Better Places To Learn

How do schools affect self-esteem, learning and and friendships?

Some schools are wonderfully modern and inviting environments to learn. Some are so good (like Burntwood School)  it must be hard to actually go home at the end of the day.

Then there are schools that just shouldn’t be allowed to open. These are the dilapidated, soulless and embarrassing buildings that are blots on the landscape.

Better Places for Learning, published by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) tells us that many schools are just not fit for purpose and because they are poorly built, dangerous and in a sorry state of disrepair. I shudder at the thought of some of the schools I taught in which were riddled with asbestos with damp and leaky classrooms.

This damning report has been buried by other news since it was published which probably isn’t surprising because there will be plenty who won’t want it to be talked about.

Thousands and thousands of schools desperately need an overhaul or just knocking down yet huge budget pressures and the worst shortage of school places in years are making this look like an impossible dream – the school estate is a ticking time bomb.

According to the National Audit Office in their report Capital Funding for Schools, at least £6.7 billion is needed to restore all school buildings to a satisfactory condition.

Every child deserves a place at a top mark school that is safe, good quality and fit for learning – but not every child gets it. Every teacher deserves a good place to work too. Yet, poor working conditions are contributing to the shortage of teachers. A poll carried out for the RIBA in 2016 found that those teachers who rated the quality of their building as poor were more likely to have considered quitting their jobs.

What does the report say?

Our research showed that an overwhelming majority of teachers believe good school buildings can reduce bullying and pupil misbehaviour. It also has a positive impact on school staff’s productivity, with the most comfortable and well-designed schools demonstrating a 15% increase.

The laughable thing is that cutting corners never works yet the government persists with doing things on the cheap. By investing in good school design running and maintenance costs can be reduced “in some cases by more than several times a teacher’s average salary a year”.

The report says that

Schools delivered by central government are not delivering the value for money they could if they embraced the principles of good design. This is preventing the available money in the pot from stretching as far as possible. The government needs to put good design at the top of the agenda.

How does the report define ‘good design’?

  • Good quality natural light, supported by good artificial lighting.
  • Pupil sense of ownership.
  • Simple, natural ventilation systems.
  • Thermal comfort and control over temperature.
  • An optimum level of visual interest in terms of design.
  • Flexible spaces.
  • Good acoustics.
  • Simple design that reduces reliance on complex mechanical systems.

If you look at these then this is very much what Professor Peter Barrett and his team have found to be the principles needed for clever classrooms to flourish. Find out more about their findings in my blog Does Your School Have Clever Classrooms?

Better Places for Learning tells us that our schools are far from being the best places to learn – in many cases they are damaging the health of all those inside and they are damaging children’s education.


The history of our school buildings has been explored in the Tes and the article by Simon Creasey is well worth a read.

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