Is your school drab and boring? Fancy scrapping the whole thing and redesigning it yourself to make it bright and funky? Nancy Durrant visits two schools where the pupils have done just that …
Oi, you at the back! Here's a question: Ever wanted to bulldoze your school? Well, now the government actually wants you to. Finally, the suits have realised what schoolkids could have told them all along. If your school is dull and miserable, you will be dull and miserable, won't want to learn or even go to school at all – and that just doesn't work.

Luckily, a change in the way money is invested in schools means loads of money (we're taking billions here) is becoming available for rebuilding. And not a moment too soon – there are about 18,000 primary schools and 3500 secondaries in this country, including special needs schools. But six in every seven of those were built more than 25 years ago – and most are now reaching the end of their design lives (how long they were supposed to last for in the first place). Also, the education system has changed rapidly and these tired old buildings are no longer good enough for modern learning.

Of course, to those of you flaking out in an overheated maths class or lugging your straining schoolbag all over the building, this is painfully obvious. It's also lucky, then, that for the first time your voices are beginning to be heard. Projects and initiatives are cropping up throughout the country to do just that. And although it is early doors, the most successful rebuilding projects seem to be the ones that include design ideas from the pupils. After all, you're the ones using it!

The kids got very excited when they saw the images and they had a lot of opinions about the colours and textures

Samir Pandya

We weren’t asking the pupils to be designers – we were just asking them for their insider information

Alex de Rijke

PRIMARY COLOURS: King’s Avenue School, Clapham, south London

King's Avenue used to be your average primary school, but following a major overhaul it's now a “Centre of Excellence for the visually impaired” – which is great news for the unusually high number of kids with poor vision that go to the school. How it started
The mission was to revamp the original 1960s building by remodelling and upgrading the insides of the classrooms. This would involve completely rebuilding the entrance block and converting a two-storey building to house a nursery. Two new extensions were also needed to provide eight additional classrooms. Giving the kids their say
As most of the pupils at the school are very young, it was a real challenge to get them involved in the design. The architects at Shepheard Epstein Hunter took the drawn up plans into the school and showed them to the kids. Samir Pandya was on the design team. "The kids got very excited when they saw the images," he remembers, "and they had a lot of opinions about the colours and textures." Then to get the pupils really involved in the actual building of the school, the architects asked them to help design the play area. The outside walls were rendered and the kids attacked it, leaving prints from hands, leaves and fossils (lent by the Natural History Museum) in the still-soft surface. Glowing reports
The new building work has changed the whole impression of the school from the outside – using colour and striking zinc chimneys to give the whole place a much funkier feel. Inside, a wide variety of techniques are used to make the whole building more accessible for children with poor vision. The general level of daylight in the school has been improved by lighting new internal corridors with rooflights, inserting windows into the partitions between classrooms and corridors and finishing the corridors with glazed doors to the outside. The new wings have large windows and small low-level windows which give child-size glimpses of the garden. Colour is used throughout the school to help children to find their way around. A continuous coloured stripe runs along the flooring to lead children through the school and walls have been painted in a range of bright colours, including bright purple for the new reception area, and chrome yellow on the doors. The finished building is really inspirational – the pupils liked it so much that they even wrote and recorded a song called "Our Beautiful School". If only all schools could be designed like this …

SECOND TO NONE: Kingsdale School, Southwark, south-east London

The old Kingsdale was pretty shabby. Built in the 1950s, it was in a real state of disrepair - and exam results weren't great. But now Kingsdale is being transformed into a shining example of 21st-century architecture – and results have gone through the roof. Not-for-profit company School Works helps design funky, inspiring schools that pull not just architecture and construction but also teaching and learning firmly out of the 20th century. The people behind the project believe working together is the key - not just the council and the school board, but all who use the school, most importantly the pupils. Getting the school involved
So how did they do it? To find a designer, School Works ran a competition asking architects to show how they might work with the school community. The winners, from London firm de Rijke Marsh Morgan, involved every pupil and member of staff in developing the design. "We weren't asking them to be designers," explains Alex de Rijke, who led the architecture team, "we were just asking for their insider information." In one exercise, they handed out photographs of school spaces: a classroom, a corridor, toilets, the playground and so on. Then they asked them to change or criticise it. One idea was a corridor with the walls removed so that you could see what people were doing in class. Another had laptops in the corridors and open spaces. Top marks goes to …
The new ICT rooms are the biggest success. "Absolutely everyone wanted access to computers," Alex explained. Before, the suite had consisted of four rooms and a corridor - Alex and his team tore down the walls and turned it into one space. Now the suite boasts a large island unit in the middle, which takes care of all the technical needs, and moveable dividing walls that disappear into the central island when they're not being used. To help teaching, new good quality and adjustable furniture was also introduced and the whole feel of the room was transformed by a ceiling and floor built to reduce sound, air-conditioning and improved light levels. And did it work? Alex says: "It's been so successful, the only problem is keeping people out, because all the school wants to be in there all the time!"

New school rules

Pupils’ design ideas from both schools:
  • put a wide yellow strip along corridors to help the visually impaired
  • colour-code walls to “zone” the school into different areas
  • create an “art wall” with handprints and objects embedded into it
  • set up a video camera for pupils to record their ideas
  • hand out photos of the existing building for students to criticise
  • knock down walls to create more open spaces
  • use moveable dividing walls for flexibility
  • put sound reduction in ceilings and floors
  • put laptops in the corridors
  • invest in good quality, easily adjustable furniture