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Amazing spaces in independent schools

Lucinda Reid investigates how independent schools are creating inspiring learning environments with their exceptional facilities

Posted by Rianna Newman | August 29, 2017 | Facilities & buildings

The saying goes that, ‘it’s what’s inside that counts’, but independent schools across the UK are challenging this by producing facilities that shine inside and out. 

Take Bedales School for example, the winner of RIBA National Award 2017 for their new art and design building. Set against a beautiful backdrop of the South Downs National Park, Beadles School is breathtaking from the outset. Consequently, the award-winning building was inspired by its surroundings and it was constructed around a stunning oak tree. The building also follows passive building principles so that its connection to the countryside is embedded in every part of the building. 

Winner of RIBA National Award 2017

“This was an opportunity to reposition the art and design department more closely with outdoor work,” said Tom Jarman from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, who was a partner in charge of the project. “We looked at the site quite carefully and saw that there was an old oak tree which was obscured. That was our starting point for the project. It was really important to have a building that felt right in its location and landscape.” 

It is clear that this goal was achieved as the new building, with its sustainably sourced timber and simple standing-seam metal roofs, complements its surroundings perfectly. And that’s just the outside. Inside, the building has created an environment which promises to shape creative young minds. 

Bedales School's new art and design building

“The interesting thing about Bedales is that they’ve managed to give pupils a path to independent learning,” explained Tom. “So, we took some ideas from our previous project at Manchester School of Art. That project involved a lot of open studios which created a visual connection between different areas and disciplines. At Bedales, we created an open classroom so that pupils could come together and work independently.”  

As Bedales School embraces its roots through sustainable and cutting-edge architecture, Abbey College Manchester is taking on the urban jungle.

“Abbey College Manchester is located in the city centre so it does give us some challenges,” commented Liz Elam, Principal at Abbey College Manchester. “However, the building on the inside is a bit of a Tardis, because we have seven floors. We are currently in the middle of extensive building work as we are extending down into the basement and expanding our ground floor.”

Our new facilities provide a future-proofed education where children can be more independent

Abbey College Manchester will soon have a new large study area

This is an exciting time for Abbey College, as the extension in the basement will create a new, large study centre which will cater for individual learning and group work. Plus, the extension on the ground floor will allow for admin offices and student services to be concentrated together for the first time. There are also plans to create a new science lab in the college, which will mean they have five labs in total. This is no mean feat for a small college in the city centre.

“We are attracting people from Greater Manchester and beyond, so we want to have facilities at the college which meet the needs of students from all over the world. Our central location means that many people can reach us and we are proud to be a truly global college,” continued Liz.

The college now has 220 students and has seen significant growth due to their international development. Consequently, they have created facilities that cater for everybody and have developed an environment which bridges the gap between school and university.  

“We try and be quite simple and purposeful,” said Liz. “Each room has a focus, so you will find learning spaces, specialist rooms and labs which have all been created with a purpose.”

The new extension will follow this ethos, and although it is not ready to be revealed to the world just yet, Liz has lots of ideas of how it will become another inspiring learning environment.

“It’s going to be quite futuristic and modern,” she revealed. “It will also be very bright and open and we have plans to have some interesting lighting. I haven’t chosen the furniture yet as I want to see the complete space first.”

It appears Abbey College Manchester will always find ways to regenerate its learning environments so that their students have the best possible future.

Pupils at Kensington Prep have embraced their new facilities

Speaking of the future, Kensington Prep School has created modern classrooms that are home to innovative technologies. The new classrooms are part of their £2.7m building project called, ‘Creating Spaces for Growing Minds’. The project was completed in the summer of 2016 and pupils have spent the past year making the most of the new facilities. Classrooms now have retractable doors and a high-tech ‘explore floor’, plus a multi-media recording studio and an eco-greenhouse were developed. Their drama, art, science and IT departments were also refurbished and two lifts were installed to make the school completely accessible. 

“We believe our new facilities provide a future-proofed education where children can be more independent, self-starting, resilient and collaborative in their learning. Helping children to develop these skills is as essential as learning the three Rs,” explained Prudence Lynch, Headteacher of Kensington Prep. 

Indeed, the newly installed ‘explore floor’ is a perfect example of what Prudence calls “a future-proofed education”. With its multi-screens and ceiling-mounted projector, the room can be converted into an immersive experience and provides teachers with the flexibility of projecting scenes to support their lessons. Through using this technology in the school, Kensington Prep has opened up a world of opportunities. Plus, they have no plans to stop transforming the school as after the success of their million-pound project they want to adapt more of their classrooms. 

“We are now extending the transformation of classroom spaces in other areas of the school, for example developing new breakout areas and creating learning spaces in Year 3,” said Prudence. “We are also refurbishing our music department in addition to our newly equipped science lab and drama studio.” 

The classrooms provide an immersive experience

As Kensington Prep make plans for their future facilities, Eltham College has just started building new facilities to mark their 100th anniversary. An old building has been demolished and it will be replaced with new classrooms for modern foreign language and mathematics, plus a new sixth form centre will be at the heart of the new building. 

Alongside this, a wellbeing pavilion will be built so that pupils can find the support they need under one roof. Wellbeing has always been important to the school and their specialist team were previously housed in another building, but this development means pupils will have a completely accessible and fi-for-purpose modern facility. 

“Eltham College is committed to the care and education of each student. Our investment and the hard work and detail that has gone into the new building will allow us to provide exceptional new facilities for our pupils,” explained Guy Sanderson, Headmaster at Eltham College. “It will enhance our teaching and learning spaces for mathematics and modern foreign languages and provide our sixth form students with a light and modern space to socialise and study, that encourages independent and collaborative learning. In addition, the new purpose-built medical and wellbeing pavilion will provide state-of-the-art facilities to give our pupils space and support, if required.” 

Similarly to Bedales School, Abbey College Manchester and Kensington Prep, the new facilities will be built with the pupils’ needs in mind, so that everyone has the space to grow and learn at their own pace. 


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