What did you learn at school today? ‘England’s Schools 1962 – 88: A Thematic Study’

School buildings can make amazing learning tools. Colour schemes, bespoke fittings, displays of work, and child-sized furniture make for stimulating and characterful learning environments. In the post-war era, school designers explored all these things, as well as new forms of prefabricated construction, natural lighting and ventilation, the landscaping of school grounds, and distinctive materials or architectural styles.

School buildings are one of those topics which are seldom out of the spotlight. The continuing debate on investment across the school estate is rightly perceived as a crucial one. It’s a subject that most hold views on, often formed by their own, or their children’s, experience of schooling. But how much do we know about the school buildings that we discuss?

Front cover of the report: the Vanessa Nursery School in West London, built in 1972-73 to the designs of Fitch & Co Ltd.
Front cover of the report: the Vanessa Nursery School in West London, built in 1972-73 to the designs of Fitch & Co Ltd.

We’ve just published the first study of post-war school buildings in England for 25 years, England’s Schools 1962-88. With a mixture of photographs, plans, interviews and archival research, the study charts key educational and architectural developments: explaining why our schools look the way they do.

We’ve looked at how designs of school buildings were influenced by the pastoral and educational needs of particular age groups, children with disabilities and the need to share facilities with the wider community. New educational ideas had a huge impact on school design, especially ‘child-centred’ learning in the primary school or curricular reform in secondary education.

The chapel to St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School, Orpington, of 1966-67 by  Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall & Partners. Photograph by James O. Davies – English Heritage.
The chapel to St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School, Orpington, of 1966-67 by Robert Matthew Johnson-Marshall & Partners. Photograph by James O. Davies – English Heritage.

The scale of demand necessitated entire programmes of school building, and collaboration between architects, teachers and administrators. Distinctive regional approaches were developed in London, Coventry, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Hampshire and elsewhere. Independent and voluntary schools represented test beds for private architectural practices.

Double-ended, hexagonal assembly hall at Acland Burghley School, of 1963-67 by Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis, one of the key practices associated with the 'New Brutalism'. Photograph by James O. Davies – English Heritage.
Double-ended, hexagonal assembly hall at Acland Burghley School, of 1963-67 by Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis, one of the key practices associated with the ‘New Brutalism’. Photograph by James O. Davies – English Heritage.

We wanted to enhance understanding and appreciation of our most recent schools heritage. Some school buildings reflect historic changes in educational practice, whilst others have architectural significance. Many are valued by their local communities. By identifying distinctive features and significant trends we hope they will become recognised and valued in the planning of future school provision.

England’s Schools 1962-88 forms part of the Later Twentieth Century Heritage measure of the National Heritage Protection Plan, which aims to increase knowledge as well as appreciation of our most recent heritage. A small number of the very best examples of the period will be assessed for designation in 2013 in recognition of their architectural and historic significance. England’s Schools 1962-88 complements English Heritage’s policy advice on historic school buildings.

Geraint Franklin – Assessment Team, Heritage Protection 

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