Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Travel Lodge classroom?

Paid my first visit to the new Dunoon Grammar School last night. Choir practice night. We've had one rehearsal so far this term, but we had that one in Holy Trinity church - an airy space, to put it politely, with a great acoustic and only the twilight birds to disturb us. The school music department ticks none of these boxes. The moment the automatic doors opened to admit us, before we'd even spoken to the polite (and new) security guard, we knew we were doomed.

DGS is a piping school. It has a proud tradition of excellence in piping, and like every excellent band they rehearse. They were rehearsing last night. This never used to matter, as they practised in another building on the school site. Now they're in with the rest of music. What would a sensible school designer do? Do I hear a small voice muttering about soundproofing? Whoever put this one-size-fits all building together obviously paid no heed to the voice of the former PT Music (who happens to be Mr B) when he raised the need for soundproofing in the department, and the pipes sounded out loud and clear no matter how many doors we closed.

Because the piping tutor is a seriously decent spud, a compromise was reached. We shut ourselves in the room with the grand piano and got on with it, trying to ignore the now more distant pipes (remember that poem about the pipes at Lucknow?) But we couldn't ignore the glaring lights bouncing off the white walls, the fitted carpet which deadened every note we sang, the heat and the claustrophobia-inducing low ceiling. The room was at least half the size of the one we had used previously (now demolished) and the whole experience was stressful and unsatisfying.

So what makes a good classroom? I know music rooms have their own peculiar needs, and I know too that at least one former colleague is enjoying her modern languages classroom (though I suspect this has much to do with the fact that it faces north and she no longer has to fry in the heat of her old, south-facing room). But if I were still teaching, I'd be looking for an airy space with controllable heating, adequate windows which I could open, glare-free lighting as close to natural light as possible and a walk-in cupboard to reduce the sensation of clutter brought about by open shelving. Oh, and I'd prefer not to have unpainted MDF fitted furnishings, and I'd like sufficient space to change the layout of the room to suit the occasion. I'd also like a slight resonance to make my job easier, and rely on good classroom management to avoid undue pupil noise, rather than the acousti-booth effect.

Did I notice anything I liked? Yes. There were loads of power points as well as equipment for Powerpoint or similar presentations. I just hope they have the computers to plug into them. But we're looking for somewhere else to hold choir practice in.


  1. Anonymous12:07 AM

    I am willing to bet (but hope I am wrong) that there is no hall big enough to hold an assembly of at least half of the school population or in which to mount a stage production or concert. I further expect that there is no staffroom (I like the American term 'teachers' lounge') as we elders remember it. Rather there will be 'bases' where small groups of kindred clones can gather - always assuming that they have any time for simple schmoozing. Divide et impera is the motto of modern school planners. (However, I sit ready to be chastened.)

    And planners there be - it is too awful to contemplate the possibility that these modern sausage factories are the result of blind chance: one would lose one's faith in quantum mechanics. There seems to be a prevailing belief that teachers' souls can be bought for fresh paintwork, wall-to-wall carpeting and a plethora of powerpoints. Who knows? 'They' may be right. But there are times when I pine for the open verandahs of Hillhead High School, and a hall that didn't have to double as a cafeteria. Eheu fugaces... said the old curmudgeon.

  2. Anonymous8:35 AM

    I actually know one of the acoustic engineers that was consulted by a number of local authorities for their new school building programmes. Their suggestions were oddly amongst the first to be 'dropped' in many instances. "Why did they bother consulting?" was their observation - "After all, my time isn't cheap!"

    A good result all round then. Pay out for consultation, and then ignore the recommendations. Award winning, really. No sorry, that should read "A school fit for the 21st Century" ;-(

  3. Anonymous2:33 PM

    As someone who has been in the new building as a 'performing arts' specialist (I'm calling myself this) I have to agree with you. The music rooms are hellish! I was helping the newish music teacher with a certificate class the other day and it was impossible. Firstly, there are no headphones, resulting in lots of pupils playing 'the entertainer' on 6 different keyboards at different speeds while another pupil is on the drum-kit and another 4 are on Glocks playing 'Greensleeves'. I was in there for 45 minutes and I have never felt so drained and ill after a class.

    People keep saying it is a 'practical' room but it is in no way 'practical' to teach in it. For a start there is a partition that splits the two rooms - so what happens if one teacher is providing a lesson on theory and the other is dong performing? I'll tell you what happens... a severe headache and nothing more.

    The school has its ups and downs, like everything else. For example P.E is unreal and the drama rooms are exceptional, but I couldn't teach there and I won't!

  4. I understand the music rooms failed the soundproofing tests. Perhaps something will be done to remedy the situation. It's called 'snagging'.