The risks of standardised school building design: beyond aligning the parts of a learning environment

Author(s): Woolner, Pamela; Thomas, Ulrike; Charteris, Jennifer

Date: 2021

Pages: p. 1-18


School design in any epoch reflects the collective values and attitudes of the time, and the political currents which shape perspectives. In this paper, we consider the risks associated with an English school’s rebuilding under the Priority School Building Programme, a standardised approach to school design, tending to result in ‘traditional’ instead of ‘innovative’ designs. At a micro scale, risk is affective, influencing educators’ ontological security. We also consider the macro-level risk of shaping citizens through education policy reflecting particular values. This case study, in a UK secondary school, explores theoretical frameworks that can be used to investigate risks involved in rebuilding projects. It is well established that misalignment between structural resources, approaches to pedagogy and social relations presents a significant risk for school redesign. Although the case study project was a relatively smooth transition at the local level, with alignment between set, epistemic and social design, we argue that there can be a philosophical risk associated with conservatism in schooling design and a focus on performativity and conformity. Giving consideration to policy-led schooling decisions, we argue for the importance of alignment between design elements in the context of wider consideration around the purposes of education.

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