PFI schools 'designed like jails', say experts

NEW school buildings are like prisons because of high fences and CCTV cameras, according to a study.

Researchers at Edinburgh University compared a school built in the 1930s with a new public, private, partnership (PPP) school in the same city.

The academics found the design of the playground was a major concern at the PPP school, which was not named, with one teacher describing the small outside space, surrounded by a high fence and monitored by cameras, as "like a prison courtyard".

Another issue some raised with the new school playground was that the space was too open and very noisy, with no "nooks or crannies or semi-private spaces", making it difficult for groups of pupils to find a quiet spot.

A lack of transition space, such as a corridor, in the new building also meant there was no area to signify an expected change of behaviour going into the building. That meant it is often difficult to get pupils to settle down into lessons once they return from breaks.

There were also ventilation problems and hot, stuffy classrooms, with pupils feeling ill at the end of the day.

Dr Jane Brown presented initial findings from the research at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

She described the new school as "cheap" to build at 20 million and said school design was increasingly being influenced by business.

She said: "People who don't know anything about education are influencing some design now."

The older school, also unnamed, had a variety of private spaces and a choice of playgrounds, but it, too, was monitored by cameras.

Dr Brown added: "There seems to be evidence that we are now experiencing a new era of surveillance in our schools."

PPP schools have been controversial because of the quality of their design and last year pupils at Rosshall Academy in Glasgow took their complaints to the Scottish Parliament's education committee.

They said they needed chiropractors due to the heavy bags they had to carry as the school had been designed with no space for pupil lockers.

Audit Scotland in March said it would take 20 years to bring Scotland's school estate up to 21st century standards.

The independent watchdog's report Improving the School Estate also warned that private funding initiatives saw high maintenance charges which could leave non-PPP buildings crumbling as they slip down the maintenance priority list.

The Scottish Government has pledged to replace PPP with a Scottish Futures Trust which would involve investment through bonds.

Judith Gillespie, the policy development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, disputed the findings.

She said: "The reality is that lots of playgrounds are inadequate and it's not the monopoly of new schools. In fact I would suggest that the older schools tend to be in a far worse state.

"In a city it is difficult to find the land for a large enough playground for many large schools."

There are 2,720 council-run schools in Scotland and in the last ten years 219 have been built and many others refurbished.