5 March 2013
This week's guest blog is by Colin Burden.
Colin is a director at Plincke and leads its education team delivering school projects both in the UK and internationally. He has advised a number of regional and governmental research groups on the value of learning outside the classroom including the Exemplar Schools Programme.
From Building Schools of the Future to Addressing Today's Priorities.
If we expect civilised behaviour from young people, we should begin with civilising environments. School grounds are a good place to start. School grounds can be valued not only for their educational opportunities as a potentially rich curriculum resource but also as a place to meet and interact at a social level. This combination of learning and social value can be further enhanced by the promotion of healthy lifestyle via contact with formal and informal sports and recreation.
The transformational agenda of the Building Schools for the Future Programme (BSF) sought to capture the benefits of the outdoor environment. Though rarely achieving the highly ambitious results on the ground the programme promised, BSF did none-the-less move the debate forward through CABE design quality indicators. Why the BSF programme did not deliver better landscape environments is complex but does in part lay in the application of Building Bulletin 98, the outdoor area standards for schools. BB98 placed too great an emphasis on quantity standards and not enough on quality standards to make it a useful tool for delivering better results. This coupled with a lack of transparency in the funding and a risk adverse culture among schools all contributed to inhibiting the transformational environments the programme sought to promote.
So what does the successor to BSF offer? The Priority Schools Building Programme (PSPB) is the Coalition's flagship policy to channel funding into the schools capital estate administered by a new funding body: The Education Funding Agency. The announcement of the 261-schools within the programme followed a national survey of school building fabric to prioritise those most in need of repair or replacement. The 'Priority' is therefore about the building fabric and the budgets are significantly lower per school than under BSF. The transformational agenda that encouraged wide self-expression among schools within BSF has been replaced with three standardised school prototypes that bidders are required to utilise unless they can deliver the same building area more cost effectively. The prototypes, one primary school model and two secondary schools set a space area standard. The question is whether the emphasis on cost and standardisation within PSBP will set back the tentative steps made under BSF towards imaginative, sustainable, and engaging external environments or whether by removing the constraints of building bulletins, an obstacle is removed, encouraging schools to take action and ownership of their school grounds.
The three standardised models make no mention of a landscape context or connection to outdoor spaces. The primary school and secondary school 'finger block' do though set up opportunities for good internal / external adjacencies. By contrast the 'superblock' model has little connection to the outside. The dining and all circulation is internalised and relies upon an internal courtyard for dining views and break out.
A highly standardised 'one size fits all' approach is prone to creating a generation of schools with little or no relationship to either the site or wider community context. Conversely, the move away from the raising of unattainable expectations might just create an environment that encourages more modest approaches that may just, ultimately allow individual schools the confidence to step outside their classroom superblock and exercise some self-expression again.