The New Schools

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Architects: Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew ◦ Theme Convener: B. W. Rowe, o.b.e., m.c.
Display Designers: Neville Conder and Patience Clifford

The “New Schools” Pavilion displays the kind of tools and the sort of environment that are now being devised for the schoolboy and schoolgirl, if they are to get the best out of contemporary education.

There is no room on the South Bank to project a picture that would do justice to the past history and present scope of the entire British educational system. But an introductory mural in the “New Schools” Pavilion sketches the contributions made by former generations. It was Britain that was chiefly responsible for spreading to other continents that great Mediterranean culture which, for five hundred years or more, has been civilising the world. British churches and monasteries fostered this work; British universities extended and expanded it.

With the Education Act of 1944, which empowered local education authorities to provide a full and efficient education for every child in the country between the ages of five and fifteen, new standards were set for the equipment and environment of education. This new system embraces everyone, but it gives to everyone a fair freedom of choice. The process begins with the Nursery School: so does the designer’s set of problems. His first job is to devise a classroom setting in which children between the ages of three and five will find it agreeably easy to learn to become members of their class, and to feel, however dimly, some responsibility to their fellows.

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As soon as the five year old goes to a Primary School he starts to master the general tools of learning. Now he needs fresh equipment in the way of desks and chairs and libraries; and it is time for the whole paraphernalia that will enable him to take part in physical education, and art, and drama to be placed at his disposal.

When, at the age of eleven or more, the schoolchild passes on to his Secondary School, he may choose to start specialising and his speciality will demand more new equipment, such as laboratories, crafts-rooms and workshops.

Thus, each new phase needs new tools and a fresh background. The “New Schools” Pavilion ends up with a fully furnished classroom, in which there is displayed a “Project”: that is to say, a co-operative exercise in which all members of a class or group of classes take part. First, the children are given a subject to investigate, a subject on their own. They go out into their town or their countryside and seek to uncover all the facts they need. Then they come back to the classroom, analyse the facts, shape their conclusions, and present them in the form, not only of essays, but of charts and models.

In this way, a “Project” easily enlists a childly natural curiosity; it stimulates him into trying out in practice all the skills that he has learned – and it impels him to pool his surmises and discoveries with those of his fellows. In fact, the “Project” is a fair sample of the trend of modern education in Britain to-day.