Do you agree? Norwich principal warns against government plans for no-frills school buildings

Open Academy in Norwich, formerly Heartsease High School.

Open Academy in Norwich, formerly Heartsease High School.


Government plans to crack down on the costs of educational architecture nationally are being questioned locally – following the architectural successes of two Norwich schools.

What Heartsease High School looked like before it became Open Academy. Photo: Simon Finlay.What Heartsease High School looked like before it became Open Academy. Photo: Simon Finlay.

Curved buildings are to be banned in a new generation of no-frills school buildings as the Conservative/LibDem coalition government attempts to cut school building costs by 30pc and save up to £6m per school compared to Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project, which it controversially abandoned soon after coming to power.

Design templates unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings across the country prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs.

The templates have been published to let architects and builders bidding for £2.5bn of contracts on new school buildings know what the government expects from schools that will be cheaper and 15pc smaller than those built under the previous government.

It is part of a plan by education secretary Michael Gove to replace the primary and secondary schools it deems to be in the worst condition as part of a five-year programme.

Principal of Open Academy, Jon Platten. Picture: Denise BradleyPrincipal of Open Academy, Jon Platten. Picture: Denise Bradley

The templates tell architects that new schools should have square corners, ceilings left bare and buildings clad in nothing more expensive than render or metal panels above head height.

The plans are designed to cut costs, but is the government underestimating the value of modern architecture, such as the curved buildings of Open Academy, formerly Heartsease High School, and City Academy Norwich, formerly Earlham High School?

Jon Platten, principal of Open Academy, is a firm supporter of the modern architecture which his school has been fortunate to benefit from.

The £20m curved amphitheatre-style building opened in September 2010 and won a community award at the Norwich Society’s 2011 Design Awards.

The school also joined a number of impressive projects from across the globe when it was recognised in the 2011 Institution of Structural Engineers’ Structural Awards, with other shortlisted projects including The Helix in Singapore and the London 2012 Velodrome.

The Salhouse Road building is the UK’s largest solid timber panel building and is said to have a negative carbon footprint.

Mr Platten said: “There is no doubt that architecture has a massive effect on how schools operate. When we moved into the new building at the Open Academy, there was a palpable positive impact on behaviour. Exclusions were reduced and removals from lessons fell by 75pc. The Open Academy, like other new school builds, was designed around the idea of ‘emotional literacy’. A large and spacious atrium allows students to mingle with adults; ‘breakout areas’ outside suites of classrooms enable flexible approaches to learning.

“Smaller buildings would seem to run the risk of ‘kettling’ large numbers of children at certain times of the day.”

City Academy’s new buildings were opened this summer and also feature a curved main building.

A Department for Education statement about the building templates said: “Compared to BSF these designs represent a reduction in wasted space – 15pc for secondary and 5pc for primary schools – whilst maintaining the same size teaching space, classrooms, staffrooms, sport, and art and design facilities.

“These new schools will still be bigger than secondary schools built in 2004 and primaries built in 2006.”

- Do you agree with the government’s plans? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email


  • I think we sometimes underestimate the importance and impact our environment can have on performance, be that in school or the workplace. While I don't think there is anything wrong in keeping things simple, I do think that school classrooms need to be flexible spaces which allow for the different types of learning which take place. The days of simply sitting at a desk and looking at the blackboard are long gone. These days what happens in the classroom is a blend of the traditional, sitting at a desk, plus group and whole class activities. So the ability to partition or open up classrooms is actually quite important. This would also help deal with fluctuating class sizes from year to year. However, I also know that architects are notorious for producing designs which may look fantastic in theory but cost and practicality often come second in the priority stakes. It's a question of balance - sensibly costed bells and whistles which can be proved to have a positive impact shouldn't be discounted, however it's absolutely right that bells and whistles which are just included for the sake of it should not be allowed.

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    Sunday, October 7, 2012

  • Sounds a like a good idea to me.. I was schooled in victorian buildings until I was ten, then we moved to a brand new school.. purpose bult, we had so many bells and whistles, Open plan class room, a quiet room.. I found it distracting, You could hear the next doors class lesson. I do not agree with petitions not being built there are times when you need to. A school is a place of learning, as long as it is suitable, and kept in good repair , it can be as basic as it like ( bring back walls and seperate class rooms) I know too expensie

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    Saturday, October 6, 2012

  • Sounds like a good idea to me too. The money wasted on the architecture at Heartsease could have been spent on other schools in the county which desperately need new facilities. The same applies to all the money wasted on academies and free schools. A simple plain building set in good playing fields, buildings with good insulation, heating and ventilation with all the necessary facilities- a good library,science and language labs, music practice rooms, sports hall etc is a proper use of money.Diverting spending which should be used for education into the architecture and fleeting whims and fads for "innovative " teaching spaces is not. Flexible spaces are not a new idea-Victorian schools had classrooms divided by ceiling height screens (and noise was a problem in those rooms) Apparently Victorian children were often taught in very large classes by one teacher and unqualified pupil teachers or monitors- a money saving idea the last two governments have adopted with relish whilst giving their chums who run acadamies oodles of cash.

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    Daisy Roots

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

  • We would all love to live in a unique architecturally designed house but the first question to be asked is can we afford it on our income. This country's income is limited and it is important to be realistic and ensure costs are kept to a minimum and all those schools struggling with poor facilities and reduced budgets have their their basic needs met for the welfare of our children. The real judge of a school is not the design of the building but to see happy children reaching good results through the dedication of teachers.

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    Sunday, October 7, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site


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