How a good tradition was lost?

'If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!'       Barry Jones

There is no such thing as continuous progress . . . . things don't always get better.  Consider the three primary schools shown below.  All of them are more or less identical in terms of use, size and materials and all are on the NSW Central Coast.  All of them were built by the Department of Education as the population expanded, each is roughly fifty years apart in time and they are all located within a dozen kilometres of one another.  This salutary story shows how a good tradition was watered down and replaced by a worse one over a one hundred year period.  

School Design 1880-1900


The oldest of these three schools (above) and by far the best in every way, was built between 1880 and 1900 and consists of two classrooms each with a covered verandah for access, and with washrooms and toilets also off the verandahs.

The building is of timber stud construction with a timber floor, timber weatherboard cladding and the timber roof framing is clad with corrugated metal.  The pitch of the roof is generous with higher ceiling heights and spaces than the schools that followed, and the roof has been carried down over the verandah to provide rain and sun protection.  There are wind driven ventilators for each classroom on the ridge of the roof, there is a fireplace between the two class rooms and rainwater is collected from the roof. 

The result is an efficient, good looking building well suited for its purpose and that encourages natural cross ventilation through the classrooms.  The north facing windows are also shaded to keep out hot summer sun so the kids will stay awake and learn.  It's an environmentally responsible building considering it was built over a hundred years ago; they even left a few trees!

The second school(below) would have been built in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, in the early Fifties probably.  It has the same accommodation and the same construction as the first school.  The screened entrance porch is smaller and the roof pitch is flatter. The ceiling heights are not as high and the eaves are at the same height all around so the roof doesn't dip down over the verandah.  The ventilators have disappeared.

School Design 1945-1955


 The third school(below) is more recent, probably in the 1990's, and is only a single classroom.  Except for an unnecessary brick skirt around the underfloor space, the construction is similar to the other two schools  except that everything has become meaner; the roof pitch is flatter yet again, there are no verandahs or ventilators, no eaves or sun protection and there is only a vestigal entry porch screening the entry door.  Altogether a very poor relative of school number one in terms of how well in handles the environment and provides comfortable conditions that encourage learning.  And it doesn't look nearly as right either does it?

School Design 1980-2000


One presumes these gradual changes were made in an attempt to reduce costs, and there would undoubtedly have been some savings but in the overall scheme of things they would not have been great.  The next step downwards in terms of quality was the introduction of portable (?) prefabricated classrooms, which were no better environ-mentally and there has never been a true cost comparison.

Our educational standards are falling compared with other countries and better schools are only part of what's needed to get a better educated population and a country that will survive by being smarter in the greatly different world that is coming.

Better design IS important, change shouldn't mean everything becomes more meretricious, not as good looking and not work as well.  The gradual deterioration in the design of these schools is a sad story of how a good tradition was lost by default, simply by not caring enough.

Don Gazzard LFAIA
February 2014