Case Study: Social Spaces in the Learning Environment

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Social Spaces in the Learning Environment: In the past decade, following the Scottish Futures Trust’s ‘Schools for the Future’ programme, the education sector in Scotland has witnessed a building boom with inspirational spaces appearing the length and breadth of the country. These new schools, both primary and secondary, are being designed to respond to the Curriculum for Excellence, providing spaces that cater to both formal and informal learning, to group work and to individual study, to social activities and to sporting endeavours and for many schools, responding to the particular demands of the local communities in which they are based. Additionally, many older schools are being refurbished by local authorities to bring the accommodation up to modern standards; working within existing building footprints can place constraints on what can be achieved, especially with listed buildings, but also allows opportunities for creative re-use of space.

Schools have moved from ‘classrooms, corridors and a gym hall’ to true ‘learning landscapes’ that support the pupils on their learner journeys whilst also providing a pleasant environment for their staff and visitors. The Curriculum for Excellence has four key purposes, best summarised as ‘helping children and young people’ to be:

  • successful learners
  • confident individuals
  • responsible citizens
  • effective contributors

Multifunctional Spaces

Different spaces within schools have to respond to these purposes in their own particular way, and as is apparent from walking through many of the new schools, the challenge is to make spaces fulfil more than one function (and for ‘all-through’ campuses, to make these multi-function spaces cater to a wide age range). The emphasis on school design is not solely on creating spaces that will enable academic excellence, but on creating spaces that will help to develop the individuals’ skills as a whole, taking learning out of the classroom and also providing the right mix of spaces within a school for children and young adults to socialise. Schools also need to prepare pupils for the outside world, and the design of social spaces within schools can help with this transition through facilitating social communication. A fundamental question that is perhaps beyond the scope of this document is ‘when is a space just a social space?’.

For some educators, ‘every space within a school is a learning space’, while others define social spaces as ‘the internal and external areas within the school buildings and grounds where students go to when they are not in the classroom’. There is clearly an opportunity for confusion. In this document we showcase inspirational, non-classroom spaces that cater more to the social side of school life, presenting the large, communal spaces within award-winning new build schools, examples of sympathetic treatments of a historic school building as well as some spaces that bring the outdoors indoors.

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This case study was conducted by haa Design on behalf of Architecture and Design Scotland.

Image (detail) by JM Architects
Updated October 2019

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