for that). Where perhaps this has become particularly apparent to us is in Southwark, where we are working across six primary schools in parallel. We have worked hard with each headteacher and school community to ensure our designs reflect each school’s strengths, uniqueness and priorities. However, what is also obvious is that fundamentally each school consists of the same elements: classrooms, smaller rooms, specialist rooms, administration space, a hall/dining space, staff areas etc. By using standard components – internal doors, sanitary fittings, windows etc – in different colours and finishes we are making the future maintenance of these schools as straightforward and economic as possible.

8 Inside outside

Spend as much time designing the areas around the building as the building itself. The outside is as important as the inside. The schoolyard is the laboratory of education, and perhaps more importantly, the defining place where students learn how to interact and socialise with others.

9 Value for money

Good cost advice is essential. We are operating in a climate where financial constraints are influencing all projects, not just schools, but it is illogical to use cheap, short-life materials just to meet a capital cost constraint. Our job is to ensure budgets are being spent wisely, and providing what is best for the estate and for the long term.

10 Remember… schools are for children

Finally – and most importantly – schools are for children. Creating a school community means providing a space where children are comfortable, have a sense of ownership and, most importantly, feel that they belong.




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