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Reaching Out

15 May 2006

As schools are encouraged to enable access for the wider community they need to re-think the nature of the facilities they can offer. Marc Bird explains how one school has done just that in its Language and Learning Zone

When Lampton school in Hounslow, West London planned a new ICT (Information and Communication Technology) suite, the school’s Operations Manager, John Hurley, encouraged the governors to take a holistic view and put forward an exciting idea that embraced the Community Access programme favoured by the local education authority and the Government. The resultant Language and Learning Zone (LLZ) is a testament to new thinking in schools and provides a welcoming and versatile resource for both the school and the local community. The facility owes much of its success to the design of the space.

Lampton School is a mixed, multi-cultural community school with around 1,350 students. It is a specialist Humanities College focusing on oracy, literacy and creative and critical thinking with the aim of encouraging students to become active, global citizens. A new extension to the school was originally planned to house two standard classrooms on the first floor with a conventional ICT suite on the ground floor. Funding for the project, however, included a proviso that the new facility should provide services to the local community as well as to the school’s students.

To achieve this, Hurley proposed a different approach. “We needed to find a way of attracting adults into the school,” he explained. “We also recognised that a traditional classroom environment is not appealing to many adults, especially if they have bad memories of their own school days. To that end, we opted for a business-like environment with the emphasis on comfort and flexibility,” he continued.

For these reasons, the conventional ICT layout was rejected in favour of a group of combined spaces that would be comfortable for all users and accommodate a wide range of uses. In order to arrive at the required environment, Hurley eschewed the conventional procurement route of using a traditional educational furniture supplier and, instead, approached commercial furniture companies.

“Traditional school furniture is unappealing and uncomfortable and wouldn’t have been right for the atmosphere we were looking for,” he recalled. “Having spoken to a number of companies we opted for Kinnarps because they have a lot of experience of public buildings, have OGC accreditation and, perhaps most importantly, demonstrated a good understanding of what we were trying to achieve.

“In financial terms, this solution cost around £4,000 more than a traditional ICT suite but thisextra investment will more than pay for itself – a fact that the governors and staff quickly recognised,” he continued. “With a traditional ICT suite you have 30 computers on desks and there’s nothing else you can do with that space. With the LLZ we can store the laptops away to leave free desk surfaces and just bring them out when they are needed. This flexibility also makes the rooms more attractive to outside organisations so we can generate additional revenue from renting out the space,” he added.

The first space is a briefing area, comprising matching sofas and individual chairs in contrasting brown and red, complemented by coffee tables. This provides a relaxed environment in which users, whether they beb pupils or adults, can be briefed on the activities that are planned for them. Groups may then break out into a desked area or into the internet café style seating. The desked area uses stylish commercial desking in chrome and beech, with complementary storage units and task seating - creating a working environment that is far more like a modern office than a classroom. The caféstyle area is equipped with comfortable red and brown seating with pedestal tables to further enhance the non-classroom environment.

Each working area is equipped with an interactive whiteboard and these form an integral part of the teaching. For example, when students are required to research a project using the computer facilities, they can then present their results via the whiteboard.

The LLZ encourages a completely different form of teaching, compared to conventional classrooms – so much so that teachers are required to attend an induction course. “The response from the teaching staff has been very enthusiastic and there is a great deal of competition between departments to make use of the space,” Hurley noted. “The LLZ provides them with a new way of teaching and, because the students are enthusiastic about working in this environment, the teachers spend minimal time on discipline and quality time on one-toone and group teaching”.

Students have been equally enthusiastic and see the use of this facility as a privilege. As a result, they are inclined to take better care of the space and the furniture, and A level students frequently make use of it in their lunch breaks.

The style of the LLZ has also proved to be attractive to outside groups who may have found a classroom environment uncomfortable, if not daunting. The first group to use it, for example, were pensioners receiving a groundingin the use of the internet. Potentially, these users may have been put off by both the school environment and banks of computers, but the layout of the LLZ proved a great success and the course has been equally successfu

Building on this success, the school is now working to extend the use of the facility. For instance, an agreement has recently been reached with a local football club to use the school’s sports facilities for the training of its younger members. And while the parents are waiting for their children to finish training, they are able to take part in a computer club in the LLZ.

These activities are provided by third parties, so the school only has to provide facilities management support, while generating additional revenue from the use of the space. “All schools are only in use for part of the day, on 190 days of the year, so there is enormous potential to make better use of the resources and encourage greater involvement from the local community,” Hurley enthused.

This arrangement also positions the school to embrace the Government’s Extended Schools programme, which forms part of the ‘Every Child Matters: Change for Children’ initiative. A key part of this initiative is that schools are able to provide after school activities for children whose parents are at work, so they are not required to go home to an empty house.

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