DIY: Design It Yourself

Elaine Purves explains how Rossall sixth formers tackled their study area refurbishment

How do you create a sixth form study room to meet the expectations of even the most design-savvy and demanding 16 to 18 year-olds? At Rossall School, the answer was easy: we got them to design it themselves.

“We felt the best people to understand what the students wanted were the students themselves, so they would also be in the best position to develop the best overall solution,” explains Design and Technology teacher Lee Hodgett.

“The students had just finished their coursework projects and AS exam, which had given them the necessary skills to tackle a project of this type. We also felt taking on the refurbishment would test their ability to work as part of a team, an essential skill for the future.”

Four students from the A-level Product Design course were given a budget to work to and a blank canvas to organise the layout, colour scheme, furniture and functionality of the room.

For 18 year-old James Clarke, the chance to get involved in the re-design was a dream come true: “The study area looked a bit messy and was really in need of refurbishment. We’d just completed our AS exams, so to be given the project was a great way to end a really enjoyable school year!”

With only basic help from their teachers to get the project off the ground, James and the team conducted all the research and analysis, design development and concept presentations themselves. 

Students carried out research and developed concepts themselves

“We spoke to a lot of the sixth formers and got them to complete questionnaires, then spent a lot of time discussing which ideas would work,” says James.

“We knew from the outset that we wanted different zones within the room, such as a pod station down one side and a group area in the centre. Our aim was to create a space that was flexible enough for individual and group study and which allowed students to give presentations to large groups.”

When the time came for the students to present their ideas to senior staff, I admit I was surprised – and impressed – with the results. The students’ designs were really well thought through. They had considered everything from the best way to maximise their budget to how to create a relaxing and productive environment for the students using the space.

They won us over with every part of their design and the study area as you see it today is pretty accurate to their specification. Very little modification was required. Perhaps most impressively, they came in under budget.

The completed design features study pods for individual study and online research, loose, reconfigurable tables for group work and a more informal area with sofas where students can hold discussions and use their laptops and tablets.

The design features ‘pods’ for individual study

A striking lighting concept featuring MDF ‘clouds’ with polka dot strips of LED lights adds a ‘wow’ factor to this grown up study space.

For Lee Hodgett, the completed room is testament to the students’ hard work: “They’ve really taken ownership of the project, from helping to assemble the furniture and arrange it according to the CAD designs and layouts to making prototypes for the designs of the lighting systems. 

“It’s been a challenge for them and one they’ve risen to. Any live project with a real client gives a much greater insight into the world of design and knowing they would be under scrutiny from their peers for the design that they produced has been a huge incentive to get it right. I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Students can easily collaborate in the new space

And James, who hopes to go on to study Product Design Engineering at Nottingham University says seeing the design come together in the new study area has given him and his fellow students a real sense of achievement: “It’s always great to see the end product come to life, but even better to be the end user of what you are designing – and to know other students will be able to use it for years to come.”

Elaine Purves is Head of Rossall School.

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