KEY CHANGES THAT TRANSFORM SCHOOLS
Having worked with many education establishments from schools to universities, here Adam Atkinson, SoVibrant’s creative director and education sector specialist, shares his recent experiences of delivering change that’s helped to transform primary schools and his thoughts on how to create outstanding learning environments.
Make improvement plan budgets work much harder
Many schools have an improvement plan in place with associated budgets allocated. By taking a creative and holistic approach to a school’s brand, strategic vision, interior and built environment, budgets can be made to work much harder, ensuring every project maximizes the opportunity to consider all of these key factors.
With diligent planning and creative expertise schools can be remodelled, often without unnecessary building work.
Our experience indicates that by connecting a school’s strategic objectives to its pedagogy, curriculum and personality, it is possible to deliver a better learning environment; one that engages, excites and motivates school leaders, teachers, staff, students and communities, and ensures a clearly communicated vision and identity. Other equally important outcomes such as self-confidence, well-being and collaboration can be achieved, as well as improved staff attraction and retention.
Create a brand that inspires inside and out
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is an idiom that remains a strong message, especially in today’s society. However, by presenting your school with an individual identity or ‘brand’ that aligns the school’s strategic objectives, pedagogy, culture and physical environment under one cohesive narrative, a unique focus is created that differentiates from surrounding schools and supports both internal and external communication – ensuring everyone understands what makes your school special.
Helping to tella school’s story visually, verbally and throughout the school physically, is typically underpinned by the development of a set of shared values which can be brought to life visually and meaningfully. These are developed to be completely bespoke to represent each school’s culture and priorities.
Improvements that deliver stimulating and safe educational settings
Many schools expand over time and inherit a mix of old and new buildings. This brings with it maintenance issues and challenges when it comes to improvement.
By thinking about the school as a whole, areas can be redefined to maximise the use of precious space. Using our planning expertise, we’ve helped many schools to identify simple changes that improve the way teaching and learning spaces function, especially helping to promote personalised and collaborative learning opportunities. Often these light touches are the most impactful.
If structural work isn’t feasible introducing cleverly designed learning pods or dens might be a good alternative. We’ve used this type of installation to provide a wide range of inspiring learning environments for one-on-one or small group working.
Creating a motivational environment that reinforces the school’s vision, values and ethos using wall vinyls and bespoke graphics also helps to personalise spaces – especially when complemented by carefully selected interior products such as lighting, the installation of height appropriate furniture and suitable yet interesting flooring; all helping to engage the children further and make spaces in which they enjoy spending time.
Clear signage and wayfinding improves flow and behaviour
Make the student and visitor experience equally important. Does your school stand out and is it signposted clearly? Using your school identity to inform the signposting design continues the influence of your school’s core values throughout the school, inside and outside. Good signage will help guide visitors, parents and the wider-community around the school, to key entrance points and will make the right first impression
Simplify navigation where possible to create a natural and fluid movement pattern in and around the school buildings. Incorporating school brand iconography, colours and values to help link corridors, classrooms, library and dining areas, office accommodation and front of house areas like the reception, can make a real difference.
Client feedback has shown that both behaviour and respect for school environments improves as a result.
Enhancements to the outdoor landscape and access routes used by parents might also provide opportunities to communicate and connect with them, and encourage stronger relationships between school and home.
Improve the visitor experience
Most visitors to a school will start with the reception. I believe it is important to create an area that presents the school’s identity and vision clearly.
Introduce the school’s colour palette through the décor, apply graphics and brand iconography to personalise and promote school values, and use technology to deliver insight into the kind of great work and teaching that happens within school.
Having a space for the meeting and greeting of visiting parents, governors or VIPs with a clearly defined waiting area is also helpful. Make it a space where guests feel comfortable standing and conversing without becoming conscious of getting in the way of others. Integrating a degree of confidentiality by creating a private meeting space or area used to diffuse any chance of confrontation – maybe a family room for example – is also something to consider.
Exterior landscaping brings additional learning opportunities
Creating learning environments in outdoor spaces is nothing new. But, by reflecting on objectives and how you want the spaces to function, these areas can extend and enhance outdoor learning opportunities considerably.
Naturally enclosed areas, which with the inclusion of some seating or walled booths could act as small but fun external learning environments.
Think about materials used too. Weatherproof materials that are durable and vandal proof will require little or no maintenance in the future.
Take a proactive approach and start with your school brand
School improvement can seem daunting but by commissioning an expert team to guide you through the process, or focusing on the school brand internally, a brand strategy will help you establish communication and visual direction going forward. Use your brand and its values to help inform all the choices you make and connect your school’s community, both inside and out.