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09 December 2011 @ 05:45 pm
Trends in School Design  
I read Trends in School Design entirely because it was written by my grandfather. It is a fairly slim volume published by Macmillan in 1972 as part of The Anglo-American Primary School Project. Small abuse the University of Liverpool's online access to JSTOR netted me Malcolm Seaborne's review* of A `Golden Age' of School Building? by Stuart Maclure which at least let me place Trends in School Design in some context.

My grandfather had worked in the Architects Branch of the Ministry of Education in the 1950s and 1960s. This coincided with an explosion in demand for primary school places and the resulting pressure to build new schools for modest cost. Following innovations in Hertfordshire a style of school building was championed (by, I get the impression, my grandfather among others) which relied on pre-fabrication and had an emphasis on informal interiors, with flexible use of space and a `domestic' atmosphere.

Generalising horribly this meant that primary schools stopped looking externally like this:

Tentatively identified as the primary school my grandfather (or at least his younger brother) attended

And began to look instead like this:

Finmere school, one of the case studies in Trends in School Design

And stopped looking internally like this:

And started looking like this:

Trends in School Design is primariy a collection of case studies. The designs for the building (or retrofitting) of seven schools are described in some detail complete with architectural drawings (of which the chief thing that leaped out at me was the description of toilets as `lavs' where I suspect, today, they would be labelled `WCs'). As such, its primary interest to me, forty years after it was written and not being an educator, architect or historian of either subject was the Introduction. My grandfather writes in a style which makes me think of the clipped enthusiasm and optimism of documentaries from that period, spoken in bracing tones with impeccable RP english. The formality possibly hiding the the liberalism (and in some cases management speak) being set out, for instance:

"A primary school is now seen as a market place of educational opportunities for the children, the variety of which is only matched by the variety of life which will be open to the present generation of schoolchildren. It is no longer a matter of designing classes of a given size, each occupying a separate room and following a clearly defined programme. Such an approach immediately limits the choices available to the separate classes, except at enormous cost. Architects should be designing for an ever increasing variety of interconnected activities, readily available to groups of children and their teachers for the exploration of the problems they set themselves."

Some of it expresses a vision which I suspect has long vanished under the national curriculum to whit.

"In Britain the children are exposed naturally to learning experiences, pursue work of their own choice, and are given help when they need it."

(It should be noted my grandfather wrote this before my sister decided that Mathematics was dull and successfully contrived to spend six months doing no mathematics at all in her primary school until my mother and the headmistress stepped in and intervened firmly in her "free choice" of study topics)

Seabourne notes that the Hertfordshire system was not carried forwards into the 1970s with much success, following further tightening of budgets and that `drabness' was not always absent from these buildings. However given the horrors of much post-war mass-produced building the fact that, as I understand it, the majority of these schools are still in use and serving communities today must mark them out as a success. The incredible optimism of a new dawn of education, in which children are free-ranging seekers of knowledge gently guided by their teachers in classrooms built to engage and inspire obviously became somewhat tarnished by its encounter with reality. That said, the primary school world my grandfather described seems far closer to primary education today (as I experience it through G) than it does to the rigid formality that went before, national curriculum notwithstanding.

*Malcolm Seaborne. A `Golden Age' of School Building? Oxford Review of Education, Vol 11, No. 1, 1985, pp. 97-103.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/57980.html.
parrot_knight: Boyandbearparrot_knight on December 9th, 2011 05:56 pm (UTC)
I learned about this trend at an early age. For the first four terms of my school life I attended this then-newish infants school, which was sited right next to this much older junior school, which by comparison looked very forbidding when I was five.
philmophlegm: Wrexham club shieldphilmophlegm on December 9th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC)
Very much the same for me.

Infants school: Exactly the sort of 60s-built building described above.
Junior school: Converted diamond-polishing factory originally built to train ex-WW1 soldiers in diamond-polishing, but closed soon after and converted into a school. Subsequently expanded around a central quadrangle with the three new wings being made out of actual wattle and daub.
louisedennislouisedennis on December 9th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
There was obviously pressure to retrofit buildings as well, if possible, but they clearly wrestled with high cielings, narrow corridors and `lavs' in the "wrong" places.
louisedennislouisedennis on December 9th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC)
If I understand matters correctly, Nottinghamshire was one of the counties in the forefront of the Hertfordshire System movement. One of the examples in my grandfather's book is from Stapleford in Notts, though most of the examples are from Oxfordshire. I assume familiarity had something to do with that although he was based in London when he worked for the Ministry of Education. However the book was written after he retired and moved to Oxfordshire.
Pollyjane_somebody on December 22nd, 2011 10:02 pm (UTC)
Other way round for me - my
First School was a pre-war building quite similar to the top picture, whereas the adjacent Middle School was a more modern (60s?) building. I thought the older building felt much more cosy and 'safe', while the newer building seemed big and stark and anonymous. Which probably suggests that whichever type of school one first experiences sets the tone for what feels 'right' and anything different seems threatening!

I note that inside, my First scool had certainly been well adapted with lots of bright primary colours, small group tables and little plastic chairs, and some good areas for things like water and sand play in the first year (equiv. to Reception/Foundation Stage 2.) The Middle School, on the other hand, was much more traditionally laid-out classrooms with rows of tables, but then we were older by then and doing different kinds of work. Secondary school still had the woodern desks, complete with ink-wells, for that matter, despite again being a relatively modern building - presum the council owned stacks of the things and could stick them into any schools!
Pollyjane_somebody on December 22nd, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC)
(My First School did actually teach me how to spell 'scool' correctly, oops.)
parrot_knight: Charles Iparrot_knight on December 22nd, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
I never got to the junior school, as we moved to Ponteland and I went then to a slightly older and grimmer first school, in the 1960s style but with more corridors and isolated cloakrooms and toilets. All my schools were built in the 1960s and 1970s with a reliance on cardboard walls, which meant that by the mid-1980s they were starting to fall apart (and in the case of the middle school it burned down).

Edited at 2011-12-22 10:50 pm (UTC)
louisedennislouisedennis on December 24th, 2011 08:37 am (UTC)
My secondary school still had the wooden desks in rows, I don't know if classrooms are still arranged that way at secondary. We should ask karicq, I suppose. I'm not sure about middle schools. My grandfather's book talks about a transition to formality, though it is very much focused on the ideas of flexible "domestic" spaces.
wellinghallwellinghall on December 9th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
I am rather in the "before" category ...
louisedennislouisedennis on December 9th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
I somehow doubt it. The period is roughly 1945-1973. Admittedly the peak year was 1968 (at a guess just as you were entering primary) with 837 new schools coming into use but 7,871 primary schools were built between 1947 and 1970 so the bulk of the building must have been before that.
wellinghallwellinghall on December 9th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
My memory of my primary school, at least, is that the exterior is very much like the first of your two pictures; and that the interior during my first spell there (1971-74) is again like the first of your two pictures. But I cannot speak for certain of how it actually was!
louisedennislouisedennis on December 9th, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
Well the first picture is of a primary school that is still in use. The money wasn't available to simply sweep away the old entirely. Interior-wise I don't know, since I'm no historian of teaching methods though I assume its easier to roll out a wisespread change in teaching practice over the space of a generation than it is to bulldoze all the buildings. I started primary in 1975 (I think) and it was very much like the lower picture but certainly by the last two years of prep/junior school (which I'm fairly sure is equivalent to Years 5 and 6 in modern money - i.e. the last two years of primary) we were sitting in rows behind desks.
louisedennislouisedennis on December 9th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
Also my grandfather's book was published in 1972 so he must have been writing it in 1970-71 before you started primary.
bunnbunn on December 9th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
I think it depends where the school was and how early reform hit it. The primary school in the village in Devon where I grew up is still externally more or less as it was in 1911, but looked more like photo 2 internally, whereas my private secondary school had wooden desks like photo 1 (which, I reflect, would have burned *beautifully*...) in 1982, and for all I know, still does.
louisedennislouisedennis on December 9th, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
It wouldn't surprise me at all if pre-national curriculum, reform wasn't very regional and a traditionally-minded head teacher could probably ignore all this "hokum" about exploration and choice.
bunnbunn on December 9th, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
Many of the normal rules seemed to be suspended for Shirwell school, which when my sister was there, had two classrooms, one full time teacher, and 13 pupils of all ages from 4-12... I kind of wish I'd had a chance to try it!