With entries for its Young Designers competition, it's worth checking out Dulux's Smarter Spaces campaign 

It's true. The writing really is on the wall – literally. Using every available space and surface for learning is striking a chord with children everywhere and Dulux even has a special paint for schools to support it.

What has learning space design got to do with Dulux? Well the company is building a Smarter Spaces design campaign which has its own exciting Young Designers competition for schools (with downloadable resources, entry deadline this week, May 27). And it has the potential to spread stimulating ideas a lot further than paint!

It’s promising to bring together the learning spaces design thinking and principles that were becoming common currency in Building Schools for the Future and the Primary Capital Programme before they were axed in such a cavalier fashion by the incoming Coalition Government. Before their demise, one of the most important lessons to emerge from the programmes was that school "settings" are far more important for learning than the actual shells of their buildings. These are what are known as the learning spaces, and they are crucial whether the school is in a slickly designed building or something created by the Victorians and can't be remodelled without big budgets.

A recent Smarter Spaces event in east London gave a positive flavour of the work so far and what's to come. It marked the launch of its report, "School Learning Environments: Teacher Perceptions and Future Priorities”, and the latest iteration of its Young Designers competition for schools (£5,000 worth of design and decoration services for the two winners, one primary and one secondary).

Eighty per cent of schools 'operating beyond their life cycle'

The accessible 12-page "School Learning Environments" report doesn't exactly make for happy reading but it brings in respected research sources, like “Building Better Britain: A vision for the next Government” from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2014. This found that 80 per cent of schools are "operating beyond their life cycles – suggesting that the majority of our schools are unable to provide effective learning environments as they are simply past their best". Those findings are reinforced by feedback from teachers and schools.

Of course the poor condition of schools is why Building Schools for the Future came about in the first place, despite the mocking of its lofty ambitions as "expensive excesses" by its political opponents, who then brought in their business friends from Dixons and Tesco to curb them. The resulting pedestrian and somewhat restrictive — as those trying to build new schools are already discovering — Capital Review outlawed 'excesses' like the rooftop playgrounds so loved by the Victorians, curved glass in windows and student voice for building design, and is currently causing problems for some of those creating new schools. But this Dulux initiative is something of an antidote. 

Because the good news about Smarter Spaces is that it has no political baggage and is happy to incorporate and build on evidence of success wherever it finds it, including former school building programmes. And in a campaign that sees learning space design as part of the teaching and learning (there are downloadable cross-curricular teaching resources on the competition website) student voice comes high on the agenda.

picduluxkentRhys and Imogen at Smarter Spaces event with St Margaret's Primary governorPupils from St Margaret's Primary School in Kent shared their research into learning environments. Imogen, now in her first year at secondary, had kick-started the work when she undertook a special project on architecture. She wondered why so many features of school design were so similar and bland, Her journey took her into colour theory and even the psychology of colour, generating such a wealth of materials (pictured behind her, right) that others began getting involved.

Her former co-pupil Rhys (also pictured, with school governor), who was looking at school technology needs felt that schools should make efforts to keep their technology up to date, with today's standards like Windows 10. Priorities that would have a bearing on learning spaces would include projection technologies, mobile devices and wireless networking. Next he would be looking at solar-powered technology.

picduluxCelynAbbieDogCadoxton Year 5 pupils Celyn and Abbie meet the Dulux dog at a Smarter Spaces eventHe could have talked to the delegation from Cadoxton Primary about that - collaboration is a key feature of Smarter Spaces, along with student voice. And Cadoxton's Celyn and Abbie (pictured left) played a full part in the discussions.

This school, led by headteacher Janet Hayward (see video above) has pioneered the use of simple solar panels that could be used in virtually any school space. Relatively small, indoor and unobtrusive, they power around 150 low-power Windows terminals throughout the school. It has saved hundreds of pounds in electricity costs and thousands of pounds that higher specified PCs would have cost - a total waste considering these are used for easy-access internet browsing and other 'light' duties. (Check out the suppliers, Solar Ready, for more information about their services for schools.)

More important, this technology fits perfectly into Cadoxton's own highly developed learning spaces. Housed in a traditional, imposing Victorian building, Cadoxton personifies current moves for learning spaces that are flexible, agile and suitable for purpose. Technology is embedded throughout for appropriate use, but no more disruptive to the eye than the welcoming IKEA sofas.

The inclusion of headteacher Janet Hayward, along with educators like Professor Stephen Heppell (who has just launched his own Learnometer for learning spaces on Kickstarter, see "'Learnometer' seeks funding to improve learning environments") and organisations like RIBA in the wide roster of Smarter Spaces partners is a positive sign that the campaign is here for the long term which can only increase its potential to collate and share best practice throughout the UK and beyond. In the shorter tem however, there is less than a week to get entries in to the Young Designers competition.

And if you're not convinced of the importance of schools getting involved in learning spaces design, at the recent Smarter Spaces event in east London, Matt Pullen, UK and Ireland managing director for AkzoNobel, the makers of Dulux, had this to say: "Research from the Royal Institute of British Architects found that new schools are much smaller than those being built under the Building Schools for the Future Programme and 80 per cent are beyond their life cycle. This leads to overcrowding and makes bullying worse which impacts learning outcomes. A lack of social areas also limits opportunities for learners to engage with one another."

More information

Smarter Spaces design campaign 
Young Designers competition for schools 
"School Learning Environments: Teacher Perceptions and Future Priorities” 
Smarter Spaces on Twitter: @SmarterSpaces16

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