2 August 2012
I visited a school site this week to look at what might be achieved on some spare ground that had not yet been included in the landscaping.
The school is a brand new secondary Academy build, one of the last approved before the purses snapped shut on that particular initiative, and the Academy sponsor is to be credited with the light and airy design, the inspirational branding and messaging and the sheer volume of care and thought that has gone into making this a really terrific learning facility for young people.
It was great to see that the grounds design had not been an after thought but was taking shape to form a good area of well designed seating, well laid out interesting planted areas, sections laid to turf as well as to tarmac and a general thought out multi-functional flexibility. The Principal was keen to discuss room for bio-diverse spaces, creative use of growing areas for food tech, ecological pathways and had plans for some stunning large scale artwork.
Being blessed as it is with an all-weather surface, a games pitch, tarmac areas, car parking and mown turf there is however that ever-present risk of the heat. Laugh as we may at the likelihood of ever actually suffering from too much sun in England, we are still creating spaces around large schools that do a grand job of reflecting and storing heat necessitating the artificial, energy-hungry cooling of the internal areas.
Many schools, and Academies particularly, insist on students wearing uniforms. I fully understand the reason for this but if I were in a shirt and tie and stiff trousers or skirt along with socks and shoes I would not be all that keen to run around outside on a hot day. And if I did I would no doubt be told off for the state of my uniform afterwards. I might however be tempted to be outside if there was naturally shaded space to be in and if the grounds were a place to cool down rather become over-heated. Clear behaviour links here.
An increasing challenge for us in the outdoor learning sector is working with secondary schools. It is not cool to be hot and we need to find ways of providing our older children with pleasant areas for their social spaces, not unlike those we would create in our own gardens.
If nothing else we can encourage schools to cancel the mowing contract, long grass absorbs more heat, cools the environment and gives better opportunities for a habitat that supports local wildlife.
If you have any ideas that we can share with new schools, free schools and schools generally then please do send them through, ideally with a picture, so that we can spread the word.