Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Ground Hog Day!

Last week I attended the building Future Education Conference at Park Plasa, Westminstrer, London. The whole event did have a ground hog day feel even though its been a number of years since I last attended the event and alot in the world has changed in that time.

Around 2003 we attended our very first BSEC (Building Schools and Education Conference) in Harrigate. This was the first time the event had been held and was in response to the growing market developing on the back if the governments building schools for the future programme.

Due to the increased capital spending the event grew to a huge size. It moved from Harrogate to Manchester and finally Excel in London.

At the time all of the discussion was about transformational education and we all experimented with new learning environments. The average school at the time was costing around £2200-£2500. Some even cost up to £3500!

With a new government and the cancellation of BSF this discussion hit a brick wall. We all enjoyed the debate about pedagogy and the influence of space. Some of these schools developed in this period are fantastic.

However the world has moved on. It is now clear the money wasn't their and we were all living the dream. We have now bumped back down to ground.

After a very quiet few years there is a new policy direction for developing schools. However we now have a much reduced budget. We have a maximum of £1450 per square meter

What was amazing about BFE was the fact that some of the same characters were there saying the exact same things. The world has changed but they seemed to be oblivious and were living in their idealistic bubble. It seems that architects are the worst offenders of not teaching any cognicence of the world at large.

The discussion about how we shouldn't deliver these sub standard spaces for out children continue and I couldnt help but think here we go again.

I am sure the £1450 school would be a much appreciated by the student and staff in the leaky 1960s clasp building.

The discussion moved to the the elephant in the room as it was referred to. The reduced cost and the link between attainment and space. This has been an ongoing debate and as I see it neither side has any research based evidence which is conclusive.

My view is derived as a parent, an architect and a taxpayer. I don't believe BSF provided value. It provided profit for consortia and nice projects for designers.

The reality is it is not the space which has the greatest effect on learning. In reslity the environments influence is actually very small.The elephant in the room for me is the fact that that learning is mainly affected by the quality of teaching. We have some fantastic teachers in this country but we also have too many who are not motivated or are totally committed to teaching young people.

I think the buildings are obviously important and a new school can give a shot in the arm to any team. The fact that it is new, doesnt leak and provides the right light levels and tempersture are sufficient to make an

The priority has to be leadership within schools and the quality of teaching.