Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter and stay ahead with the latest news in edtech
Craig Smailes

Future proofing schools

Craig Smailes says school buildings need to cope with growing capacity needs

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 25, 2016 | People, policy, politics, money

There aren’t enough places in the UK’s schools. A corollary to the housing crisis, the impending shortage of schools places increasingly threatens to jeopardise standards of education: official figures anticipate that by 2023, an extra 900,000 pupils will have joined England’s schools, bringing the gap between demand and supply for school places to breaking point. This calls for swift and innovative action to create fresh dynamic space, not just in primary schools but increasingly at the secondary level as the population bulge moves upwards. A new generation of future proofed schools is needed, able to cope with the fresh tide of pupils, while also holding up to changing needs and forms of education in years to come.

Changing demographics are the force behind the schools crisis. A mismatch between the supply and demand of school places looks set to rise for years to come, when the system’s capacity is already stretched. London boroughs alone are facing a shortage of 118,000 primary and secondary school places up until 2016/17. In tandem with this shift, educational practices are in constant flux. Just as static, offline classes are a thing of the past, so new developments in technology and teaching styles will demand flexibility in the design of the classroom. Although we cannot expect perfect foresight from those who procure and design our schools, incorporating considered flexibility in every aspect of a building can vastly improve its preparedness for the next decades and build-in significant long term economies.

A first step is to make use of designs that leave open the possibility of simple logical extension, to build spare capacity into the system that can be tapped without recourse to lengthy complicated new build projects. Here, lessons can be drawn from elsewhere in the public sector. One of Kajima’s recent projects, Bicester Community Hospital, factored in the anticipated pace of local population growth and the lack of alternative community healthcare to deliver a building flexible for the future. In practice, this was addressed through foundation solutions and M&E installations allowing for simple additions and refurbishments with single storey elements able to be increased to two storeys if required in the future. Transferring these same techniques to school masterplans and construction would ensure that local under-capacity can be remedied more swiftly than through developing entirely new sites.

With pressures mounting on schools to accept pupils in numbers that would impact class dynamics, it is clear that new investment in schools, and new types of schools, are urgently needed

Fluctuations in population and corresponding changes to the demand for school places can also be addressed through the use of modular building, which has already revolutionised sectors such as student accommodation. Such techniques can delivery projects in record times reducing the key resource – time.

Attention should be paid to exploring options for evolving use, and importantly avoiding succumbing to the latest design trends is a good place to start. Simple design, far from being dull, allows for multiple configurations as opposed to more elaborate bespoke setups that may constrain educators’ options. To reap the rewards of simple design, however, make it flexible: opt for customisable internal layouts and mobile furniture to create dynamic multi-use spaces in which a traditional class plan can be repurposed for team exercises or debating sessions from hour to hour.

Above all, let technology do the work. Where possible, we should also strive to conceive centrally managed systems equal to generating consistent and harmonious environmental conditions, so that temperature, humidity and light are all conducive to optimal learning.

The challenge to the UK’s schools is the greatest seen in decades. With pressures mounting on schools to accept pupils in numbers that would impact class dynamics, it is clear that new investment in schools, and new types of schools, are urgently needed. These should be designed with further extensions in mind to build spare capacity into the system, while not limiting future options by embracing passing architectural fads. With the right approach to construction, bringing in modular and off-site techniques where necessary, it is absolutely possible to bring ambition and quality design to the task of re-inventing and future proofing our schools.

Craig Smailes is head of business development for Education at Kajima Partnerships.

Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter and stay ahead with the latest news in edtech

Related stories

UK construction activity moves beyond the capital

Covered dining area a hit at West Yorkshire high school

Construction in a post-Brexit world

Market place - view all

Portable Facilities

Helping you provide outstanding learning environments by upgrading ...

Britcab

Need a portable cabin or modular building?

We sell and hire ...

Interface

Interface is a global leader in the design and manufacture of susta...