A statistic from Danmarks Lærerforening shows that four out of ten municipalities have planned to reduce the number of lessons significantly due to cost savings. But there might be another solution, which will allow us to give the children the same number of lessons per week while also creating resourcefulness despite the enormous cost reductions in the public sector. Can we, in this cost-cutting period, still develop our schools by using what we have more wisely?
At SIGNAL, we have looked at the “mental rebuild” in a number of projects, and we can document that it is often possible to optimise the existing physical space by 20 to 40 %. That can be done if we challenge the organisations on their behaviour and make them reconsider how space is used on a daily basis rather than planning comprehensive reconstructions before having looked at how the behavioural change can actually lead to extra resources.
CHALLENGES OF THE PRIMARY SCHOOL
During the establishment of the model programme ”Modelprogram for Folkeskolen” (initiated by Erhvervs- og Byggestyrelsen and Realdania), it has become clear that many municipalities seem to be facing the same challenges:
- Small schools are closed down and bigger schools must accommodate more parallel classes
- Integration of and collaboration with other institutions in the community
- Is it possible for the teachers to stay at the school and prepare the lessons?
- Can we give the students a different kind of quality in their everyday life by introducing concepts from the “All Day School”?
- Can the school be more open towards the local community?
- Can we develop a new way of thinking within the municipalities that responds to the fluctuations in the need for more classes at the schools so that we can improve the flexibility and elasticity of the buildings according to those fluctuations?
THE EMPTY SCHOOL IS RUNNING ALL DAY LONG
Our analyses have documented that it is possible to fit in extra functions, extra teaching offers, and more students by challenging the conventional perception of how space is generally used at a school. Quite often the school building is empty after 2 pm although it is running all day long.
Could we schedule lessons between 3 and 4 in the afternoon in order to make the school active throughout the day and make room for new learning styles and new offers for both teachers and students? If we compare ourselves with our neighbouring countries, studies show that the “all day school” strengthens the subject knowledge, but only 11 out of all of Denmark’s 1600 primary schools are “all day schools”. Could other institutions benefit from the schools when it is left empty anyway? Institutions that could give students a better and more cohesive everyday life and parents a better cohesion between offers while at the same time the square metres could be used more wisely throughout the day? Or maybe the same rooms could be used differently depending on the time of the day?
RARELY USED CLASSROOMS
Some of the schools’ classrooms – such as the physic lab – are only used 20% of the time. Would it be possible to release room for extra teaching offers by letting related courses share the same room? Artefacts and tools could be stored nearby. An art room can also easily host language lessons although the walls are decorated with drawings or other creative projects.
The physic lab, the art room, and so on are some of the most tactile examples that we are at a school; why not uncover that instead of hiding it away? Or could different schools located in the same area share the same physic lab? By doing so, we would be able to have a modern upgraded lab in one out of three schools that would be used 90% of the time. And if the teaching is scheduled in the different labs, it will set some space free at the two other schools for more parallel classes and other possibilities.
NO CLASS OF BELONGING?
In Denmark it is still a ruling principle that classes have the same base for almost all lessons (apart from physics, art, P.E. etc.). It gives the students personal ownership, although data shows that the students only spend 2/3 of a typical day in that room. Why don’t we challenge that thought and let the classes from the same year have common ownership of a number of rooms? They would still have a safe environment, but it would be an environment with different space designs in the different classrooms, which would create the opportunity for new educational offers while also supporting different educational teaching principles.
The storage issue can be solved and at the same time we can accommodate one of the wishes among the teachers: Access to diversity when it comes to education and space. With his change, we can reach an extra 20% of performance on the space in question. When we ask the older students, they rarely have problems changing “base”.
THE STUDENTS AND THE SMALL BAYS
When we ask the pupils what they want, the answer is: cosy corners, project areas, and overall smaller areas where they can meet and hang out between classes. Small bays where things can happen. Could we use some of the rooms and square metres generated through common ownership to create new areas for the students? We know for a fact that students’ overall well-being is connected to the presence of a good social culture – a very important factor when it comes to the learning ability.
PREPARING LESSONS AT THE SCHOOL
We often see that teachers leave the school shortly after the last lesson has ended. They generally prepare the next lessons at home. If the teachers were able to prepare the lessons at the school, the transparency in the preparation would send an important message to the students: “Yes, we do take you seriously”. The teachers would also be able to collaborate more in the planning of their lessons and they would be available to help the students between lessons.
The Danish school system is said to be the world’s most expensive. Why don’t we expose and activate the unused resources and prove that the most expensive school system is also the best school system?