Turn empty shops and offices into schools, says charity

Government urged to learn new three Rs – refresh, refurbish and reuse – to solve buildings crisis.

The school run could be combined with the grocery run if the Government adopts proposals to make it easier for new schools to open in a range of deserted buildings – from empty shops and old office blocks to abandoned churches and retail parks.

Campaigners want planning laws overhauled so that schools can use "dead space" such as Norgas House in Newcastle, the former headquarters for Northern Gas, which has lain vacant for more than a decade, or the old Bolingbroke Hospital in Wandsworth, south-west London, which was shut down two years ago. The axing of England's £7.5bn school rebuilding programme has exacerbated the need for a new approach, they say.

Ty Goddard, chief executive of the British Council for School Environments (BCSE), said turning old shops, offices and churches into schools could create hundreds of thousands of new pupil places. "We all see buildings that are a blight on our daily lives. I'm saying, 'local authorities: wake up to the massive assets you have in your portfolio.' Lots of buildings are going to waste. We're looking at the potential for them to be refurbished to provide more learning spaces."

The BCSE, an independent education charity, will this week call on the Government to adopt what it calls a new approach to the three Rs – refresh, refurbish and reuse – to make schools work. In a report to be presented to ministers, it says a variety of unused buildings, including empty units in out-of-town retail parks and abandoned factories, could make ideal learning spaces if converted with imagination.

Where space is tight, such as in a derelict high street shop, schools will need to be flexible about the facilities they need, the report will say. If there is no room for playing fields, for example, the school could use a municipal leisure centre for its sports lessons, or if there is no space for a dining room, then sandwiches could be delivered for lunch.

The concept has already found favour with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who, at the Conservative conference this month, promised to open new academies in the 100-plus buildings that the Department of Education either owns or has a lease on. "There is floor space in those buildings lying empty or under-used, when every resource we have should be put at the service of children," he said. And last week the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation process on changing planning laws for schools.

Mr Gove is drawing inspiration from countries such as Sweden, New Zealand and the United States, where schools have all opened in converted buildings. Steve Bolingbroke, who runs the UK arm of Kunskapsskolan, a company that runs 32 Swedish schools in buildings that started life as something else, believes the UK offers plenty of scope for similar schools. "It's more complicated here. You need space for exam halls, which don't exist in Sweden because there are no formal exams. There are very strict regulations regarding the distances between desks, for example," he said. In Sweden classrooms operate in anything from an old astronomical observatory to a former boat building shed in the Malmo docks.

So far, just one British school has used old office space to accommodate its pupils. Bristol Cathedral Choir School, which moved from the independent sector to become an academy in 2008, converted an empty office block into new computing, maths and foreign language departments.

The proposals have been given short shrift by teachers, however. The National Union of Teachers said it was "nonsense" to imagine all the facilities needed for a large comprehensive could be contained within any spare bit of space.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower