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Building a future for Britain's education facilities

The demand for education facilities is on the rise and the need for cost efficient and sustainable product is greater than ever

Posted by Hannah Vickers | June 30, 2017 | People, policy, politics, money

By Joe Bell, Marketing Manager at Formica Group

According to the RIBA report, Building a Better Britain, of the 29,000 schools in Britain, 80% of the stock is beyond its shelf life. Adding further strain to the British education system is a sustained population boom. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) estimates that an additional 400,000 school places will be needed by 2018-2019. According to ‘The School Places Challenge’ report by Scape Group, more than 2,000 new schools will be needed to accommodate the increase.

Lack of school spaces is also an issue for students already in schools where additional places have been created to the detriment of existing pupils. A bid to accommodate additional pupils can result in overcrowded classrooms and the sacrificing of playgrounds, music rooms and library spaces. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found that almost two thirds of school leaders had to cut the number of courses on offer in 2015-2016, while a similar number had to increase class sizes. 

The Priority School Building Programme

The Priority School Building Programme (PSBP), established by the Government to tackle the existing build issue, has failed to perform. Figures indicate that of the 261 schools intended to be rebuild by 2017, fewer than 30 had been started in 2014. By 2016, a report showed the first phase of the PSBP was heading for an £178.2m overspend.

The new schools designed under the PSBP are 15% smaller than under the Government’s previous flagship school building programme. Smaller schools lead to more space restriction, which can increase a building’s wear and tear, resulting in rising maintenance costs. PSBP schools have approximately £1,450 to spend per square metre, which is not enough to build schools to last for the foreseeable future. Many fear the programme will result in PSBP schools requiring continual repairs and that some may need to be rebuilt.   

With PSBP schools being designed under tight budgets and the NAO warning that school budgets could be cut by £3 billion over the next four years, meeting the demand for school buildings is a challenge. Since schools will have to reduce spending by 8% per pupil by 2020, it is understandable that 92% of school leaders are dissatisfied with the Government’s funding of schools.

To make up the shortfall in funding while meeting the increasing calls for sustainable and energy efficient builds, architects and designers require innovative and cost efficient solutions

To make up the shortfall in funding while meeting the increasing calls for sustainable and energy efficient builds, architects and designers require innovative and cost efficient solutions. The specification of durable material that is easy to maintain is imperative to both the construction of new builds and to the renovation of existing schools.

Good school design

The RIBA Better Space for Learning report highlights that upwards of £150 million is wasted on the running and maintenance of school buildings each year. The report also states that good design is about creating cost-effective environments that enhance teacher-and-pupil-wellbeing. 

The specification of sustainable building materials that facilitate energy efficiencies and provide aesthetic options to inspire students and teachers is an attractive proposition for school leaders, building facility managers and architects and designers.

High Pressure Laminate (HPL) is a good example of a surfacing material that is extremely durable, making it an ideal option for the high traffic nature of the school environment. Easy to maintain surfaces like HPL also mean less ongoing upkeep is required, which in turn puts less strain on school budgets. The surfacing properties and versatility of application offered by HPL means it is suitable for all areas of the school environment, including exterior application.

As an external cladding system, VIVIX® by Formica Group, has an ease of installation that means it is easily applied to the outside wall of any building with a choice of fixing systems to suit any style and budget. Since the HPL surface requires no additional pre or post installation treatments, it means the façade is practically maintenance free. When used as part of a rainscreen ventilated facade system, cladding panels like VIVIX® can be combined with high performance insulation to positively contribute towards a building’s thermal efficiency.

Better learning environments

According to studies, 91% of school teachers in the UK believe better designed schools correlate with better grades and pupil behaviour. When the University of Salford conducted research on the influence of design on students’ learning and performance, it found colour could increase a student’s ability by as much as 12%.

Research on colour and its functional impact on learning suggests that the desired level of stimulation should be ‘mid-level’, meaning a happy medium between low and high brightness. One way to achieve mid-level stimulation is to employ calm backdrops featuring invigorating colour elements. 

The incorporation of biophilic design into classrooms is also thought to assist academic performance with studies suggesting an improvement of up to 10 to 14%, as well as reduced absenteeism by 3.5 days per pupil. In terms of the positive effect resulting from a biophilic influenced decor selection, the use of colours associated with the natural world and of natural aesthetics make for a stimulating design choice in the school environment. 

Today’s surfacing manufacturers are in a position to provide a range of colour options to cover any and all tonal requirements. Modern printing technology is able to create authentic looking decors but in materials better suited for the education environment. HPL, for example, can provide the appearance of stone, wood, metal and beyond but without the maintenance and cost issues of the genuine material. For individual requirements, bespoke designs can also be applied to a range of surfaces such as HPL to incorporate school branding, logos, inspirational images or to be used as signage around the school.  The flexibility of all the aforementioned designs means that consistency can be applied from the school gates through to the exterior and within classrooms. 

In the construction of new school buildings and the retrofitting of existing builds, cost efficiency is key to meeting budgets. The specification of versatile and low maintenance surfacing material that lends itself to the creation of aesthetically productive settings and sustainable builds will be pivotal in meeting the UK demand for education facilities.

It is also worth noting that UK manufacturers, who provide product specified for projects in the UK, also offer the advantage of reducing on material transportation and the overall carbon footprint of the build.

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