School buildings must provide opportunities for children to learn as well as being designed to be as long-lived as practicable

Richard Wheal

Back in the sixties and seventies, most school buildings were of a higher standard than the homes of their students. This sent a clear message about the importance society placed on education. Is this still the case the 21st century?

There are some 8.1 million people in education in the UK, with 20% eligible for free school lunches. Some 587 schools applied for the Priority School Building Programme monies; only 42 were awarded, but that is a good start.

I would argue that psychologist Abraham Maslow got it fundamentally right in the forties with his hierarchy of needs; well-fed, safe and valued children should be the first consideration, irrespective of the school building.

School buildings should lead to every opportunity for children to learn in diverse ways and they should be designed to be as long-lived as practicable. Then why are school buildings being designed on such tight cost constraints?

Life cycle analysis is an environmental systems analysis and accounting method for assessing the environmental impacts of any product or service over its lifetime. This might lead to a higher cost solution but lead to a lower running costs. Every school has unique requirements, depending on the location, socio-economics and demographics and the buildings need to accommodate this.

There are some excellent recent examples of school buildings that cater for the specific needs of the children and great staff, which provides a basis for trust and personal value. These buildings were not the cheapest option, rather the best option.

If a school is designed with low-cost in mind and a short life-time, there will be a debt to pay at some point later this century; surely we should be building a better future for children than currently planned?

Rick Wheal is a consultant at Arup