Access and Integration in Schools Conference, Coventry University

Coventry University’s Bugatti Building hosted the second annual conference for access and integration in schools. This year’s conference wass jointly sponsored by the Ergonomics Society, University of Coventry and Ergonomics Safety Research Institute at Loughborough. Speakers included Alan Gardner on backpain and the design of school furniture, developing a European standard in the design of school furniture, Pauline Hughes, CEO of the Ewing Foundation talking about classroom acoustics, Rachel Benedyk from UCL talking about ergonomics, Andree Woodcock from Coventry talking about an up and coming research project about engaging children in school design and of course myself, talking about the ‘designmyschool’ website (currently off line since 2007).

Organised by Andree, this was a delightful occasion to get people together and talk about things that really matter. There were others on the list of speakers but sadly I missed them as I got in to Coventry by train a little after the conference started, and left a little before it ended.

The intriguing thing for me was to see folk picking up the strands of what we have been doing for the last couple of years in the school design arena. If Coventry University are able to undertake a more formal research project to substantiate a lot of the action research that went in to designmyschool then so much the better! If I can help at all, just say the word…

I thoroughly enjoyed this conference, small as it was, because it focussed on things I believe are important. With so much money being spent on schools at the moment (BSF, PFI and so on) it really is crucial to get the basics right. buying chairs that are poor design, or because they are cheap is about the worst use of the money I can think of – get this bit right, make the learners able to concentrate and not squirm in discomfort, and who knows what will follow on. The same applies to tables, heating, lighting, ventilation, corridors, toilets, canteens, playgrounds, and much more besides. These are traditionally areas that architects and procurement officers concern themselves with. It’s about time they stopped and looked at what makes effective learning (and thank heavens some already do).

But beyond the millions of pounds where will we be? Are we yet again going to invest in buildings that have very good intentions but are based on our yesterdays? Or are we going to take a much braver step towards investing in learning environments for tomorrow’s learners? It really is more about meeting the needs than meeting the budgets.