Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Monday, 25 January 2010

Heritage body wants to save school architecture

Bellenden School, Southwark
Schools can be local landmarks, such as Bellenden School, Southwark

Conservationists have issued a call to protect the many "beautifully-designed" schools potentially under threat from England's school rebuilding programme.

English Heritage is urging local councils to "strike a balance between replacement and refurbishment" when planning how to improve schools.

Many schools were "built to last" and are historically significant, it said.

Partnership for Schools, which oversees school rebuilding, said 50% of school upgrades would be refurbishments.

The government has been promoting a major school building programme - which saw more new school buildings being opened last term than at any time since the Victorians.


But the heritage body is calling for a recognition that existing school architecture might also need protecting.

It also claims public support for refurbishing rather than entirely rebuilding.

A survey of 1,723 adults for English Heritage suggests that two-thirds think that refurbishing and extending schools is more environmentally friendly than demolishing them and rebuilding new ones.

Demolition should be a last resort, and is a loss for us all.
Elain Harwood
English Heritage

Some 83% of respondents felt that local councils should do more to find new uses for old, empty schools.

Almost half felt that schools with an historic character provided more inspiring educational environment than modern ones.

Chair of English Heritage Baroness Andrews said: "Inspirational surroundings can have a hugely enriching effect on education.

"And as we are recognising through more research, many historic school buildings are beautifully designed and were built to last; some reflect changes in educational practice and have historical significance too, and many are landmark buildings which mean so much to local communities.

'Cherished landmarks'

The government's current school investment programmes are unique in scale and vital in ensuring that our country's school estate provides the best possible learning environment for many years to come, she said.

"But we believe that local education authorities need to strike the best balance between replacement and refurbishment.

"The latter is often the more environmentally sensitive and effective solution. It uses the assets of the community, minimise requirements for new materials and cut demolition waste.

"It also helps to reinforce people's sense of belonging and local identity."

The organisation's architectural historian Elain Harwood said England had some wonderful school buildings with "beautiful architecture" and a "valuable social history" associated with them.

"They have served past communities well and with imagination most of these fine buildings can continue as schools, but they can also be put to a wide range of other uses.

"Demolition should be a last resort, and is a loss for us all."

English Heritage has produced two new publications to highlight the potential of older schools.

Tim Byles, chief executive of Partnership for Schools, which worked with English Heritage on its guidance papers, said: "Refurbishment need not be seen as the poor relation of new build.

"We are passionate about making best use of existing buildings and sustainable refurbishment projects - and indeed over 50% of schools planned will be refurbished.

"There are already some great examples of cherished local landmarks being given a new lease of life through Building Schools for the Future investment, and this new publication should encourage many more."

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