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Design and deliver

Peter Barrett and Jeff Phillips
Education Department of Western Australia

This paper proposes a framework of principles and process to assist in determining the standard of facilities provision for new and existing Government Schools in Western Australia.

Principles: The following statements provide a guide to the type of action involved in preparing the education brief

  1. Curriculum Assurance: Provide a guarantee of access to a curriculum that leads to agreed standards of schooling outcomes.

  2. Special Needs: Meet community needs and be responsive to the special needs of groups and individuals.

  3. Strategic Planning: Recognise the obligation for effective and efficient management of resources and assets.

  4. Funding: Seek the opportunity for sharing facilities and costs by developing local community support of schools.
Process: The following processes describe courses of action involved in establishing the detail of the educational brief.
  1. Review school needs and ethos, explore changes in teaching practice and the move towards an outcomes focus for education as a means of determining the standard of facilities required.

  2. Establish a strategic plan, including consideration of current condition of buildings/facilities, possible school cluster arrangements, greater flexibility in structure and organisation and recognition of asset management obligations.

  3. Make a statement on how the school proposes to manage change, what support is required, the level of teacher training involved and the means of evaluating the proposed changes.

  4. Establish the level of consultation and credentials of interest groups represented and the degree of empowerment enacted.

  5. Research current trends in curriculum development and delivery, information and broad based technologies and school organisation.

A chance to change

The flight to the outer suburbs continues, as successive governments search for affordable land and housing, concentrating on green field development with its huge hidden infrastructure costs. Integral to this flight is the expectation of provision of appropriate facilities to serve the education needs of the new family populations which grow on these green fields.

As to whether there is a need to provide those facilities is another question, to be answered at another time. We have had home based education remote from schools since time immemorial and, with evolving technology, there is increasing facility for students to learn from home. However, a school fills purposes other than straight education and, having imposed on us the reality that a "school" is to be built, then it is our opportunity to provide one which reflects the perceived needs of students for a period of time into the future. ie, we build for the known, perhaps making provision for the unknown by little more than educated guesswork.

Currently some half a dozen new government secondary schools open in Australia each year. Each one of the providing authorities makes assumptions about the type of students that the school will take, programs which it will offer and the school ethos, ie, will it concentrate on socialising students, on educating for employment, or on community courses and recreation?

Accepting that we will need to build more schools in the future, perhaps we should ask the question "How do we know what to build or what to provide"?

This paper addresses that question by suggesting that the process by which we establish criteria for decision making is the key to better educational building design. Four elements are taken into account.

  1. The research methodology employed - that is, what questions to ask, and of whom?

  2. The decision making process, -that is, the management of change and the curriculum process.

  3. Constraining criteria, both educational and financial.

  4. Future needs, - that is, vision and reality.

1. Research

Where does one go for information to help develop concepts which will assist in preparing a simple, understandable and yet comprehensive brief for a new direction in (or presentation of) educational programs? Should the research be a one off special project, or should it be built into the strategic plan?

At present many of the answers to those questions come from others. We see what others are doing, we check on what others are preparing in the way of curriculum, we read what others are doing in research. From those investigations, decisions tend to be made about programs which will be required, and hence the style and structure of facilities which will enhance those programs.

(a) New facilities

These are custom tailored to the technology of the 21st century and assume significant change to the theories and themes of educational provision in the 90s. "Virtual reality" is not yet with us, yet the facilities that we provide may take some of the themes of that methodology and change design from the conventional and traditional to the innovative and the unusual.

(b) Retro fittings

As with new schools, a significant difficulty is to avoid carrying the baggage of the past into the future. All too often we are dragging an anchor with us as we endeavour to move to new fields and new technologies with new processes and new thinking. For example, if a business can run from home via a fax and a modem, perhaps students could, in part at least, function similarly. However this, or other innovative processes, can only be contemplated if the technology is there. Outcomes are different when things are learned at home, or from those gained through direct instruction, from group work and from class work. In addition, the sophisticated elements of a new education can only be retro fitted to existing schools, provided that the teaching is also retro fitted.

(c) Sources

  1. Parents. What do they want for their kids? How much can we cater for individual needs when building a "fixed" structure, ie, a school? Do we compromise - do architects promise too much, and does any failure to understand the nuances of the teaching/learning process restrict the outcomes to the conventional? The answers to these questions depend upon on the value systems from which people operate and, whilst parents are integral to the decision making process for new facilities, the method of determining their requirements must be done with sensitivity and purpose.

  2. Academic. What relevance does the published research offer? Is it designed by academics for academics? Do we gear ourselves for the standards of the upper middle class, whilst hoping that the facilities we design will attract everyone to that class? If we do that, we will undoubtedly precipitate an even greater rebellion than occurred in the 1970s when the mini universities which were being created on secondary school sites were rejected as being impractical, unworkable and unable to provide for the large majority of students who were not bound for the academic professions.

(d) Definitions

What is a class? What is a "classroom"? Is it a GPLA which can be counted and therefore included in statistical information? Why do we perpetuate the "classrooms" of 19th Century England? Is the concept of "classroom" linked to the staffing formula? Do we call a group of heterogenous students a class of homogeneous bodies? Where is the initiative, the creative, the cutting edge of school design? It is not general in the government school system, but perhaps there is a glimmer of hope developing. We have some unusual schools - schools for street kids, schools for particular curriculum specialities, schools for certain groups. There are not many, but they are there, taking education to the community. Are the remainder of the students being given the same opportunities?

In catering for our heterogeneous students, we seem to have a three dimensional process.

  1. Those with disabilities - both physical and cerebral;

  2. Those who are gifted, although we do our best to fail to recognise them; and

  3. The special categories which fit a particular notch in society such as ESL, etc.
As such the scheme can be represented diagrammatically -

TWDThose with disabilities.
G&TGifted and talented.
OOthers who can come out of the education spectrum at any level, and have special consideration.
TRThe rest - probably 85% of the population.

Do we design only for this latter group in the hope that the others, the TWD and the G&Ts will conform to the norm? As designers are we conditioned to accept that the classroom is at the core of our whole schooling system?

2. Decision making

Innovation is directly proportional to educational courage. Implementation is directly proportional to political courage. Change in any sense requires determination, and the argument to promote new initiatives must be won on the political front. Traditional structures are easy to perpetuate. In school we are (almost!) all products of conventionality, and to think "out of the groove" is difficult enough, but to play the game backwards, or sideways or upside down requires courage of a collective including those who will operate the structure when it is complete, ie, the staff. If collaboration is now a significant factor in educational building design, then it may follow that some of those issues in the decision making process will be also overcome.

As an example we can all remember the dilemma of yesteryear when calculators first became available to students. No longer did students need to know their "times tables", or to do mental arithmetic. Has that ability, long lost on the majority noted above, been replaced by an alternative skill which is related to technology of the 90s?

(a) Curriculum

  1. How? In emphasising the delivery of curriculum in new design for 21st century students with 20th century teachers, can we look to technology to solve both the content and process problems experienced in the 70s and 80s? Has it become too difficult for us to teach or are teachers now merely facilitators. Should they use the current technology of the computer world to inculcate those elements of learning which are necessary for life skills and for the work ethic, for the first half of the next millennium? To what extent do we seek a compromise by designing a facility which suits the teaching style of today without allowing for the significant change which is developing in the next decade? For example, our halls/gymnasia are equipped to reflect the 1970s Olympic spirit. Is it really the case that Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneche should dominate the thinking about the equipment which we still provide, some 20 years on? Should we also be dragging the technology of yesteryear in our practical art centres into the 21st century on the basis that our students may require pre-work experience in fitting and turning?

  2. To whom? The theme of the changing role of the teacher is integral to the changing design of school facilities. Do teachers become technicians, do they become facilitators, do they need to know any elements of the field in which they are teaching, if the content is accessible via the computer? Hence, self paced learning and the move to student centred learning are good examples of change happening at the grass roots. The issue of teacher training and the responsibility of the training institutions to prepare teachers adequately, starts to take on more significance when questions of new school design arise.

(b) Organisation and management, or how to change

One way to change is to alter the decision making process from the centre to the field. The community and the customers should dictate the requirements for school facilities. We under estimate the abilities, enthusiasm and new thinking which lie in the suburbs. A school which does not provide for the needs of its community will not be successful.

In many situations, change in design is imperceptible. Such changes in buildings mean that the last design is modified in a minor way in order to cater more appropriately for educational requirements in those designs which follow. Imperceptible changes perpetuate existing philosophies, existing equipment and existing techniques.

In other situations change can be incremental. It can be initiated in order to achieve a particular set of outcomes. This may occur when curriculum change happens and a different methodology is needed in order to implement that curriculum.

Such changes then become translated into changed building designs, and include the provision of appropriate technology in subject areas when major curriculum change has not necessarily occurred. The equipment used to deliver that curriculum is more relevant to current practice than to past procedures and contributes to a case of incremental creep.

The new way that we are looking is through visionary change. This does not necessarily involve major alteration to existing educational structures, but does involve an attitudinal change on the part of those associated with school design, with curriculum preparation and with teaching presentation.

Visionary change can only occur in a suitable climate. Such climate exists at the present time, with a catch cry of "Education for the 21st century". Students starting their secondary educational programs this year, will graduate in the 21st century. It is this motivation which can allow educators to promote visionary programs, to translate those programs into changed architectural drawings and facilities, and to work with curriculum personnel in order that the content and delivery methodologies can suit the outcomes required for the 21st century.

In many places we hear of the exponential expansion of knowledge and the unknown jobs at which our current students will be employed when they finally reach the workforce. It is this element of catering for change which must be brought into the thinking of architectural design for school facilities of the future.

3. Criteria

(a) Education

In looking to change educational design, and to deliver outcomes which are required by the community, implementation of the perceived needs, and an understanding of the methodology with which this is to be achieved, must first be established.

With curriculum consultants having a responsibility to be in the forefront of educational change, is it enough for them to read widely, to attend conferences and to observe first hand practice that which is occurring in other places? The answer to this question is that vision requires more than those three elements. Curriculum vision can perhaps best be described in terms of the "sixth sense". Few have it, and those who do may be outside the "system" and therefore may not be contributing in a "planned" sense. It is finding and selecting those people, and placing them in positions of responsibility in curriculum and framework development that will lead to significant change in educational programs in the future. As to whether we know how to do this or not, is another matter.

(b) $

How much should education facilities cost? In each State, education departments and building authorities try to show that their facilities are not only better in quality than those everywhere else, but they have been built at cheaper cost and with greater customer satisfaction than in any other State. Funding authorities tend to take a competitive view between both government and non-government sectors in order to determine where the cheapest cost per student and the cheapest cost per square metre are being found. It is really necessary for these studies to also take account of educational outcomes, and the measurements of those against the capital funding required for construction, together with the recurrent funding for ongoing maintenance of educational programs.

As buildings tend to have their quality measured by the number of architectural awards won, the trend can easily be for architects to strive for appropriate appearance, rather than quality of educational provision and the in-built flexibility that enables satisfactory educational standards to be attained.

(c) Rationalisation

Delivery of education in facilities of yesteryear may have been more difficult than providing an education today in facilities designed for current techniques and technology.

Should this be the case, then retro fitting, refurbishment or rationalisation of older facilities must proceed concurrently with design for the new. Curriculum change is not quarantined to new schools or new programs. Newly graduating teachers are not quarantined to new schools. All schools may be suited to the theory of education, but the practice is important, in particular where employment becomes the measure of success at the end of the schooling program.

4. Future thinking

Preferred vision

Change for the sake of change is not an element to be considered in the design of facilities. Change for educational outcomes, in whatever direction those outcomes may be foreseen, is essential. Building the flexibility to make changes is even more important. The design should not force change but can be used to socially engineer change. The design should be complementary, user friendly and developmental.

By the latter comment, it is meant that future change is not precluded, and that at any point on the growth continuum of educational facilities, change cannot only occur in the rate of development, its direction and magnitude, but also its quality.


How successful we become in coping with a changing education system may rest with how well we develop, through new coalitions and alliances, the means of casting off the anchor and not dragging it with us into the 21st century.

Authors: Peter Barrett, Manager, Facilities Policy & Planning Branch, Education Department of Western Australia

Jeff Phillips, Education Officer, New Secondary Schools Project, Education Department of Western Australia

Please cite as: Barrett, P. and Phillips, J. (1994). Design and deliver. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 20-23. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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