Government Architect NSW on designing good schools


Children deserve to learn in high quality schools and the Government Architect NSW is working hard to make this happen.

Discussion on education infrastructure generally focusses on the quantity of what government has been delivering rather than the quality of these projects, and their potential to enhance the places and neighbourhoods surrounding them.  

The NSW government, school and local communities care about quality, and the legacy created following a major investment. This is why the Government Architect NSW is playing a renewed role in the design of the state’s education facilities. 

Many of us will have a connection to a school designed by the former Government Architect’s Office, either as a student, a parent, a community member visiting a weekend market in the playground, or enjoying a class in the local school hall. 

No longer providing design services, it’s refocussed its activities while retaining and enhancing its strategic advisory role.

Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Primary School.
Photograph courtesy of John Gollings

How shifting pedagogical approaches are changing learning environments 

More schools are engaging with students, educators and the school community about different pedagogical approaches in the design process, including traditional and contemporary teaching styles.

New approaches to learning often require a variety of settings and increased technological support to enable a range of teaching styles.

These include large groups, small groups, personalised learning as well as indoor and outdoor spaces.

Schools are a vital part of any healthy and thriving community. Research suggests there is a strong link between design and learning outcomes in schools:

  • Children who cycle or walk to school perform measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, as opposed to those traveling by car or public transport. (Goodyear 2013)
  • Access to open space, nature, and gardens has a range of social, environmental, and economic benefits, including improved health and wellbeing, productivity, air quality, and biodiversity. (GANSW 2018)
  • Controlling daylight in school buildings improves student performance. Faster progression is noted in mathematics (20 per cent increase) and reading (26 per cent increase) where classrooms received adequate daylight. (Green Building Council of Australia 2009).

Good design, including good environmental design, ensures that schools embrace their local setting, cultural history and identity, including Aboriginal cultural heritage. 

Schools are encouraged to connect with their local Aboriginal community 

Schools are encouraged to connect with their local Aboriginal community to better understand their deep-rooted connection to and caring for Country. 

And learning about local environment and cultural heritage can help students to develop habits that will benefit them throughout their lives. 

Environment performance is also important

A timely document developed by GANSW in collaboration with the Department of Education and Schools Infrastructure NSW is the Environmental Design Guide for Schools.

It presents strategies for passive design as opportunities for making positive, sustainable change in the operation of schools.

This provides school communities with a holistic understanding of environmental design. 

It presents strategies for passive design as opportunities for making positive, sustainable change in the operation of schools.

Good design is now government policy

March 2018 saw the introduction of good design as a new object of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, further embedding the role of design in the planning and development process.  

Better Placed: an integrated design policy for the built environment NSW, supports the new object in the Act by defining what government means by good design, describing it as both a process and an outcome.

It’s NSW’s first state design policy, and has become the “umbrella policy” for a suite of GANSW guidance, advice and initiatives.

In April 2018, to assist with the implementation of both the new design object and Better Placed, the Minister for Planning launched the NSW State Design Review Panel (SDRP) to review State Significant Development.

This gives design teams and clients an opportunity to seek early design advice on projects from GANSW and from a panel of independent experts before submitting applications.

Since its inception, the SDRP has met 65 times and reviewed 46 projects with nearly half the projects considered being schools.

Inaburra – Learning Centre

Good design helps meet the urgent need for new and upgraded school facilities

Sydney’s population is growing and its demographic change, which means more schools need to be built and upgraded.

To address this, a State Environmental Planning Policy (Educational Establishments and Child Care Facilities), known as Education SEPP, was released in 2017.

Recognising the importance of quality as well as the rapid delivery of projects, the SEPP includes 7 design principles to support good design outcomes.

Sydney’s population is growing and its demographic change, which means more schools need to be built and upgraded.

Accompanying the Education SEPP is the GANSW’s Design Guide for Schools. This guide helps school developers, consent authorities and designers in evaluating and preparing school proposals.

The document promotes and champions both good design processes and outcomes for schools.

It aligns with Better Placed and the Education SEPP design principles, by supporting the delivery of schools that respond positively to their physical and social context. 

The Design Guide explains how these activities can impact on the spatial and environmental requirements of the school.

It also showcases best practice examples illustrating the concepts in the guide.

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