With the ever-increasing number of subjects being taught at modern schools, as well as a desire to keep class sizes small, many schools are running out of that highly valued commodity: classroom space. Add to this the National Audit Office’s estimate that an extra 256,000 school places will be required in England and Wales in 2014, plus the stringent budget cuts faced by both councils, and it is clear that a potentially serious problem lies in wait. But how best to meet this demand?
With a variety of factors to consider, the question of where and how to add to your school requires a lot of thought. The classroom’s key role is to create an environment in which learning can flourish. For example, classrooms with an abundance of windows, allowing more natural light, have been shown to promote better learning conditions than those which are artificially lit.
The years ago Alastair Graham, Headmaster of Hall Grove School in Surrey, had to make some crucial decisions around the expansion of his school. “In the early 2000s we were expecting a large influx of pupils and I was wrestling with how to get extra space in the school.” Portable buildings were an obvious choice, but Alastair required something more permanent and – given Hall Grove’s beautiful setting in the Surrey countryside – more in keeping with its surroundings.
After visiting Norwegian Log Buildings’ showroom, Alastair decided to construct two log cabins within the grounds of the school, each one containing a pair of classrooms. Sited on the edge of a copse of trees beyond the school, the cabins blend perfectly with their surroundings, allowing a change of pace from lessons in the main building and a breath of fresh air for students. “Our inspiration came when we were looking for a little log cabin for our own children,” Alastair explains. “We went to the NLB showroom and were highly impressed with their quality construction. My wife then came up with the idea of using them as classrooms.”
The success of the first two cabins persuaded Alastair to add a further five log classrooms, including an environmental studies centre opened last year by Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College.
Built from solid log, the buildings provide a far more natural, organic learning environment for students. Being a natural material, the log helps to filter the air and the classrooms remain cool in summer and warm in winter. Alastair and his teaching staff soon noticed the cabins’ positive effect upon their students.
“We believe that the wooden buildings have a calming affect on a student’s behaviour. This was echoed in a recent OFSTED report which praised the effects of log classrooms on pupils’ concentration and attitude to learning. We’ve certainly noticed it, and our pupils will tell you that they like the log cabins and love to be taught there. They are also flexible spaces. not just conventional classrooms. One is a fully equipped Biology laboratory, another is a fully fitted out teaching kitchen for cookery and food science.”
Norwegian Log Buildings have now supplied Hall Grove with a total of nine classrooms, housed in five buildings. The wooden classrooms have surprisingly low heating and maintenance bills. They have also found favour with the local council: while the initial planning permission was for five years, that permission soon became permanent after the full quality of the buildings was appreciated.
Finding the ideal way to extend a learning space has never been easy and, with demand on classroom space accelerating, it’s a problem faced by more and more schools. However, as Hall Grove’s long partnership with Norwegian Log Buildings has demonstrated, there are solutions out there.