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Issue No-2: Distributed 19th of April 2008
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Scottish Schools Are 'Sick' Says Education Design Tsar

By Edd McCracken - Sunday Herald

The architect appointed to champion the intelligent design of Scottish schools claims most of the country's schools are sick and unfit for purpose and what local authorities lack is not budget, but "vision" and "innovation".

Paul Stallan, 40, was unveiled as the country's first education design champion for Scotland last month by cabinet secretary for education Fiona Hyslop as part of Architecture and Design Scotland's (A+DS) school design programme. His job is to promote good design in schools and, by his own admission, "to cause a little trouble".

In his first interview since taking up the post Stallan, the European design director for RMJM architects, said that most schools in Scotland suffer from sick building syndrome caused by bad design and "miserable" and "short-term" briefs from authorities seeking to cut costs.

Many of the newly built schools in the Glasgow were "failing environments", according to Stallan.

"A headmaster from a north Glasgow school complained to me about the heat in his school. The building is air conditioned, it's hermetically sealed and the kids are smelly, regardless of the day outside. For me, that is a failure. It's a new school and it certainly wasn't cheap."

He added: "To have the environment not supporting fundamental teaching practices is not acceptable."

Two schools, Drumchapel High and Rosshall, were highlighted as being examples of badly-designed schools in Glasgow rebuilt or refurbished as part of the city's public-private investment.

There are well-designed schools, said Stallan, such as St Aloysius College's Doolan prize-winning extension and Hazelwood school for the sensory impaired, which won the Civic Trust Award.

He praised Glasgow City Council's appointment of Gerry Grams as its design adviser and for opening up the procurement process by having more design competitions.

"But it's not enough," he added. "We RMJM have people working in all sectors and schools is the most value engineered and debased product of all the sectors we work on. Even the most aggressively commercial developer will still think about painting the reception. But with the schools it's about function. That's brutal."

Stallan said design can help teaching and learning as well as deal with social issues such as bullying.

"A good environment for young people in formative years of their lives is fundamental. They should be encouraged to go to school. Design can address all this."

For him the Fuji Kindergarten in Japan is the perfect example of what can be achieved on a modest budget. The school is shaped like a doughnut, with a playground in the centre and ladders leading to more play areas on the roof. Instead of clearing trees, designers built around them. Now these Japanese pupils have a giant tree in their classroom.

"If I was a kid I'd want to go to school there," said Stallan. "You can imagine the conversation you'd have with authorities here: There's a tree in the classroom?' They'd strike you off their list."

One of Stallan's main hopes is to break up local authorities' "monolithic" planning departments whose briefs are based on "policy and cash". As part of A+DS's schools programme, local authorities can access specialist advice on school-building projects.

"The key is for authorities to understand good design and get good design that's affordable. It's a really tired reply to say blame the budget'. You can achieve great things with a wee bit of commitment, imagination and innovation."

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) declined to comment on Stallan's remarks.

A spokesman for EIS, Scotland's biggest teaching union, agreed with Stallan's view that Scotland is littered with flawed school buildings.

"We've had a number of concerns raised by members, about heating and ventilation, classrooms too small, corridors being too cramped, stairwells not being large enough," he said.

"It's not conducive to good teaching and learning and it's a matter that should be addressed with utmost urgency."

A spokesman for the Scottish government said it has committed almost 3 billion for councils to invest in infrastructure such as schools over the next three years, as well as committing 500,000 to A+DS's school design programme. He added: "We agree that well-designed education facilities can be a real catalyst in transforming the learning experience for pupils and for those in the community who make use of school facilities."

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