Best Practices in Educational Facilities Investments

Devonshire Primary School, Blackpool, UK-England

Exemplary design categories: green school, procurement approach, school/community regeneration, special needs provision

How the facility meets the needs of education and communities:
The design for the school was the fruit of a theoretical research project commissioned by the UK Government called "Building Schools for the Future: Exemplar Schools". The UK Government commissioned eleven design practices to develop theoretical model ‘Exemplar Schools’ each tailored to a specific (notional) setting, in this case, a generic, reconfigurable, ‘kit of parts’ approach on a tight urban site. Set on an urban site in North Blackpool – an area of high social and economic deprivation – the Council resolved to build a beacon primary school as a centre piece of their regeneration strategy, demonstrating their faith in the power of education a significant tool in the regeneration of local communities.

Christened the “Beehive School”, the generic multi-level school is orientated around an internal street from east to west, so that the learning houses face north, benefiting from good day lighting but not overheating, and the play decks face south, where they benefit from the sun but also provide shelter and shade when required. The building is ‘stratified’ in section such that all administration, community facilities, early years and whole school ‘social’ spaces (hall/ dining & LRC) are on the ground floor. KS1 (years 1, 2, 3) classrooms are on the first floor , KS2 (years 4, 5, 6) classrooms are on the second floor. The design allows for community and parent access to early years and community spaces throughout the day and ‘out of hours’ to facilitate extended school use and the use of the school’s communal facilities as a community hub. The configuration of KS1 and KS2 spaces shared SEN facilities at the heart of the plan where they are highly accessible, but also benefit from a degree of privacy – so SEN can support mainstream teaching in adjacent KS1/KS2 class bases. External (elevated) ‘play decks’ are configured at levels 1 & 2 immediately adjacent to the KS1 and KS2 class bases. These provide weather protected semi-external play space for year round use, as well as providing an extended learning resource and breakout space immediately adjacent to KS1 and KS2 class bases. The roof of the main hall is also fully accessible as a landscaped technology garden.

The building was designed to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating. The building is constructed using exposed concrete soffits to provide thermal mass to assist with temperature regulation. The building is orientated at right angles to a busy main road. Road noise necessitated a mixed mode mechanical ventilation solution to address acoustic requirements. An energy efficient mechanical vent system is provided with heat recovery. User controlled openable windows have also been provided on north and south elevations to permit cross ventilation when required. Other sustainable features include sensor controlled low energy lighting, rainwater harvesting, child friendly, electronic ‘environmental Aawareness’ panel giving weather/ temperature and energy usage information, sited in the school’s main circulation space, and tech-deck ‘science garden’ to promote interactive lessons and bio-diversity.

The innovative learning environment has allowed the school to teach and manage its learners in new ways. The highly accessible ground floor ‘street’ which links the school’s communal spaces has facilitated the extension of the school day, which now runs from 8.00am – 5.30pm, providing breakfast and after school clubs. The proximity of the play decks to every classroom has allowed teachers to manage their days more flexibly, with short, spontaneous ‘brain breaks’ taken as and when the teachers see fit. The small group rooms, sited between each classroom, have allowed more flexible teaching, with TAs leading guided learning sessions with smaller groups of learners, while larger group teaching continues in the main classrooms. Toilets usage is also managed more flexibly, with children using the toilets (which are sited immediately next to the classrooms at every level) on a ‘need to go’ basis. This has completely eliminated the behavioural issues often associated with toilets in primary (and secondary) schools. Security has also been improved. The children now have a far greater sense of security, both in the playground and in their elevated position on the play decks.

Involvement of users and the local community in the planning and design process:
The design was developed through extensive consultation with the local authority, local politicians, the school leadership, the school children and local community. As well as extensive discussions through facilitated workshops, a 3-day public exhibition and presentation was organised with models and drawings to stimulate and solicit comment from the local community.

Activity Areas: A two form entry (2FE) 420 pupil primary school with an early years unit (Nursery & Reception) and additional community and SEN (special educational needs facilities).

Project costs: GBP 6,500,000.00

Source: Submitted to OECD for "Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011" in 2010

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User perspectives (1)

Standards of attainment have risen since the new school was opened. For instance, there has been a measurable improvement in the KS2 SATS in both English and Maths. Attendance is also up, with an improvement from 92.3% to a current level of 94.6%, which exceeds the school’s targets set by Ofsted. The school received a visit from Ofsted soon after it opened, and commented that a: "harmonious and vibrant learning community had been created and that pupils have positive attitudes. They look forward to coming to school, enjoy learning and feel safe and well cared for. Behaviour is good. Pupils are friendly and courteous" and concluded that the school was "a very happy place where learning is fun".

Images (5)

Drawings (3)

Ground floor plan (Registration required)
Credit: BDP
Section AA (Registration required)
Credit: BDP
Location plan (Registration required)
Credit: BDP