People in Schools
Sustainable projects rely on teamwork as more risks and uncertainties are involved due to innovative technologies being used. For school projects, the situation is even more complicated, due to the wide range of stakeholders including children, teaching staff and headteacher, non teaching staff, parents, governors, funders and the wider community. During any construction or refurbishment of a school all stakeholders should be involved to ensure that changes made suit the way the school is expected to function and perform. Architects and other experts involved may have little understanding of the issues involved in the use of the built environment for teaching and learning.
Commitment of key staff is a significant driver in the successful transfer of a school through its needs over time. Woolner (2010) documented that ‘schools varied greatly in how they respond to the physical conditions available to them….’, however, it is not the ‘schools’ that vary but the people that run and use them. It is evident that a successful sustainable school refurbishment or new build has been led by someone with a very strong commitment to the cause.
The school building and how it is being used needs to be carefully recorded to reveal how it is performing. Accurate records need to be collected in order to provide suitable sustainable programmes for retrofit or a new build. Classification and data collection can be complex, for example, when considering ‘how old is a school?’ detailed records need to be obtained. The approach used during the School Building Survey of 1962 was that a school was deemed to be as ’old as the oldest main building still in use’. Those buildings are likely to be still in use today and if the same method was applied schools would be classified as built in the 1800s but only a small component of the building stock would be of that age. This is misleading for future planning as schools have been added to over time.
There is a need to evaluate each building once retrofit or construction is complete to learn from good and bad experiences. There is a need pass on information regarding positive and negative lessons learnt rather than only being discovered by chance.
The school as an educator
Sustainable development is included within the curriculum but it is usually integrated into other subjects rather than being taught as an individual subject. The school building and its environment can be used as tools to explain sustainable features and raise children's awareness of sustainability in daily life.
In a climate change speech in 2004 the then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that ‘….if the children can be directly involved with sustainable solutions, their understanding will be enhanced and prejudices expelled. Schools are also a point of reference for parents who can equally learn from the building, the environment and their own children.’
‘Schools have a special role to play in securing the future for young people. As places of learning, they can help pupils understand our impact on the planet. And as models of good practice, they can be places where sustainable living and working is demonstrated to young people and the community. Tomorrow’s solutions to the world’s problems may be found by the children in our classrooms today.’(DfES, 2006)
Exposed features in schools to illustrate sustainability
Running a school
Schools operational cost are significant and include maintenance of buildings, energy costs, services and staffing.
During construction or refurbishment whole life costs need to be considered. Often a more sustainable option can be more expensive during the construction period, but if this cost can be justified through reduced maintenance costs or reduced energy costs during the operation of the building, sustainable options become more attractive. For example, painted concrete blocks are used for wall surfaces in corridors in schools but these can quickly get damaged requiring frequent repainting. Alternatives such as polished blocks are more expensive during the construction phase but can require less maintenance and look more attractive therefore gaining more ‘respect’ from pupils, having social and cost benefits.