As a school we were very keen to engage in a consultation process, taking into consideration the various stakeholders, prior to moving into the concept design phase. One of our organisational norms is ‘Valuing the Voices’ so it was only natural that we elicit the thinking of students, parents and staff prior to putting together a brief. We have also had the advantage of occupying the current buildings for the last two years and have gained a good idea of what aspects work well and where improvements could be made.
The benefits of a consultative, inclusive process leading towards the design are wide ranging. They include increased ownership by the community, increased ability for teachers to make best use of the spaces according to pedagogical intentions (Woolner, 2010). Research also highlights the benefits of engaging with student voice in terms of the conditions that they are learning in (Flutter, 2006).
It is important however that we don’t limit our thinking to what we already know. In terms of learning environments we don't know what we don’t know and the need for architects to expose us to new thinking and ideas is critical. This has to be matched with acknowledging the short time frame available to us to develop concept drawings. Ultimately therefore the consultation process needs to ensure that we present architects with desired qualities of learning environments rather than set plans.
Whilst acknowledging the work that the school's Establishment Board did in terms of the design, we see this as an opportunity to reflect not only what we have learned over the last two years but also the National and Global developments in thinking about Modern Learning Environments.
With that in mind we designed a consultation process to elicit reflections and ideas from all stakeholders. This comprised working with each of the Learning Hubs in turn, followed by interviews with a smaller group of students, a number of sessions with the whole staff together with a self-selected teacher focus group, and a group of interested parents. Parents who were unable to attend the session were invited to email responses in. A variety of methods of eliciting thinking and ideas were used, depending on the group.
Over the next few posts I'll outline the process of working with each of the groups and share some of the emerging themes.
Flutter, J. (2006). ‘This place could help you learn’: student participation in creating better school environments. Educational Review, 58(2), 183-193.
Woolner, P. (2010). The design of learning spaces. London: Continuum.