UK Government

English Heritage: English Heritage calls for more school refurbishment and poll reveals two out of three adults agree

News   •   Jan 25, 2010 11:41 GMT

New publications celebrate historic schools

Refurbishing old school buildings is often the best use of resources and the most sustainable way of modernising them when schools and local authorities bid for investment from the Government’s multi-million pound schools building and renewal programme, English Heritage said today (25th January) as it launched two new publications that highlight the value and potential of older schools.

A survey by English Heritage of 1,723 adults shows that two thirds think that refurbishing and extending old schools is more environmentally friendly than demolishing them and rebuilding new ones.

In the same survey, 83% of respondents feel that local councils should do more to find new uses for old, empty schools, and almost half (47%) feel that schools with historic character provide a more inspiring educational environment than modern ones. Three in four also say that historic schools contribute to the identity of a local area.

A new guidance document, Refurbishing Historic School Buildings, published today by English Heritage with the support of the Department of Children, Schools and Families, demonstrates the huge potential and flexibility of traditional school buildings. They can be adapted, made more energy efficient and expanded with new buildings alongside.

Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage, said: “Inspirational surroundings can have a hugely enriching effect on education. And as we are recognising through more research, many historic school buildings are beautifully designed and were built to last; some reflect changes in educational practice and have historical significance too, and many are landmark buildings which mean so much to local communities.

“The Government’s current school investment programmes are unique in scale and vital in ensuring that our country’s school estate provides the best possible learning environment for many years to come. But we believe that local education authorities need to strike the best balance between replacement and refurbishment. The latter is often the more environmentally sensitive and effective solution.  It uses the assets of the community, minimise requirements for new materials and cut demolition waste. It also helps to reinforce people’s sense of belonging and local identity.”

Elm Court School, a school for students aged 11- 16 with special educational needs, has outgrown its site and considered relocating in late 2005 with the help of Lambeth Council. Adapting a historic building emerged as the preferred option, and after an ambitious and imaginative programme of works, the school now occupies a completely refurbished old Edwardian school building in a Conservation Area. The building, formerly the Lambeth Institute and the Strand Grammar School, was kept in educational use until the 1980s and had since fallen into dereliction and disrepair. It would easily have been demolished if no action was taken by the local authority to find a future use for it. The school now benefits from enhanced space, state of the art facilities, bright airy classrooms, and an energy efficient air handling system, among other improvements. It now holds more than 100 students who will also benefit from two new buildings for sport, music and drama. It opened in March 2009.

Bill Hutcheson, Headteacher of Elm Court School said: “When we first came here this building had a feeling of education to it, a sense of purpose. By working sensitively, the architects have made a place here that totally surpassed my expectation and it shows that it can be done. You don’t need to knock down the old to rebuild the new.”

Cllr Paul McGlone, Executive Member for Children and Young People at Lambeth Council said: "Lambeth is the BSF Local Authority of the Year and we are delighted with the new Elm Court School which has breathed new life into an important local landmark. This recognises the innovative approach Lambeth has taken to providing the best quality educational facilities for its young people.”

Building Schools for the Future, Primary Capital Programme and other funding streams for schools represent the biggest Government investment in capital funding for school buildings that this country has seen in living memory, with over £20bn of scheduled investment over the next few years.

Tim Byles, Chief Executive of Partnerships for Schools (PfS), the organisation responsible for the delivery of the full suite of schools capital programmes in England, said: “PfS has been pleased to work with English Heritage on their new publication to encourage local authorities to look carefully at potential refurbishment projects.  Refurbishment need not be seen as the poor relation of new build. We are passionate about making best use of existing buildings and sustainable refurbishment projects - and indeed there are already some great examples of cherished local landmarks being given a new lease of life through BSF investment.”

Over 5,000 school buildings in England are listed for their special architectural and/or historical interest. Even those not meeting national designation criteria are often major local landmarks and demonstrate an important part of society’s evolution.

Elain Harwood, English Heritage architectural historian, said: “We have some wonderful school buildings in this country, many with beautiful architecture and valuable social history associated with them. They have served past communities well and, with imagination, most of these fine buildings can continue as schools, but they can also be put to a wide range of other uses. Demolition should be a last resort, and is a loss for us all.”

In her new book on the history and architecture of England’s schools, Ms Harwood quotes Sherlock Holmes in his description of schools: “Light houses, my boy! Beacons of the future! Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future.

Refurbishing Historic Schools Buildings is produced as part of English Heritage’s support to help local authorities and schools reach better decisions in relation to historic school buildings.  Another useful tool is a model brief which helps local authorities to undertake a simple but effective assessment of the heritage importance of the schools in their building portfolio. Free copies of both documents are available either as downloads from or as hard copies via English Heritage Customer Services on 0870 333 1181 or email

Elain Harwood’s new book, England’s Schools, is a concise history of school buildings across England from medieval times to the 1980s, analysing how social attitudes have been expressed in their architecture and planning. To order a copy (£9.99 each) please visit or call 0845 458 9910.

Images are downloadable from under Arts/English Heritage/Schools.


NDS Enquiries
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department