When will all of our children and teachers have the learning environments that they deserve?

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12 May 2015 by Anne Heavey
Purposeful; Calm; Bright; Interesting; Clean. These words sum up the physical environment of both Stanley Park High and Springwell Learning Community.

Both schools were rebuilt under the Building Schools for the Future programme and relocated respectively in 2012 and 2011. The impact of these new buildings upon teaching and learning opportunities at both of these schools has been tremendous.

The teaching spaces are well planned and create ample opportunities for different types of learning activity whilst reducing awkward transition points. The corridors and communal areas are well designed, they allow for students and staff to move around the school easily and create opportunities for break out spaces. The lighting is carefully considered, this may sound trivial but the abundance of bright daylight and well thought out wall colours create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. The walls are covered in interesting and engaging displays, which present student work in a variety of formats and styles. These displays are beautifully presented and draw the eye, nothing looks tatty, or old, or irrelevant. Both schools are very clean, free from litter and free from graffiti. These are school buildings that our children are proud to be in, want to look after and ultimately do learn in.

The EFC (Excellent Futures Curriculum) learning studios at Stanley Park High were designed to that they offered a variety of different areas that could enable different teaching and learning activities; teacher led whole class discussion, presentations, group work or individual work. The displays were also a mixture of completed work, assessment information and “working walls”; spaces in which students could develop their work.

At Springwell the use of iPads, and other technology, to enhance pedagogy was particularly strong, a wide range of apps and websites are used to engage students and help them publish high quality work that blends a number of different skills. Self-marking quizzes were used to start lessons off with energy, and the finished product at the end of a piece of work could be a game, blog post or video produced using an iPad. In both schools it was very clear that the new learning environments and technology enhanced existing high quality teaching and learning approaches. Technology and glossy rooms cannot replace the teacher, but they can help the teacher to be more effective.

The new schools presented a blank canvas; both schools were able to create an environment which facilitated and enhanced their bespoke curricula. It is very clear that the vision and ethos in both cases was already well established within both schools. Having facilities and technology that enhance, rather than restrict, pedagogy appears highly beneficial to successfully functioning as a school.

The fact the some schools can operate in 21st century school environments whilst many others can’t has created a two tier educational system. Schools can literally be divided into the haves and have-nots. Thousands of teachers and children are expected to work in dirty, dilapidated and downright dangerous facilities. Classrooms can be uncomfortable, damp, cold and poorly served by technology. Would you be able to produce your best work in the conditions faced by so many of our teachers and children? Sat huddled up in a coat and gloves because the heating is broken, the ceiling leaks so you have to shut off parts of the room, the classroom is overcrowded, and the layout of the room means that only some people can read the board at the front.

It was abundantly clear that the students and staff in both of these beautiful rebuilds were proud of their school. The students felt valued and the bright and stimulating environment helped the students feel safe. If a student feels part of the school community, feels valued, feels safe, then they are far more likely to actively engage in their learning.

When the Coalition Government announced that they were scaling back and ultimately scrapping the Building Schools for the Future programme many children, parents and teachers were heart broken. School buildings are not everything, but a great school building will enhance teaching and learning. The Priority School Building Programme is not fit for purpose and has left many children without the facilities that they need to thrive. When will all of our children and teachers have the learning environments that they deserve?

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