Does a ‘stunning school’ help learning?


Image copyright Andrew Lee
Image caption The new Broomlands Primary cuts a striking figure in the Kelso sky

At first glance, it looks like a giant crown sitting on top of the grass or a spacecraft that has landed in a traditional Borders market town.

Whatever it might resemble, the spiky design of the new Broomlands Primary in Kelso is certainly distinctive and it is in the running for an award from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.

But how has the transformation of their surroundings affected the pupils, parents and teachers?

Image copyright Scottish Borders Council
Image caption The old school had a “lovely atmosphere” but “didn’t look the prettiest”

Taking a stroll round the grounds – even on a relatively dreich day – the structure looks striking.

And, chatting with everyone who sees and uses the building on a regular basis, their pride comes across in every word.

It is not that they did not like the old school they left behind in January last year, it is simply that their new surroundings have given them so much more space and light to learn in.

Image copyright Andrew Lee
Image caption Pupils said the bright new school “cheers you up a wee bit”

A group of pupils at the new school – Bronwen, Ker, Kenny and Antonia – say their former home was “not that good an environment to learn in”.

“It wasn’t very light because you had to put the lights on and if you turned them off it would be quite dark,” says Antonia.

And Kenny sums up his reaction to the new building in just one word: “Wow.”

“It was really exciting on the first day when we were walking in class by class and looking at our classrooms and everything,” says Bronwen.

“It was colourful and bright whereas the old school wasn’t as colourful,” adds Antonia.

Could it possibly make a difference to the school day? Ker reckons it might.

“If you are having quite a bad day and you come to this school it kind of cheers you up a wee bit because it is quite bright,” he says.

Image copyright Andrew Lee
Image caption The Kelso primary opened in January last year

Parents speak fondly of the old building which they say was dubbed “Legoland” due to its box-like shape.

“From the outside it didn’t look the prettiest at all, it looked like a cow shed to be honest,” says Pam Guthrie.

“But the atmosphere inside was lovely – it had a real warmth, the staff were lovely, the children were lovely – you just got a really good feel about the place.”

‘Teachers happier’

There were some worries the new building might not be anything out of the ordinary, despite a price tag of nearly £10m.

“A concern of mine was that it would be a bog standard school,” says parent Alison Jack. “I think the actual design is spot-on.”

Another parent, Jennifer Redpath, says: “I don’t feel it has made them learn any better being here but they do have more space and more areas to break out and do different things that they couldn’t do before.”

According to Sonya Nairn the new school is much brighter and airier “which maybe then makes the teachers happier”.

Image caption Kerri Scott, Jane Woodcock and Elaine Murray all teach at the new site

And what is the message from the chalk-face?

Kerri Scott, a principal teacher at the school, says children adapted quickly to their new surroundings.

“The kids are certainly proud of their environment when you hear them talk about their school they want to tell people that they come here because of how it looks,” she says.

Image copyright Andrew Lee

The extra room has made a huge difference, according to P4 teacher Elaine Murray.

“We just didn’t have that in the old school – there was no extra space – it was like we were bursting at the seams,” she says.

Even the way they work has changed, says Ms Scott.

In a profession sometimes thought of as “isolating” there is now much more working together.

Image copyright Andrew Lee

“I don’t think we could have predicted that would happen,” Ms Murray agrees.

“That the architecture of a building would impact your practice as much as it has, but it has.”

And even coming to work doesn’t seem quite so bad, according to Primary 2/3 teacher Jane Woodcock.

She says: “When you turn that corner and walk into that big open space out there, you immediately have that feeling of – ‘this is where I am meant to be today’.”

Image caption Michelle Matthews has been head teacher at Broomlands for nearly a decade

Michelle Matthews – head teacher since 2010 – says she was keen to maintain the same “lovely feeling” from one site to another.

She says some children were worried it might be lost in the move.

However, she explained to them that the feeling was inside them and would “radiate around” their new home, the head teacher says.

“Even on a dull day – we’re in Scotland so we don’t have the best of weather – the light is flowing through and that makes you feel so much better,” she adds.

Image copyright Andrew Lee

Little wonder, the head teacher says, one little girl recently told her it was “such a stunning school”.

Architects Stallan-Brand said they had put the building on a central site to allow best use of its large grassed area around it.

They aimed to be “driven by local influence” using stone from the nearby Blinkbonny quarry as well as “referencing the ruinous stone of Kelso Abbey”.

And the spiky roof?

It is described as “inspired by the traditional pitched roofs” of a Borders high street.

Image copyright IAN CAPPER
Image caption Architects said they wanted to take their inspiration from a typical Borders town centre

So does all this make a difference to education?

Diarmaid Lawlor, head of place at Architecture and Design Scotland, says there is “no doubt” that well-designed schools can help children learn – although great learning could happen in “almost any type of setting”.

“What great environments share is the ability to enable learners to feel comfortable and challenged,” he says.

“They are places where they can find support when they feel stressed and get feedback on their achievements.”

Broomlands Primary aims to provide exactly that kind of setting for its pupils – regardless of whether it wins a design award later this month or not.

All pictures are copyrighted.

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