Britain’s bizarre plan to take schooling back to the Stone Age

Britain’s bizarre plan to take schooling back to the Stone Age

As a society we have come to value the importance of creativity for prosperity and we have invested plenty of resources into understanding how to make employees more creative. Unfortunately, our children often do not receive the same treatment. New legislation in the UK effectively bans schools from being made into remotely innovative or attractive environments.

From the Guardian:

Curves are to be banned in a new generation of no-frills school buildings, according to a government crackdown on what it believes is wasteful extravagance in educational architecture.

Design templates unveiled for 261 replacement school buildings also prohibit folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs

It is part of a plan by the education secretary, Michael Gove, to cut school building costs by 30% and save up to £6m per school compared to Labour's Building Schools for the Future project….

The templates tell architects new schools should have "no curves or 'faceted' curves", corners should be square, ceilings should be left bare and buildings should be clad in nothing more expensive than render or metal panels above head height. As much repetition as possible should be used to keep costs down.

"A standardised approach should be taken, with the aim of creating simple designs that have the potential to be replicated on a number of sites," the templates state. "This may be achieved by using standardised dimensions for similar types of spaces that are integrated into an efficient planning and structural grid."

Modern architecture in British state schools will soon be extinct by law

A freely available 1998 edition of Harvard Business Review titled How to kill creativity, has a fantastically poignant discussion on the topic:

“Managers at one company undermined employee’s creativity by continually changing goals and interfering with process... In many companies, new ideas are met not with open minds but with time consuming layers of evaluation.” 

In British schools however, the “time consuming layers of evaluation” that some businesses suffer are to be replaced by ridiculously arbitrary Orwellian barriers. It is clear that there is no evidence that the new rules will save money. Cheap building materials and innovative techniques are constantly being created, it is painfully obvious that there is no intrinsic link between the number of curves a structure has and the cost of construction.

An outdoor area in a Welsh school which coincidentally happens to take advantage of other innovative technologies including solar panels and a biomass boiler.

Architects have the resources and the will to turn new schools in to inspiring environments for innovation. Instead schools are to be forced to be constructed in plain standardised blocks with no consideration of the effect our environment has on the way we learn but every consideration for the sheer volume of children that can be squeezed in to each building’s strictly defined walls.

The raft of “reforms” the British government is planning goes far beyond building rules. Coursework is to be abandoned in subjects including English and maths as the tide is turned back to the old fashioned rote exam. Creative subjects including music, art, drama and design will no longer contribute to a child’s qualifications as they leave secondary school and will instead likely be abandoned by both teachers and students who see no reason in teaching or studying subjects which earn no qualifications. The British Government has decided that now the only subjects deemed worthwhile of earning qualifications at secondary school level are English, Maths, Science, Languages, History and Geography - taking the British school system straight from one extreme to the other. The Education secretary has even announced a new focus on old fashioned learning facts by rote.

In short, new schools are to be Colditz-like structures made from old fashioned materials and are to be places where children are taught only old fashioned subjects using old fashioned techniques and examined using old fashioned testing methods. Welcome to the Stone Age.


Amabile, T., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., & Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work environment for creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 39 (5), 1154-1184 DOI: 10.2307/256995 Available online at:

Amabile, T. (1998). How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76 (5) PMID: 10185433 Available online at:

Image Credit: Base Structures 

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