May/June 2020

6 educatio n news REDUCING density in schools to comply with the new regulations to achieve the recommended 2m separation is enormously challenging in the short term, given the timescales. Bolt on classrooms or extensions are a solution but this may not be feasible everywhere, particularly on tight inner city sites. At this stage there is no confirmation of Government funding for expansion. Solutions for schools in the short to medium term could include more emphasis on open air learning, with pop-up light- weight structures installed outside to protect children from the elements. Inside, measures could be taken to reduce contact with surfaces such as doorless classrooms or “hold open” devices to doors where required to provide fire separation, says BDP. Whilst there is a range of possibilities for introducing separation, it’s important to be mindful of the ethos of the school environment and the need for social interaction, reducing isolation and the negative impact on mental health. More radical opportunities could involve repurposing underused space in the retail and office sectors, where demand is likely to be affected by the coronavirus crisis, or in the community, for example public libraries, village halls or community centres. Offices, for example, may offer the required IT infrastructure and flexible space which could be readily adapted to provide the teaching environment. All of these options will undoubtedly present challenges, whether it is location and transport, safeguarding, or suitable external play space, but these could be explored. Looking ahead to the longer-term future, Fiona Gwilliam, education lead at architects BDP in Bristol (above), said: “Depending on how long the impact of the coronavirus pandemic lasts, more open plan, larger teaching spaces, increased access to outside space, more open circulation, and sensor-led taps and toilet flushing may well become the norm in school design. “Many of the country’s newer schools have already been designed with flexibility and adaptability at the heart of their design approach to respond to changes to the curriculum and different teaching methods. We certainly place huge emphasis on this and expect to see it become more widespread across the sector in the future, so schools can respond effectively to crises such as this one. “For example, super-sized classrooms that can be divided by partitions to allow larger groups of children to benefit from the expertise of a specialist teacher will now be incredibly useful in helping schools comply with social distancing. Similarly, ‘presentation stairs’, typically stepped seats set within in an atrium space and designed for a range of purposes from assemblies to workshops, can now be used as additional classroom space to help spread children out across the school.” This approach was incorporated in BDP’s design for Monmouth and Caldicot Schools in Wales, where flexibility was at the core of the concept. The two buildings were based on a very similar template: their flexibility has allowed the two schools to deliver the curriculum in very different ways. How schools can adapt to resume teaching safely With schools facing an unprecedented challenge to adapt to social distancing measures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, architects at BDP consider what role design will play both now and in the future