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Good design drives success

Tim Humphries, Education Architect at BDP, discusses how good design can deliver educational outcomes, enhance wellbeing, and limit costs

Posted by Alex Diggins | July 27, 2018 | Bricks & mortar

Built under the 21st Century Schools Programme, a long-term strategic investment in the educational estate in Wales, Monmouthshire County Council wanted an inspirational learning environment for their students. Their aim was for something that looked more ‘grown up’ - similar to contemporary Higher Education facilities - to prepare pupils for a modern, technology-rich learning experience.

Thinking, inside the box

BDP’s depth of experience in the design of schools allowed us to challenge the norm whilst meeting the standardisation challenges of central funding. We are also mindful that the way pupils learn is constantly evolving. Schools require an adaptable environment that enables them to change the way they teach and respond to the needs of their pupils. 

At Caldicot School, we designed for adaptability. All the classrooms not only have external views but also face the extensive shared, public ‘hub’ spaces. Classes have the ability to spill out and learning activities can take place in many different environments to suit different teaching needs.  This approach has been seen to have a positive impact on school staff’s productivity, with the most comfortable and well-designed schools demonstrating a 15% increase.

The central atrium is almost four storeys high, allowing light into the heart of the school, with balcony corridors overlooking an internal courtyard and learning resource centre. The public spaces are fun and exciting, but they are also useful providing for a wider range of activities. Teaching staff can gather different numbers of pupils together and shift the communication paradigm. It is far more responsive to the myriad of situations a school addresses daily.

At BDP we have delivered architecture that the students and staff enjoy and are proud of. It has been an enjoyable learning opportunity for all of us

Throughout the design process we liaised with pupils, teachers and parents to create a sense of ownership. The social and self-directed learning spaces around the atrium allow for the display of work or local imagery on the walls that pupils can identify with.

Design for wellbeing

Good design has been found to influence wellbeing through helping pupils and staff feel a sense of ownership and belonging to their school.  A growing body of research demonstrates wellbeing has a strong impact upon attainment, and pupils who spend time working on personal development achieved between 10% and 20% higher GCSE results than those who did not.

Equally, many teachers are choosing to leave the profession, quoting stress and overcrowding as key reasons behind their career change.  The engagement of staff through the design process brought a sense of anticipation and assisted in the change management necessary for running the new school.

Simon Kneafsey, Future Schools Programme Manager for Monmouth County Council, said: “We have here in Monmouthshire a strong educational vision and that’s to deliver sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in all our schools in the county to ensure everyone reaches their full potential.”

We are designing the neighbouring Monmouth School under the same 21st Century Schools scheme and that will be delivered in time for the September 2018 intake.  Monmouthshire County Council has allowed both schools’ educational aspirations to drive the delivery of exceptional learning environments. We, at BDP, have delivered architecture that the students and staff enjoy and are proud of. It has been an enjoyable learning opportunity for all of us.

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