Improving the School Environment
A Design-Led Approach involving Pupils and Staff
This idea is for School Managers who wish to carry out curriculum
development in one or more subject areas whilst at the same time
improving the teaching and learning environment. The approach can
be used as a stimulus to achieve a number of internal organisational
objectives and can lead to the enhancement and development of other
external links and networks.
Continuous improvement of both the fabric of the school and its
curriculum is the principle behind the approach that needs to be
sustained and be incremental through School Development Planning.
The programme of activities described in this paper was originally
conceived within the format of a concentrated week of activities.
This concept of Arts Weeks, Science Weeks etc is well established
in schools, and seems appropriate for this particular programme.
However, there are no reasons why the programme couldn’t
be scheduled over a term, in a subject area. The content could
be easily slotted into a number and variety of National Curriculum
subjects by individuals and groups who wish to undertake the exciting
prospect of curriculum development using the immediate surroundings
of the school. The approach is designed to work in any school and
could be used as a means of drawing upon the rich expertise available
from outside of the school. It also thus offers opportunities for
promoting and demonstrating examples of lifelong learning.
At the heart of the idea is a programme of activities based on
pupils observing, recording and evaluating a wide range of aspects
of their school’s buildings and grounds. This leads to the
identification of a specific design or problem-solving exercise
from these surroundings.
It is summarised by the diagram a - Programme Menu for Built Environment
Activity Week* – where Core Activities, Base Topics and Additional
Topics are connected by pathways for learning and deeper understanding.
Subject abbreviations are contained in boxes. Hence an exploration
of C5, Features of Rooms can provide opportunities in English and
Design & Technology, along with others depending on interests
and expertise. Work from this starting point can lead onto opportunities
for study of B13 / 14 / 15 / 16, which in turn lead onto studies
in the areas represented by A5 / 6 / 7 and so on.
*A COPY OF THIS MENU CAN BE OBTAINED FROM BUILDING EXPERIENCES
The Menu offers an easy guide through a design-led exploration
of a building. It illustrates the connectedness of form and function,
the impact of these on activity and, how we feel and relate to
our surroundings. It offers an approach that identifies opportunities
for design solutions that can then be the focus of activity for
The Week of Activities is designed to introduce pupils to a wide
range of aspects of the built environment through the exploration,
in detail of their own buildings and grounds. Such an exploration
will include looking at the structures and materials used, how
elements of the building are designed to function in a number and
variety of ways, how to make use of models and plans, how spaces
are used for different activities, how they are fitted out and
This carefully structured exploration of a familiar environment
builds upon what pupils know and can already do and can foster
a greater awareness, a sense of belonging through participation
and hence the likelihood of a greater sense of responsibility for
As a result of the Activity Week opportunities for design solutions
as diverse as the redesign of a school-entrance hall, developing
a Pupils Pack for Newcomers or coherent school-signage might be
Where this Programme has been implemented it has followed the
An initial consultation with the architect and the Senior
Management Team. This provides an opportunity for highlighting
aspects of the school’s accommodation that might benefit
from a fresh design-led approach. It can also provide the starting
point for consideration of how the approach can be integrated
into the School Development Plan.
An INSET session for staff, providing a briefing session for
the Activity Week.
Implementation of the Activity Week
Follow-up, including exhibition / celebration of design solutions.
Prioritising through School Development Planning of design
Their implementation / monitoring / evaluation
………with all of the above as a continuous,
incremental cycle of school improvement.
It is envisaged that once a school begins operating using the
sort of approach advocated in this paper, it will carry on examining
itself with a view to self-improvement.
The programme described above has been developed by Annette Hards,
an architect based in Kent. She has drawn on her experience as
an architect, mother of school-age children, Parent-Governor and
provider of educational opportunities for both pupils and staff,
to devise this design-led approach to school improvement. The programme
has been supported by Kent Education Business Partnership, Kent
Advisory Service and the Construction Industry Training Board Curriculum
Annette Hards, The Hards Partnership
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