May 01, 2017 Last Updated 10:20 AM, Apr 28, 2017

The changing face of education buildings

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Philip Goldstone, Business Development Manager at Scotts of Thrapston talks to Public Sector Build Journal about the classrooms of tomorrow.

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Our schools are bursting at the seams. It’s a very real concern for councils right across the country: an ever-increasing number of pupils and a finite amount of space in which to house them.

While the system could be said to be just about coping at present – or surviving, at least – education chiefs have a fearful eye on the future. Last year the Office for National Statistics released figures demonstrating that more babies were born in the UK in 2011-12 than any year since 1972. A recent press article suggested that the number of pupils in England’s schools could boom by more than a million in just 10 years.

That would mean that by 2024, the number of school children will top eight million – the highest level in almost half a century.

Add to that increased immigration and it’s inevitable that the need for additional classroom space, particularly at primary school level, will increase once this new cohort progress from nappies to school uniforms.

Some councils have been able to juggle their finances to build new schools in recent years, but for others, the pot has run dry. For decades the immediate solution to space shortage has been portable buildings. It’s easy to see why. They are a quick-fix and can be craned into position in a matter of weeks.

But these buildings have a lifespan. They are (rightly) treated as temporary accommodation but too many schools across the country have modulars which have outstayed their welcome. They are typically there for an initial seven years with temporary planning permission …and then it’s rolled over for another seven years, and are treated as part of the school building and a permanent solution.

Many people will have negative perceptions of portable buildings having spent much of their school years being taught in quite miserable surroundings. A solution is required which allows schools to add much-needed teaching space without the huge expenditure of bricks and mortar – and here at Scotts of Thrapston we are seeing people turn to timber framed buildings as an alternative.

Our core range of single and double classrooms are constructed to meet the exact requirements of each client. Our single classrooms are designed for 30 pupils and have 60 square metres of teaching space, while our double classrooms are made for up to 60 pupils and have 120 square metres of teaching space.

The building can incorporate all the ancillary rooms for a self-contained teaching environment. These include entrance lobby and cloakroom, washrooms and disabled toilet, store room and classroom sink area. Outside the building, non-slip decking provides ramped access up to the entrance.

What we are increasingly finding is that school leaders are finally taking heed of the vast amount of evidence which points to children’s education being closely linked to their surroundings. Even the best teachers and the most motivated of pupils will struggle to reach their full potential in poorly thought-out, uncomfortable classrooms.

Learning in comfort

There are a few simple yet crucial measures that can be taken to ensure that the classrooms of tomorrow are inspiring. Ultimately, it’s all about comfort. First we look at the size of the room. Ofsted requirements state that a room for 30 pupils should be 57 square metres, but at Scotts we also consider volume. Higher ceilings in the classroom make the room much more spacious, and therefore comfortable and conducive to learning.

Another key factor is light. If you want high concentration levels, you don’t want direct sunlight beaming into the room. If that is the case, typically people will pull blinds down and you’re left with a room that is too dark. We advise on door and window positions based on a building’s orientation – avoiding light from south facing elevations which can result in uncomfortable solar glare in summer and western aspects, which can lead to unpleasant glare on winter afternoons.

Another important issue is the acoustics of the building. The Government’s Building Bulletin 93 has guidance on acoustic levels in schools and we fully embrace that. Our walls are drylined and we are careful about the materials we use so that sounds don’t bounce off them. This makes life considerably easier for the teacher when they are trying to project their voice to a class.

Temperature and productivity are intrinsically linked. We’ve all been in buildings which are too hot and stuffy and know the fatigue that can cause. Similarly, studies have shown that more mistakes are made when working in a cold room than a warm one. It’s crucial that adequate heating systems are put in place to ensure that the temperature remains at an optimum level.

All of these little things can add up to make a profound difference to the way teachers and pupils perform while in the classroom.

Energy costs are a big consideration for schools and any new structures or technology must meet strict guidelines for efficiency. Well insulated roofs, walls and floors provide a building ‘envelope’ that is efficient to heat whilst remaining cool in the summer.

Our classrooms are ready for use within just five months of pushing the button on the project. And, in fact, we’ve found that the construction process can be used as lesson in itself by getting children involved in the process. We can provide a viewing area so that pupils can safely watch, week by week, as the building rises from the ground. It might just whet the appetite and encourage the construction professionals of the future.

So many teachers do a fantastic job in our schools. It’s important that they are supported with well-designed, well-thought out buildings that allow them to flourish, even when a million more little ones are entrusted into their care in just a decade’s time.

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