Last year, Burntwood Secondary School in Wandsworth won the RIBA Stirling Prize, the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize. Speaking at the award ceremony, RIBA President Jane Duncan said: “Burntwood School shows us how superb school design can be at the heart of raising our children’s educational enjoyment and achievement. With the UK facing a huge shortage of school places, it is vital we learn lessons from Burntwood.”
Prompted by this, and the fact that very little data is collected and fed back into government policy on school building, RIBA has recently published Better Spaces For Learning. The report uses the largest ever analysis of primary and secondary school buildings in the UK, a nationwide poll of teachers and extensive engagement with school building experts to illustrate how “good design can improve student behaviour and attainment, increase teacher productivity and make schools cheaper to run.”
With the government revealing that just 5% of the 59,967 school buildings across the UK are performing as intended and operating efficiently, the report makes a clear case for an urgent review of the current school building programme. RIBA has identified three key areas that should be prioritised:
- Improving lines of communication between schools, government and design and construction teams.
- Adopting a more flexible and case-by-case approach to the design of new school buildings.
- Taking a smarter approach to the specification of building management equipment such as heating and lighting systems.
RIBA believes these reforms will mean public money is better spent, children will reach their potential and teachers will perform more effectively. With an ever dwindling pot of money and a growing problem, a more efficient and effective system will be crucial if the government is to meet the challenges of the future. “This country is in the grip of the worst shortage of school places in living memory,” warns Duncan. “Our Better Spaces For Learning report highlights the vital importance of school design and how it affects the general health and wellbeing of their users, our children and their teachers. Every penny spent on schools must deliver maximum value for money. Award winning well-designed, successful schools with happy pupils and productive staff like Burntwood School in London shouldn’t be the exception, they should be the standard.”