“Our children deserve the very best learning environment that the education system can offer.” (p. vii)

This might seem an uncontroversial statement for Baroness Andrews to include in the foreword to Elain Harwood’s book on the changing forms of school buildings.  However, the following sentence indicates that such a belief is not a given, but a political commitment, as Andrews goes on to say:

“This view is reflected in the Government’s major programme to rebuild or refurbish England’s school buildings over a ten to fifteen year period” (p. vii)

This is reference to the previous Labour administration’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Thus, given the halting of BSF Elain Harwood’s book was almost out of date the moment it was published in 2010.  This fact too, highlights that the design, structure and form of school buildings is not random, but is shaped by a socio-political and economic context.

Harwood refers to the shaping influence of context on school building design throughout history.  It is understandable that she does not go far in this regard, (it is a brief guide to school architecture and listing after all) however, there is enough to whet the appetite and appreciate why a particular school building takes the form it does.

The section on comprehensive schools is rather confusing, referring as it does to the building of secondary modern schools, and, although many became comprehensive schools, the discussion in this section is not sufficiently developed. The contemporary significance of the section on prefabricated school buildings was probably not realised at the time of writing the book, but, the publication of the  Review of Education Capital gives immediate relevance to this topic. The design, structure and form of schools will continue to be shaped by the context in which they exist.  Whether school architecture will be motivated by a desire to give children the “very best learning environment that the education system can offer” is another matter.

England’s Schools: History, architecture and adaptation is published by English Heritage.

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