Do better education buildings deliver an improved student experience?

Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dreaming Spires’ epithet conjures up images of boating, a large pitcher of Pimms and the incredible buildings of Oxford University. Oxford remains one of the most sought after universities in the world, currently occupies the top spot in the Times Higher Education University World Rankings 2019 list. But do the ‘dreaming spires’ inspire academic excellence or is it simply that students there are the academic elite?

Most people would champion the latter. If you look at other universities in the TES Top Ten, including the California Institute of Technology and Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford universities – each has iconic buildings which could be argued to inspire excellence, were it not already part of their DNA.

But how do the buildings in which people learn affect student experience? It’s perhaps more apt to look at other, less elite schools and universities to see whether the actual building can make a difference to the experience and results. A few years ago a pilot study was carried out in seven Blackpool LEA primary schools, where 34 classrooms with differing learning environments and age groups took part. The study evaluated the classroom environment, with this holistic assessment identifying what constituted an effective learning environment. The result? A well-designed classroom improved the academic performance of these primary school pupils by a whopping 25%.

Moving south, Kingsdale School in London, was given an makeover, with an underused courtyard converted into a new central heart for the school. Covered by a roof constructed using the same materials used at the Eden Project, Kingsdale now has an atrium that bears comparison with the Great Court at the British Museum. Pupils eat their lunch café-style in a continental atmosphere. The school which was in 1998, said to be ‘failing’ after a report that the then chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, described as one of the worst he’d ever seen. Bullying was rife and only 15% of students were leaving the school with five decent GCSE grades. Now, with the new atrium, plus a cinema and music centre, that figure has increased to 70%, bullying is under control andi expulsions, previously high, are down to almost zero. Kingsdale remains one of the fastest improving schools in the country. Confirmation that architecture and design – both form and function – matter. And therefore restoration, refurbishment and long term maintenance is crucial.

At the recent Higher Education Estates Forum hosted by University of Warwick, Director of Estates, James Brekon, explained the Estates department vision to “Create and care for places that inspire excellence, through exceptional service.” He championed social and cultural place making, creating a better place for those who study, live and work at the university and more sustainable for future generations.

And this is nothing new – as far back as 2013,  Julian Robinson, Director of Estates at London School of Economics found that over a third of students had rejected a university due to the quality of its buildings and lack of facilities (according to research led by the LSE Estates Division and the Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF).

So this is where we come in – here at Building Transformation, we provide national and international façade and roof maintenance and restoration solutions for universities and schools. We know that the condition of a building can inspire students and lecturers alike, playing a positive role in influencing their emotions, feelings and behaviour.

The external appearance and condition of any building is critical in creating confidence and trust in your establishment’s brand, ethos and values. We work our clients, including University of Cambridge and University of Surrey, to develop cost efficient maintenance programmes for buildings. By cleaning the building façades and roofs, repairing failing masonry or concrete, painting buildings, we will maintain the complete external building envelope. And through long term programmes and cycles we can ensure the maintenance of your buildings throughout the year and for years to come – meaning those dreaming spires, atriums and listed buildings will continue to glimmer on the landscape for decades to come.

Courtney Road Primary School

Thank you for all the work that you carried out in cleaning the outside of our school. We are delighted with the results. You have managed to completely remove heavy staining from many areas around the building.
We found you extremely easy to work with: your quote was reasonable, you carried out the work quickly and you were very flexible in terms of timings

Tamsin Griffith – Property Manager – Courtney Road Primary School, Bristol

For more information on how Building Transformation can support your Estates or Building Management team at your University or School, get in touch now.