English Heritage stresses value of historic schools in rush to modernise

English Heritage has urged local authorities to protect historic school buildings as it embarks on its biggest school building project for fifty years.

The government's Building Schools for the Future initiative is designed to update hundreds of schools throughout the country in a programme of refurbishment and rebuilding in order to enable the use of new IT equipment in the classroom and create multi purpose learning spaces.

This is creating many issues for England's historic schools, such as proposals for redevelopment, accommodation of new uses and in extreme cases, demolition.

In a new policy document, The Future of Historic School Buildings, English Heritage says that, while it recognises the need for change and investment, councils should fully understand the value of their buildings before decisions are taken affecting their future.

"Historic schools can often be the most prominent building in a community after the parish church," said Tim Brennan, English Heritage Policy officer. "The shared experience they represent, sometimes stretching across many generations, can be a powerful source of community identity and cohesion."

In such cases, English Heritage favours repair, refurbishment and reuse as a school rather than direct replacement. If it can be demonstrated that the school can not be adapted to modern educational use, English Heritage normally favours conversion to re-use as offices or flats, with demolition as a last resort in the interests of sustainability and preserving local character.

"Proposals for change should be sustainable, based on an understanding of the architectural and historical significance of the school and the way in which it is valued by the community," Tim Brennan added.

English Heritage has the full support of the Department for Education in its campaign.

By David Hopkins



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