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St Helen and St Katharine

Designs for the times

From equestrian to edtech, schools are investing in the future, whilst keeping an eye on the financial and environmental costs

Posted by Stephanie Broad | January 13, 2016 | Facilities & buildings

The autumn term saw the launch of several new facilities at Millfield. Pupils returned to a collection of enhanced and upgraded teaching and learning spaces following a busy summer of works. Classrooms in one of the main teaching blocks and the biology department were remodelled. The use of short-throw projectors, interactive white board ‘thinking walls’ and desks with ‘writeable’ dry-wipe tops enables teachers to blend the best of traditional teaching practice with modern technology.

The school’s Butleigh astro turfs were also upgraded with a new water-based system and the latest in LED lighting technology, thereby meeting the requirements of modern competitive hockey.

Meanwhile, St Helen and St Katharine has added 3D printing to the timetable. Their new £500,000 3D design centre, which was officially opened in November by world-renowned ceramic artist Magdalene Odundo, was “designed for the future”.

The centre boasts two workshops where pupils will get creative in design technology (DT) and ceramics classes, experimenting with metal, acrylic, jewellery making and pottery. Rebecca Dougall, headmistress at the girls’ school, said: “It’s a really exciting project. Lots of the girls are interested in architecture and engineering. We hope that this new building will inspire those ambitions.”

Rebecca says design subjects are on the school’s curriculum and are as important as maths or science. “Sometimes we hear about science, art and maths as very separate subjects but that’s totally false. They all come together in such a dynamic process,” she said. The centre houses a 3D printer and a laser cutting machine which the girls can use during lessons or in after-school clubs.

Magdalene Odundo, whose ceramic work is displayed in the British Museum, said: “Making things isn’t a privilege, it’s a must. Design is part and parcel of us as human beings. I get very excited about being a part of something like this.”

Magdalene Odundo opens the 3D Design Centre

New science labs have given students at Manchester High School for Girls room to focus on physics and biology. To continue their strong tradition in science subjects, the school wanted to redevelop their laboratories to create specialist physics and biology rooms, providing students with an environment which enhances science learning.

The existing labs required significant modernisation to enable them to take on the challenges of the modern curriculum and changes in teaching styles. The layout of the labs was restrictive for both teachers and students, with benches aligned in rows and some students obliged to sit with their backs to the teacher.

Although historically the laboratories at Manchester High had always been multi-use facilities suitable for classes in chemistry, biology and physics, the school wanted to create learning spaces specifically dedicated to physics and biology, enabling students to pursue these subjects in a more focused way. The school worked with Innova Design Solutions to develop contemporary labs that suited both staff and students.

The new labs not only maximise the available space, they have also improved circulation and flexibility to meet the demands of the modern curriculum. A curved centre floor layout in the new biology lab ensures all students can face the front during theory sessions. It also has improved lines of sight and reduces the risk of a drop-off in sound. Placing gas and electricity points on the front face of the benches means students have clutter- and distraction-free workspaces and are able to move quickly between theory and practical sessions.

To enable all students to carry out practicals with ease, the number of power sockets has been increased and their positioning on benches improved. A reconfigurable ‘pod’ layout enables tables to be arranged and rearranged around fixed service units, making formal classroom assessments and practical sessions more achievable – whether students are working alone, in pairs or as groups.

Manchester High's new lab

All this great kit comes with a footprint – which The Leys school decided to tackle with energy monitoring software. The software is designed and deployed by Optimal Monitoring, furthering its commitment to reduce site energy usage and improve its carbon footprint. Gas and electricity activity is monitored across the whole site, with data delivered to the school through a series of transparent, user-friendly reports and graphs customised in a bespoke format.

One of the great benefits, the school realised, is the ability to receive specific data from individual buildings and site areas, which allows unusual energy activity or unnecessary wastage to be pinpointed directly. The Leys has already identified areas where usage is not as expected. Moving forward, the school will be proactively and strategically planning for long-term improvements to achieve reductions in cost and energy usage. It is also planning to run a termly competition with pupils to promote conscious energy use.

Installing and maintaining school facilities is not without its financial burden too and this can be a particular difficulty in period buildings. Derek Todd, bursar at St Alban’s School, says: “Many, if not most, independent schools have inherited old or historic buildings. Typically, that means part of our estate is in buildings that are listed, not fit for modern education and require greater maintenance. By their very nature, they cost far more to heat during winter, never mind the bits that keep falling off. Again, these are costs that may be considered uncontrollable, but the character of our schools is one of the factors that sets us apart in the market.

“For a school like St Albans to stay ahead of the field we have increased our new-build programme – but is that sustainable? When financing the building of our new sports hall we were fortunate to have a significant windfall from the sale of land (alongside our fundraising efforts) to add to the pot, but that is not always possible.

“Parents cannot pay for our development each time, so what next? Many schools, St Albans included, rent our facilities during the summer holidays as a means of generating cash. But this can also have cost implications that almost render the activity pointless from a money-making perspective. Language schools and swimming pools need to be staffed. Heating and lighting need to be paid for. Someone once suggested that unless you are generating an extra £100,000, it isn’t worth the hassle.”

Where is your school investing over the next few years? Is the focus on technology or classroom makeovers? Send your facilities stories to the editor at 



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