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Contemporary creations: new junior prep learning spaces at St Peter’s

| June 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Kenda Melvill-Smith And Heather Kissack

To accommodate 21st century teaching and learning best practice,1 a suitable environment needs to be created.

The highlight of the past two years at St Peter’s Prep Schools in Johannesburg, Gauteng, has been the move of the Girls’ and Boys’ Junior Prep classes into their new, independent, purpose-built facilities.

The Boys’ School moved first, in 2014. The building was originally a gymnasium and now is an extraordinary space of different levels, a cascading staircase, connecting corridors and a climbing wall. The Girls’ Junior Prep facility was modelled on the footprint of the original Boys’ Junior Prep School, and was adapted into a modern facility that supports the progressive approach to education for which St Peter’s has become renowned.

The buildings and playgrounds were designed to support our educational philosophies. Each school boasts spaces that provide opportunities for modern trends in education. The schools offer opportunities for independent and collaborative learning in “pause areas” – central meeting spaces and play areas that have been skilfully designed to engage students in flexible, cooperative, collaborative and age-appropriate learning.

Breaking the rules

During the building process, a number of traditional classroom ‘rules’ were broken. Nooks were designed, allowing for informal and formal conversations and collaborative work to take place.
The classroom spaces are ‘owned’ by both teachers and children alike, and input from both sources is valued. The rooms were soundproofed to allow for privacy, and are connected by glass
divisions to allow for visual openness.

The fun element, which goes hand in hand with innovative learning, is clearly evident in both designs. Homes away from home for all, both schools are extremely attractive and functional at the same time. Colour schemes were specifically chosen and spaces were designed to accommodate essential criteria such as developmental needs, skills and the type of classroom activities appropriate for a particular grade. Technology centres and playgrounds were all designed to encourage engaged learning opportunities. At both schools, the media centre is central to learning and is an extension of the classroom as it allows for quiet spaces and a sense of community, where books and research are important.

Creating contemporary physical climates

Pause areas’, embankments and sensory areas were carefully considered. At the Girls’ School, the central media centre incorporated innovative additional learning spaces in the form of a loft (in a treehouse), and a slide to add the element of fun. It also offers a high ceiling with plenty of light and space. The Boys’ School designers carefully planned areas between classrooms for independent learning and helped to create unique areas, both public and private.

Storage, room arrangement, seating design, bulletin boards, technology hubs and display areas create a thoroughly contemporary physical climate in each new facility. Carpeted areas encourage a sense of community where class conferences and discussions take place.

Prior to construction, extensive planning research was done using the internet and various social media platforms, and by consulting with experts locally and internationally. The individual pupils’ needs and instructional goals were paramount. Cupboards replaced traditional storeroom areas and cubbies were placed inside and outside classrooms for convenience. All furniture is portable and multifunctional, providing teachers and students with flexible learning spaces. Classrooms are fitted with multi-touch Promethean boards,2 and the playgrounds offer a multitude of learning experiences.

The glory of glass

Research shows that using safety glass in the construction of schools promotes imagination while subduing rowdy behavior. The glass doors and windows that separate classrooms from the media centre have attested to this theory. When children can see out, contrary to a first impression, there is less distraction and more focus. The glass allows children to ponder and dream and not feel enclosed in a small space. There is limitless opportunity for imagination and investigation. The end result is a calmer classroom environment. The glass corridors in the Boys’ School lead to a central focus – a slide into the media centre. Huge trees outside soften both noise and space.

Both heads’ offices are centrally positioned in the schools and are visible, making the head accessible. The schools have separate halls, music rooms, multipurpose areas, display areas and
opportunities for communication with parents and visitors. The extensive use of glass offers a philosophy of transparency and invites the outside in! It corresponds with our teachers’ extensive use of John Hattie’s theory of Visible Learning.Within a relatively short space of time, both schools have moved into new, nurturing environments, where children feel both secure yet free to drive their own learning.


1. See, for example: teaching-and-learning.
2. See, for example:
3. See, for example: glass-architecture/.
4. Visible Learning means an enhanced role for teachers as they become evaluators of their own teaching. Visible Teaching and Learning occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers. (Source:

Category: Winter 2016

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