The Outdoor Landscapes of Cornwall's Secondary School Grounds: the Politics of Design
Thomson, Sarah Elizabeth
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Through collaborative work with Cornwall Council, this AHRC funded project has produced an in-depth study of the design of secondary school outdoor landscapes linking two areas of research – landscape design and cultural geography. It explores the politics underpinning the design, construction, use and function of the outdoor landscapes of secondary schools in Cornwall, focusing on the extent of active participation of children and young people in these processes. Contemporary research has illustrated that outdoor spaces are essential to the development and wellbeing of young people as they are places in which children can play or have fun whilst they experiment with their identity, learn to socialise and participate in informal education. This thesis examines the role children and young people may have had and their potential in helping to formulate the design and implementation of outdoor spaces, alongside planners, garden designers, teachers and other interested parties. There are three linked aims. • Exploration of the politics underpinning the design, redesign, use and function of the outdoor landscapes of secondary schools. Here, “politics” refer to the complex negotiations between people, practicalities (policy priorities, management) and school strategic vision and ethos (including the role of student voice). • Understand more about the local spatialities of childhood of secondary school age children in order to: i) explain the politics of design; and ii) propose a more nuanced approach to understanding the varying needs and expectations of secondary school-age children. By participatory methods, interviews and observations I was able to note the use and functionality of the grounds by and for pupils, teachers and site managers. • Using an understanding of the politics of design in Cornwall’s secondary schools, and with greater awareness of the spatialities of childhood, develop recommendations for evaluation of secondary school outdoor landscapes via a ‘school’s biography’ approach. While policy-facing literature contemplates the educational function of school spaces in the secondary sector, this research broadens the view of children and young people’s relationship with secondary school outdoor spaces, emphasizing the relationality between groups of children, and children and others. This project proposes work which is attentive to how constructions of childhood are achieved in practice, beyond the contingencies of policy making and educational practices. The extent to which school grounds meet pupils’ needs is a reflection of school ethos and the relative status of children and young people in the decision making process.
PhD in Geography