Schools will often be at the centre of a local community, yet teachers and pupils are typically the last to be consulted when it comes to the way their schools are designed and constructed. Yet that’s now set to change, thanks to an innovative new app.
Evidence shows that there’s a clear correlation between schools that are well designed and standards of pupil performance and behaviour. Good design alone won’t raise standards, of course – but poor design can have an actively negative impact on the quality of teaching, the aspirations and self-perception of pupils, and the sustainability of the school itself.
Demand for new schools is now at unprecedented levels, due to a combined nursery and primary pupil population that’s been rising steadily since 2009, reaching 4.6 million in 2018 (see psm-pp19).
As Rory McGrath, interim headteacher at Shacklewell Primary School in East London, points out, teachers and pupils currently play negligible roles in the process of creating a new school building: “In my experience, it’s common practice for educators to be last on the list of people consulted when new education infrastructure is being built.” This becomes even more significant when one considers the DfE estimates that around a hundred new and replacement schools are currently needed in the UK every year.
McGrath’s comments were made at an event organised by the tech-led architectural firm Bryden Wood, which was invited by the school to showcase its new Seismic School app to a group of pupils from years 5 and 6. The free app seeks to democratise the school design process by allowing a wider spectrum of community stakeholders – including teaching professionals, pupils, school governors and parents – to contribute in a creative way, while ensuring that their ideas are consistent with DfE spatial requirements.
“We’re at the forefront of a ‘Design to Value’ revolution in the construction industry,” says Jaimie Johnston, Bryden Wood’s head of global systems. “It’s therefore critical to us that anything we design is centred on creating the best outcomes for the eventual users and occupiers. We’re doing this in hospitals for a better patient experience, in prisons for rehabilitation, and in the education sector to foster greater community involvement.”
Designed to appeal to as broad a range of users as possible, the Seismic School app’s colourful and intuitive interface takes inspiration from popular games such as Minecraft and SimCity – younger users can even place a T-Rex or a Loch Ness in their designs.
One of the ultimate aims of the creators behind Seismic is to reduce the time it takes to create a fully-compliant school design from weeks to a matter of hours. “What this app has shown to both the children and I is that it’s now much easier than it would have been previously to get the people who are involved in the teaching to make decisions around spaces, shapes and areas for learning and play.” says Rory McGrath.
That’s a view echoed by one 9-year-old involved in the test user group, who pointedly asked, “Who actually goes to the school? It’s mostly children. So why can’t they design it?”
Well, now they can – while at the same time leveraging skills they use for play in the service of a construction project, and gaining insights into construction sector. A sector with a massive skills shortage…