Designs on the future

robot-scientist-150wWell-designed school buildings with high quality facilities, especially for ICT, are the key to delivering effective, personalised education.

The Government’s £48bn Building Schools for the Future program aims to help local authorities update and improve school buildings, or rebuild secondary schools if necessary.

Crucial to this programme is the need to integrate digital technology into school infrastructure.

It is controversial because it involves private companies providing funding, directly or through the private finance initiative.

The private finance initiative, developed to encourage private companies to put money into public sector projects, involves the state paying the company for providing services, often at high rates of interest.

The company has to meet targets and the quality of their work is regularly assessed – but there has been opposition to private involvement in education, not least because companies are not accountable to voters, as public sector organisations are.

As well as getting the funding right, the schools should be tailored to suit all the different groups who will use the buildings.

Although building new schools with the means to encourage personalised learning is a good thing, a one-size fits all scenario is not desirable.

We need to be braver, says Dr Stephen Heppell in a report into school design and learning for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment’s (CABE) Building Futures programme.

Pupils should be involved in school design, and schools should be community resources where older people can go and learn, too. They should be used by families and other groups of people at different times, which is at the heart of the extended schools programme.

The schools need to cope with not just today’s technology, but tomorrow’s as well. So the buildings need to be adaptable, and capable of opening up the world to teachers and pupils through the internet, specialised school portals and m-learning devices.

Delivering energy efficiency and environmentally sympathetic designs is also increasingly important.

So although the programme to upgrade and rebuild schools is a good start, it needs to be carefully focused, flexible and properly funded with independent control of standards at its heart to be really effective and take education forward.

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