Kathryn Brown, senior interior designer at Godwin Austen Johnson writes about the trends influencing today’s education interiors.
With so many schools opening in the next year and competition for pupils at an all-time high, school planning and design are coming to the forefront. A well-designed school can not only attract the right staff and pupils but by providing better facilities, it can make a school the more attractive proposition for parents and generate revenue from the public.
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At first glance, a school appears to be a functional building driven by class size and curriculum with ‘form following function’. Children’s basic needs for safety, inspiration and sustenance will always be the same.
However, in reality, designing for education is constantly evolving with new developments in teaching methods, with their related functions and requirements greatly affecting planning adjacencies for key spaces and even furniture layouts.
Research into child development and career opportunities is changing the focus from traditional teaching methods to a more fluid continual assessment in the International Baccalaureate format. So-called SEL skills (social and emotional learning) have been proved to be more useful in a career path of the future. Children themselves are changing with their technological knowledge and sophistication requiring a constant future proofing in infrastructure and hardware provision.
Social and emotional learning skills
They require very different teaching and learning methods from the learning of traditional skills which are now becoming widely automated. The digital economy has transformed the workplace. Creativity, problem-solving and communication are the key skills to be learnt, and these are developed through group work and reflection, discussions, problem-solving and peer to peer teaching. Project and enquiry based learning requires more flexible classrooms and learning hubs where pupils can socialise and study privately. Blended learning is starting to be introduced. Traditional lessons are only part of the school day with pupils being encouraged to self-monitor their time and deadlines.
The flipped classroom
It is one teaching method aiming to further develop these skills. Class time is more collaborative with pupils getting short video lectures before class and then invited to discuss and explore the content in a conference style layout. Developments in flexible furniture allow for easy re-configuration.
Sports and performance facilities
Extra-curricular activities can also develop these SOL skills. Sports, music, drama and dance all teach these key skills useful for the future marketplace. We are seeing a higher provision of top class sports and performance facilities for both pupils and the public for feeding back to the community and generating further revenue. This adds value to the school as a whole and attracts better teachers and a wider extra-curricular choice.
The internal landscape
Learning through exploration and self-discovery. With nursery and primary children no longer being able to roam freely in the surrounding countryside schools are creating their protected internal landscapes with open courtyards, climbing walls, interactive displays. Our Ladybird Nursery has houses and road markings to simulate the urban landscape outside. Education designers must balance the need to develop a child’s own self-reliance and risk-taking, with health and safety. These are also important opportunities for social interaction.
Open and welcoming community hubs
School entrances are no longer buried behind security gates fending off possible ‘intruders’. In contrast, now the public is welcomed with open arms, with entrance areas which proudly display the school ethos and provide a community hub.
Café areas and seating allow for social interaction. Space itself can be used for the whole school to gather if required. The swimming pools have a weekend swim club; auditoriums are used for local productions. With pupils attending from the local catchment area, it’s easy to see how the school can create a heart of the community.