Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Balconies, stairs and ... can't we trust the students?

Bridge Academy, Hackney
Talking to a couple of educationalists recently, the subject got onto balconies and stairs in schools and our common experiences of a tiny minority of staff in a number of school early design meetings stating that you should never have stairs, balconies or bridges in any school as the students would all: fall off, or, hurl bags, people and other random objects off them. Those same people always go onto note that no one else has students quite as bad as theirs. (no matter where in the country they are!)
Interestingly during design sessions with students from the same schools, these features are never an issue -in fact they always like them and much prefer them to narrow dark corridors, hidden stairwells with no sightlines and no opportunities for passive supervision.
Students seem to manage at home with stairs and landings, in blocks of flats, in shopping centres when congregating with friends with zero supervision and in other places without mass injury, mayhem or significant problems.
There are now scores of schools opening up with all these design features, nearly always with no issues to match the doom and gloom sayers. Where there have been issues, often it has been a management issue rather than a design issue. Why would you want to have narrow corridors, no visibility and small enclosed spaces?
One major driving force for the numbers of these features, of course, is raising the amount of natural daylight to comply with the increasingly strict design regulations, hence the number of atriums (atria??) and sky lights.
New school designs are frequently creating much more professional business like spaces, and these are really appreciated by students, staff, parents and the community alike. The number of times I have heard students and parents say that a new building does not look like a school but rather a professional workplace or office environment is a real positive as far as I am concerned. That is as long as it reflect learning, celebrates students work and is welcoming to all. The business is learning after all - but now with BSF, at least it is being done in increasingly well designed and well built environments.

Hale Wood Centre of Learning, Knowsley

Leigh Technology College, Dartford


Anonymous said...

Never let some kids go near a balcony. Never let some kids cross the bridges. Never let ... etc.
You know when you see a smashed bus-stop, you realise that it was one idiot out of the thousands that walked past it the previous evening. But, it is a smashed bus-stop and it will cost us all to repair it.
Well, unfortunately, there is probably one idiot in every school. And, because of these really effective truancy sweeps, there is also a group of kids who just don't want to be there. I find them a real challenge.
I hope that these fantastic new surroundings will be the 'third teacher'(?) that you mentioned. I also hope that whatever happens in these new centres, it is told truthfully so that we know how it's going.
From your inner city teacher who has to face the real world of teaching every day ... and bizarrely is quite looking forward to the first week in September.
(Gosh, maybe I'm the one idiot in this school!)

Gareth Long said...

Thanks for your post and good luck for a really good term!

The question you raise though is should we not design in these features due to just one/two students? These features are in increasing numbers of schools, often in very challenging areas and all seems to go quite well.

Thee is increasing feedback that these modern open professional learning environments are having a very positive impact on learning and atmosphere not just of the students, but also staff and the community at large.

And equally, if there one or two challenging students then the view is clearly be that even if they had more 'traditional' facilities there would still be issues and many more of them with hidden stair wells, hidden toilets and narrow dark corridors. No one would want to go back to those, surely?.

And to reassure you, for the over quarter of a century I was in some very tough schools, I always looked forward to going back -in fact I still miss it at times.