Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

This site uses cookies. By using our services, you agree to our cookie use.
Learn more here.

Manplan 4, Education: Primary Schools

In primary education the new school must provide for the needs of a programme which will change from day to day

Originally published in January 1970

Even if nursery schools have had a raw deal from politicians and the Treasury-primary schools have received more attention than any other type (probably more than any other building since the war). The heart and soul of the DES-and of the Ministry of Education as it used to be-has been poured into schools for the over fives. Britain’s reputation stands high, accordingly. But the county where it all started-Hertfordshire-eventually lost the knack, perhaps when its brightest stars went to the Ministry of Education. Now counties like Cumberland, Nottinghamshire and Suffolk are showing their paces. They are the community builders.

No discussion of either the architectural or the educational problems of the building programmes for primary schools in Britain can begin without a resume of the Hertfordshire ‘episode’. Even if we take Peter Manning’s homily to heart: ‘school buildings have the reputation of being the best-designed sector of Britain’s post war architecture. I believe that this reputation is well founded, but I think too that our critical faculties have been lost under an excess of congratulation’ it was still an astonishingly humane and efficient period of social engineering - the quiet revolution. Its antecedents are not far to seek. It consisted of reactions against the dark high-windowed Victorian schools; hence single storey as the Hadow Report of 1931; hence open plan; hence acres of glass; study of and flexibility to provide for the child’s needs as against the post-Robson era of awful neo-Shaw. And of course a fast rate of building that nothing short of prefabricated units would meet (against that it’s sometimes forgotten that the Hertfordshire Consortium built 30 schools in one year using system building. Robson in the same space of time using solidly traditional methods built 200!) But the Hertfordshire magic resided in a small circle. Once disbanded, Hertfordshire schooling was never really the same. The DES gained Medd and the DES became a patient, immensely thorough machine that poured out humane and sound advice – and continues to do so - in its design bulletins, unequalled by any other Ministry involved in design.

The Development Group, ever modest (‘Building Bulletin I was little more than a review of the enterprising work of some authorities in the previous three years’), has methodically pioneered a series of built projects - the lessons of which it has been careful to spell out. In 1951 it designed two cluster schools at Coventry – corridors incorporated into working space and entrance and dining areas into a central core. Unfortunately the deliberately ‘gentle’ attitude of the Ministry of Education as it then was prevented ‘the lesson from being hammered home and as the department itself recognizes it became the jumping-off point’ for special bravura often at the expense of educational requirements.

‘Furmere village school in in fact marks the birth of informal teaching given architectural form’

In 1955 the Group tackled the 7-11 age school with its Woodside School at Amersham. It tentatively questioned the self-contained, working base by providing a shared practical area for the fourth year. One space was isolated acoustically and the rest was changing rooms, with foot showers. Its assumption was that the older children would leave their bases and go to the bays to use equipment. The most revolutionary part of the whole exercise was David Medd’s specially designed furniture. This in essence was the germ of open plan - which the department quickly experimented with in two village schools - Furmere in Oxfordshire and Great Porion in Lincolnshire. Small numbers - 50 children – and a wide range of age and interests ‘produces a more subtle relationship between teachers and children than occurs in most large schools.’

So open plan was born and Furmere in fact marks the birth of informal teaching given architectural form. Eveline Lowe was its natural development. The physical barriers between teaching and non-teaching areas disappeared. In their study of other primary schools the group found that ‘the whole school and its surroundings - corridors, cloakrooms, porches, entrances, medical rooms and even stairways - were being called into use.’ So Eveline Lowe in Southwark, London was designed as an open-plan arrangement of interrelated spaces with covered out-of-door areas. Again the project included work on primary school furniture and one manufacturer is now producing the range off the peg.

The Vittoria experimental primary school, although designed in conjunction with the DES, shows how far preconceived architectural form can dominate and alter the basic concept. Although the briefs were similar, unlike Eveline Lowe the Vittoria was designed wholly by the GLC’s schools division for ILEA. Two totally inflexible elements are apparant- complicated cross sections with split levels and all built in load bearing brick.


Coppice County Junior School at Sutton Coldfield

This is all a far cry from Hertfordshire, and Peter Manning in his Pilkington Study has a vitally important criticism to make even of the Eveline Lowe School (he is not yet on record on Vittoria): ‘to design for present use I doubt if we could do better than rubber-stamp the Eveline Lowe school all over the country. This would represent an enormous advance over what will be done anyway’ but ‘Eveline Lowe was designed to accommodate what may well be no more than a passing fashion in informal teaching. ‘And this in a nutshell is the architectural problem today just as much as it was in those sublime early Hertfordshire days. ‘Schools designed on the Eveline Lowe fashion-model will have been discarded in twenty or thirty years time. ‘Yet the life span assumed for school buildings built now is about sixty years.’ What Peter Manning is really gunning for is the entire profession’s leaning towards one-offs. Manning’s answer is systems (of the SCSD tube for example) and scientific educational research into user problems a la BRS - i.e. brief writing by a specialist team. An unpopular, but nonetheless important, line of thought.

The image is as fresh as when CH Aslin first put watercolour to paper - not so crisp perhaps as the Milan Triennale prizewinner but nonetheless a CLASP village school – Coppice County Junior School at Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, in all its simplicity.


Coppice County Junior School at Sutton Coldfield

In fact, Coppice is a con. It is a suburban school borrowing a typical Hertfordshire Setting - though none the worse for that. Designed by Warwickshire County Council architect, it is a fairly typical eight-classroom mixed Junior School for 320 children.

Glenfield Frith primary school, designed in 1966, was one of the first schools in this country planned for team teaching. So, with the exception of two at the extreme eastern end, all the classrooms are grouped in fours to make this possible. Each foursome is designed on a semi-open plan basis. The education department’s brief was for two schools, and the County Architect of Leicestershire decided to design them as one interlocking building so that infants and juniors can freely mix. The infants ’ school has 240 children and the junior 320. The two high roofed assembly halls, the kitchens and the library enclose a landscaped area with a pool. The school was commended in the Civic Trust awards for 1968.

Glenfield Firth Primary School (designed by Leicestershire’s County Architect) is a halfway house in educational terms. Semi-open plan with classrooms grouped in fours to ·allow team teaching, it was one of the first schools designed with this in mind.


Glenfield Frith Primary School

The brief at Glenfield was for an infants and junior school which were designed as one unit. But its large windows and the landscape that flows in and out, so that inside and outside are almost inseparable, show its ·genesis from the Hertfordshire schools.

The Eveline Lowe primary school, Camberwell, is even more direct in its descent from Hertfordshire. And no wonder - David Medd had by this time been translated to the DES and led the team which designed this, the first truly Plowden report primary school. He also designed a complete range of furniture which has since been used widely in other primary schools. Eveline Lowe attempts· to carry through the open plan very completely. It does away with even the glass screening that made the schools feel open, and simply interrelates its spaces which in turn are directly connected with veranda outdoor spaces. The grouping is based on 40, but 30 or 60 pupils can be absorbed easily. It also has quiet areas where the studious child can plod away.

‘In essence it is a carpeted getaway where the teacher can take a class to escape from the clutter and paraphernalia of their other activities’

The school has 320 children from 3 ½ to 9 so the distinction between nursery and primary disappears too. Needless to say Eveline Lowe was CLASP. The project was joint DES, CLASP and the Ministry of Public Building and Works. One of the most charming innovations at Eveline Lowe is the ‘kiva’ room in the south-west corner. In essence it is a carpeted getaway where the teacher can take a class to escape from the clutter and paraphernalia of their other activities. Only 12ft square, the room is lined with varnished timber, bookshelves, four very popular bunks a round table and a rocking chair. In common with Regent’s Park nursery, the site is hemmed in and the little pitched roof units huddle together round a pleasantly landscaped play area.

Glenfield may be related to the early experiments of the Hertfordshire pioneers – Eveline Lowe is first-state Hertfordshire at its best, with a team led by one of the original young turks. The DES established through Eveline Lowe the case for open plan education. The distinction between teaching areas and non-teaching areas disappears. So does that between primary and nursery. And, in the best Hertfordshire tradition, indoors and outdoors flow together, only in this case under verandas.

Hard on the heels of the DES Eveline Lowe project came the GLC’s experimental Vittoria Primary School in Islington. So the thinking behind the two has a lot in common. But Vittoria makes one inflexible’ innovation - split levels built in brick.


The GLC’s Vittoria Primary School

Vittoria originally was one of the ‘Board’ schools. The new Vittoria arose out of its rubble. The site was a depressingly familiar one in London - overhung with massive tawdry pre-war local authority flats. So Michael Powell’s bright boys designed an introverted set of courtyards and spaces to shut the abysmal outer world completely out. The school caters for 320 organized into eight pupil groups with about forty in each. Most children are introduced to the school slowly by coming part-time at nursery school stage. The school is entered from a side street and, after passing through the administration block with the play centre to one side, and the assembly hall, enclosed corridors lead to three pairs of classrooms. One group is on the level; the remainder are split. The level classrooms have a dining cum-multi purpose room linked to them which offers additional teaching space. Part of the play centre is also multi-use and can be used as a parents’ room in which parents can take part voluntarily in work connected with the school. On the north-east is an internal courtyard with covered outdoor teaching space opening on to a sizeable sandpit, shared by two groups, while opposite is the infants’ playground which is double level with lots of playsteps. The split level classrooms open straight out on to outdoor teaching areas. The raised half is carpeted and each pair shares a dining-multi-purpose room. The courtyard next to the hall has a large pool. Vittoria was a nice proving ground for those going on to design the Pimlico comprehensive.

Where Vittoria is an undoubted success is in the small and intimate courtyards which the classrooms and linking corridors enclose. One has a pool and most have plants. The raking roofs over the classrooms reappear at Pimlico- minus the split level.

‘DES policy has long been to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut and then to publicize the project very fully as a case history’

Great Barton primary school, West Suffolk, is a rationalized traditional building, rather than system built. As such it represents a break from Eveline Lowe although Jack Digby, the county architect, can point to Fred Pooley as another county architect who has so far withstood the embraces of any consortia. The school replaces two quite separate and overcrowded Victorian schools. It is a five-class primary school with 150 children. The five major teaching spaces are arranged in an arc south of the assembly hall and kept at a little distance from it by the courtyards. Each classroom opens out onto a brick paved and covered veranda. Unusually the caretaker’s house is integral with the school and in identical cladding. The user - the headmaster - is pleased with it. He commented recently ‘I am somewhat suspicious of open planning but at Great Barton we have the best of both worlds. It goes far enough in terms of openness and flexibility and we can see through the glazed panels, across courtyards - a feeling of one large family.’

The effect on school building elsewhere in the country of Eveline Lowe-and, to a lesser extent of Vittoria - has been profound. DES policy has long been to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut and then to publicize the project very fully as a case history. So it’s less surprising to find West Suffolk’s county architect reproducing some of the better elements of Eveline Lowe - the covered verandas, the small planted courtyards, and the open plan classrooms with, additional carpeted teaching space added.

The advantages of the new teaching methods are less obvious in the case of very young children. Nevertheless, Rhone and Iredale embraced the principles whole heartedly in The General George R. Pearkes Elementary School (for 350 children) at Hudson’s Hope in British Columbia (above and right). They carried out a preliminary survey of existing open-plan schools in North America, and drew on the work of the Ford Foundation Educational Research Facilities. The emphasis was to be on individual work  (research showed that children were working on their own 68 p.c. of their school time) and on small-group instruction (10-14 in a group). It was found that a viable unit was 175 children to 5 teachers, and that the plan should allow for any number of groupings within this unit. The form adopted, the octagon, has the advantage that it can expand in eight directions. Two of the octagons are teaching clusters with a two-level resource centre and teacher control point in the middle.


George R. Peakes Elementary School in British Columbia

Immediately around this is an area for retrieving information, and on the periphery the main teacher-student learning space which can be subdivided with movable screens. The third octagon is an activity room with a sunken middle section which fulfills the function of theatre, gym, assembly hall, etc. all in one, and also provides a well-defined circulation area between the five temporary rectangular classrooms and the rest of the school. The links between octagons provide an entrance, exhibition space and offices. The temporary classrooms are for the children of workmen building the Bennett Dam (Portage Mountain Project), and will be removed and re-erected elsewhere as soon as the work is finished and the families leave. Highly rational too is the way in which the teaching equipment and furniture have been designed independently of the structure arid in units of varying sizes, so that they can be mass-produced in the factory and simply ordered as required.

The teaching programme at the Thurston Intermediate School (for 700 children) at Laguna Beach in California, by Flewelling and Moody involves students and teachers in planning the daily programmes despite the fact that some of the students are children of 9 and 10. In the architects’ own words, ‘teachers then decide who should be called to their classes, what lessons to teach, for how long, who should teach the lesson, class size and type of equipment and space needed’. With its ceiling system grid the school has all the necessary flexibility, and could even be transformed into a conventional school. The plan, to which teachers and administrators contributed, consists of two octagonal clusters  (a classroom unit with a language lab, and a natural science , art and home-making unit);  an octagon housing the learning centre and the library ; an administration block; and a multi-purpose building with a related court and a two-way stage for both indoor and outdoor performances. There are plans for additional buildings to take another 300 children. Although attractive use has been made of the sloping site with steps and retaining walls, the spaces between the buildings have been cluttered by well-intentioned planting in crude-looking boxes which are supposed to provide seating for small discussion groups. The materials were selected to blend with the surroundings and, where possible, are of local origin-tilt-up in situ concrete panels with an exposed aggregate from a local river bed for walls, laminated timber beams and composition shingle for roofs.

In primary education the new school must provide for the needs of a programme which will change from day to day, and which may include every form of teaching activity from the one-man tutorial to the group instruction with as many as 150 students.


East Elementary at Tooele in Utah

The design for the East Elementary School at Tooele in Utah by Scott, Louie and Browning (for 480 children including a kindergarten) evolved from a team-teaching programme, and satisfies two basic requirements: that each student has direct access to the instructional materials centre and that the centre is available to all classrooms. The centre provides all kinds of audio-visual material, contains a library, teachers’ work and rest areas, and a room for messy projects. The periphery consists of six large group areas with study alcoves (the equivalent of twelve conventional classrooms), a kindergarten group and an entrance with cloakrooms. But the different sections are mostly open to one another, and what divisions exist are non-loadbearing and demountable or movable. Somewhat weird is the idea of growing, with the help of gas infra-red heaters, water plants, pollywogs and other specimens of life in the central courtyard, to provide first-hand experience in elementary biology and botany. A smaller polygon, a multi-purpose hall with a movable stage, contains a kitchen, and other polygons can be attached or built separately to provide additional teaching space. The structure is steel and brick external load-bearing walls. Walls are generally finished in cork, ceilings in acoustic tiles and floors in carpet. Ventilating units are incorporated in dropped ceilings below roof monitors so that different zones can be controlled independently.

The Cathedral School (for 200 boys) in San Francisco, by George T. Rockrise and Associates (right) offers ingenious solutions to number of problems which derive from its central situation. Aided by a considerable fall in the ground between the road and the cathedral, the architects have succeeded in half-burying the building so that on the street side it presents an almost blank elevation which is never more than one-storey high. This has the additional advantage of concentrating the classrooms on the cathedral side, where they can be stacked on two levels and where they are protected from noise and sun glare. It also means that the cathedral remains relatively unobstructed. Finally the problem of open space in a central area has been brilliantly solved by putting a playground on the roof and surrounding it with a well-designed railing. The structure is reinforced concrete with a bush-hammered finish and colour matching the stone of the cathedral. The load-bearing window units are sandblasted precast concrete, and the roof is a waffle slab to allow for recessed lighting and for modular expansion . The scale is modest, the plan simple and the accommodation conventional. but this school remains memorable where a hundred other more ambitious schools are forgotten.

‘In a village school age segregation is unnecessary and alien to the rural way of life’

But the loss of the conventional classroom also means the loss of the dedicated all-rounder teacher, the loss of that basic security and simple discipline which made every child answerable to teacher. For the teacher the administrative responsibility of directing 100 or more children along individual paths will be totally different to teaching to a set pattern. A new kind of teacher is needed as urgently as a new kind of school.

Just coming through the pipeline from West Suffolk County Council, Great Waldingfield is a radical step forward from the Great Barton School. Here there are no conventional classrooms. There are it is true four broadly defined teaching areas grouped round the assembly hall, but the ‘loosely connected, free-ranging nature of the teaching areas provides space for a great variety of activity and organization.’ The plan allows ‘family groups’ to form easily – of different ages too, which is especially important in a village school where age segregation is unnecessary and alien to the rural way of life. The plan also allows the coming and going between neighbouring groups which is so much a feature of Eveline Lowe. To counterbalance the noise in the free flow areas, two completely enclosed carpeted ‘snuggeries’ are provided free of mess, noise and paraphernalia. And to emphasize the difference in character and the fact that they are fixed points, each has apsidal walls. Throughout the school rounded walls are used to define the fixed or static zones. These static zones are the kitchen, the boiler, cloakrooms, staff and administrative rooms. The flat roof, pierced in one place to allow light and sun into just one courtyard, overhangs on the outer edge of the building to provide covered verandas around its perimeter. The assembly hall sits under the completely uninterrupted roof and gains its height by having a sunken floor and an unadorned set of trusses. The school is to be built just outside Sudbury and will take children from 5-9. West Suffolk is fortunate in its school building team.


Plans for a new Primary School in Great Waldingfield, Suffolk

By 1972 Britain will be spending £176.6 million - the highest ever - on school building. Of that, £109 million will be spent on replacing or improving old and unsatisfactory primary and secondary schools About £10 million is being spent currently on new Primary schools. Suffolk is claiming: its slice for an exciting one at Great Waldingfield.

MACE was set up with four main aims: the exchange of ideas and experience; the undertaking of new development work in building techniques ; the promotion where appropriate of existing industrialized building systems; and the rationalized organization of purchasing standard components. The development group under the leadership of Raymond Ash, Surrey County Architect, was given a brief to design an industrialized system of component building incorporating architectural and educational performance standards. For architecture these were that it should be industrialized, metric, capable of building up to four storeys and of accepting components from other systems. The educational criteria were that it should provide planning solutions for primary, secondary and special schools, have maximum flexibility in use, protect from external noise and provide correct natural daylighting. Like all systems the problem is not so much dimensional co-ordination, as joining components together.

In MACE the formation of functions is evolved from a single line theory where all vertical lines meet at a point on the grid. So all components are given a standard end profile which allows them to meet where grid lines intersect regardless of the thickness of the component. Designers using MACE have to use the structural frame, the staircase, the partitions and the components for kitchens and cloakrooms; but once the system is underway they can design their own components provided they retain the end profiles, and are dimensionally co-ordinated and reach the performance standards. The first pilot project is a combined infants and nursery school for 150 children at Poyle, designed by the Surrey county architect. Single storey, its particular problem is noise since it sits just on the edge of London Airport, at a point where noise levels can reach 110db. The planning of the school has therefore been dictated entirely by this problem. The teaching spaces face north away from the noise and wherever possible stores and cloakrooms have been planned along this edge to provide a baffle. The building is double glazed and mechanically ventilated to allow further control over noise. Group rooms are paired with a quiet room between each and these form one side of a figure H; the staff, kitchens and part of the assembly hall the other. The arm is the assembly hall and the headmaster’s office. The structural frame of MACE can-with the aid of loadbearing floor to ceiling panels and duct columns-support up to four floors. The second project is an all day special school at Croydon, designed by the borough architect as a two storey building. MACE is planned to go up to 4 storeys.

West Suffolk, like most county councils, is a member of a consortia - in this case ASC (Anglian Standing Conference) - which enables members freely to exchange information. ASC was set up in 1964 and its members pursue rationalized traditional forms of building. SCOLA was formed in 1961 and SEAC, CMB and CLAW followed on closely. In 1966 came ONWARD. The youngest is MACE - the Metropolitan Architectural Consortium for Education. It is formed of local education authorities in Greater London and the Home Counties, and comprises 21 members including DES and the ILEA, and Surrey County Council who are building this primary school at Poyle.


Scott Brownrigg and Turner’s Jewish Primary School for Redbridge - Britan’s first all carpeted, air-conditioned school

Scott Brownrigg and Turner’s Jewish primary school for Redbridge will be Britain ‘s first all carpeted , air-conditioned school. Within the DES budget, it offers a completely. flexible set of teaching spaces changed at will by movable partitions. By keeping it square in shape, the architects have achieved minimum circulation space, simplified structure, a reduced ratio of outside wall to Door area and fewer windows, for views only- Britain still has not dared a completely windowless school. The teaching areas ring the outer walls. On their inner Dank are learning resource areas and at the heart is the assembly hall. The school is part of a complex to include a nursery and boys’ club.

Hugh Myddelton primary school in Islington is designed from a different standpoint. Unusually it has a two storey classroom block and aims thus to provide an even and high standard of natural light.

Different again, Hungerford, also, in Islington, will have 600 places eventually. Compared with the relative geometric simplicity of the other two, it has all the appearance of structural and sculptural bravura. But closer examination shows that the shapes work. These right-angled trapezia fan out from the main dining and exhibition area as three teaching areas for 800 children in each. Designed to facilitate group teaching, each area can be divided by curtains for smaller groups. Each wing has two home bays with practical and wet bays between. They share two verandas for covered play. The fourth wing is the assembly hall. There are two part-time nursery units with a separate and covered entrance way.

Redbridge Jewish primary school will be Britain’s first all carpeted, air-conditioned school. With its peephole windows it will also be Britain’s nearest approach to America’s experimentation schools with completely controlled environments. In contrast Hugh Myddelton in Islington, by Julian Sofaer, provides a two-storey classroom block to ensure a high level of light. While the GLC’s Hungerford, in Islington, throws away geometric simplicity for trapezoidal teaching spaces and open plan education.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.