Estelle Morris gives top marks to a much-improved Birmingham primary school, but thinks the designers of the Institute of Education deserve a ticking off
The current school rebuilding programme is allowing architects, teachers and others to transform intimidating or unstimulating learning environments into welcoming places that feel very different to the schools we knew.
An early example, in my former constituency, is Cottesbrooke infant school in Yardley Road, Birmingham. Unhappily situated on a cramped site next to a main road, the lack of space meant it was an unwelcoming school before it was rebuilt at the start of the decade.
Its new design would not necessarily be my favourite on other sites but it sits perfectly here. It has a lot of light, with glass from top to bottom through much of it (although that can make it difficult to hang children’s work). It has a lot of storage space and has provided teachers with a staffroom worthy of one of our most important professions.
Working with staff, the architects designed classrooms that suit class teaching and allow children to sit in small groups, or even by themselves. They have also mitigated the worst effects of that troublesome road. You walk from a narrow, noisy pavement into a beautiful reception area, and the school wall and gate are a magnificent statement that an important building sits behind them.
I am sad to say that my least favourite building is the Institute of Education in central London. I admire the institute’s work greatly. I have had stimulating and enjoyable meetings in its gorgeous lecture theatre but the approach to its sixties concrete exterior is always dispiriting. What’s more, it seems out of place in a part of London particularly full of character.
Estelle Morris is a former education secretary, life peer and chair of the Great Schools Inquiry