Rebuilding our education system and spaces – Latest

Rebuilding our education system and spaces

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This week, we welcomed news that the Government is launching an ambitious schools investment programme, with £1billion to fund the first 50 projects in the new ten-year scheme and £560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively.

Investment will be targeted at those school buildings most in need of refurbishment in England, and will focus on greener, modern construction methods to help meet the UK’s net zero carbon target and boost the construction sector.

As part of our ETHICS framework, we have been working with educators and designers to identify issues in the current school system and explore practical solutions that could be offered by the construction industry. Looking at both education provision and physical spaces, we have outlined three principles to consider in the design of learning environments that are progressive, flexible and inclusive, and put young people’s development and wellbeing at the core.

Rebuilding our education system and spaces
Rebuilding our education system and spaces

1. Collaboration and stakeholder engagement

Our schools have changed little over hundreds of years. So how can we do better and create environments that stimulate intrigue and curiosity? The first step is to listen and learn from educators, young people, business leaders and other stakeholders. It is vital to identify the types of learning, skills and activities that will prepare children for a happy, healthy and productive life.

Marcus Orlovsky, founder of Bryanston Square, a social enterprise that champions innovation in the education system, encourages architects, engineers and anyone involved in school design to actually go into schools and teach a class: “Just pick up the phone, go and have a look, and run a lesson. Because often it's only running a lesson that tells you what's going on”.

Architects and other built environment professionals also need to pay closer attention to operational issues in schools, so that problems aren’t repeated elsewhere. Learning from successes and areas for improvement through in-depth post-occupancy evaluations is also an important step.

Rebuilding our education system and spaces
Rebuilding our education system and spaces

2. Education fit for the 21st-century

Making education relevant for the fourth industrial revolution calls for a curriculum that is broad and adaptable, with a focus on people, technology, skills and creativity. With at least 30% of jobs lost due to automation by 2040, it’s important to ensure the next generation of young people are educated in relevant ways and with cutting-edge technology.

Over the last decade, education has focused on technology application and computer-based learning, but we also need to promote a hands-on approach or ‘learning by doing’, and flexible, high-quality learning environments that stimulate intrigue and curiosity.

And while our creative industries contribute enormously to the economy, the current system often cuts back on subjects such as the arts, focusing on ‘core’ subjects. A more rounded and varied system will help to nurture the unique talents of our young people, and give them the opportunity to excel in the areas they are passionate about.

Rebuilding our education system and spaces

3. Inclusive design

Education must be relevant and accessible to all. Standardisation fails students and a school system based on cookie-cutter designs often disadvantages those individuals who don’t fit the traditional education models.

Truly flexible spaces should meet the day-to-day needs of teachers to create variety to facilitate group work, classroom teaching, independent learning, research, access to multimedia and more. This is vital to ensure that every pupil is able to thrive.

Jane Fletcher, Chief Executive of the Aldridge Education multi-academy trust spoke about the need for inclusivity at a recent event we hosted at The Building Society: “The most important thing for me is inclusion. It’s ensuring that what we're offering enables everyone to be able to engage, and accepting that people learn in different ways.”

Images of Ivydale School © Jack Hobhouse

Images of Ivydale School © Jack Hobhouse

The schools investment programme is a much needed intervention for an outdated system. To ensure that the funds are used to rebuild schools that are fit for the future, it will be important to incorporate long-term flexibility that will enable institutions to navigate and support quickly evolving technology, curricula, and the diverse needs of their pupils. Giving young people access to education and high quality spaces that nurture their talents and encourage them to succeed, will help us create a healthier, happier and more productive society.

For more information on Elliott Wood’s education work, you can view our latest projects here: www.elliottwood.co.uk/projects/education.

Visit the Education Design Unit website to find out about our partnership with Make Architects, Max Fordham and Gustafson Porter + Bowman - a cross-practice group established to revolutionise procurement, design and delivery in the education sector.