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Rhyl High School

Rhyl, Wales



Bringing high quality education back to the community

Rhyl High School sets the standard for education buildings in Wales, demonstrating a commitment both to the quality of education and improving peoples’ life choices.

Oversubscribed every year since opening, pupils are now inspired to learn through the creation of a facility that matches the high standard of education, strong curriculum, as well as the ambitions and achievements of the new leadership team.

Answering the call for English language, non-denominational education in Rhyl, the 1,200-pupil school is an exceptional example of community-led design. Community consultation was essential to balance the aims and aspirations of staff, students, parents and residents.



Creating a building to match the ambitions of new leadership

The brief initially stemmed from the collective and collaborative vision of Rhyl High School, Ysgol Tir Morfa and Denbighshire County Council. The poor state of the existing 1930’s building and 70’s-era extension, alongside the poor reputation of the school and students, had pushed Rhyl residents to look elsewhere to be educated.

Part of the wider Welsh 21st Century Schools programme, the school, although completed beforehand, also reflects elements of the Donaldson report, with the Head Teacher being one of the co-authors.

The design was an opportunity to bring more community facilities back to the area, expanding upon the existing local authority run leisure centre next door. Allowing us to bridge the gap and improve the relationship between the school and community.

As a result, upon opening intake dramatically increased from around 40 pupils to 120 and has been oversubscribed every year since.


Design ethos

Learning on display

It was important that the physical space supported the cultural changes to the school already implemented by the new leadership. We developed a ‘learning on display’ design ethos - which improves communication, student-teacher relationships, as well as the link between the building and the community.

The Homebase style organisational structure minimises the need for corridors and allows people to move easily around the space, whether it’s classroom to breakout or breakout to outdoors.

Acknowledging the different needs and requirements of each year group, the layout is built up in layers. The ground floor pastoral layer is dedicated to Year 7s, with a direct connection to the outdoors, ensuring the transition from primary to secondary is as smooth and calm as possible. Whilst the SEND provision integrates seamlessly with other areas of the school and providing much needed security.

The connection between the community and the school is enhanced through the curved geometry of the main timber staircase drawing visitors into the building. The history of the local area is referenced using vernacular brick for Rhyl and gold cladding panels eluding to mining history in this area of Wales.


Student influence everywhere you look

We collaborated with the pupils to develop a sense of identity through the design, taking an inclusive approach where communication between pupils at all ages and levels was encouraged. We engaged with each year group, Rhyl residents and all staff, as well as holding weekly meetings with the senior team.

The concept of learning on display is celebrated with learning zones organised around shared triple-height spaces.

The library is central to the school, promoting literacy whilst also drawing in maximum amount of natural light through large roof glazing, bringing the outdoors in.

Led by the students, the school ethos is woven through every aspect of the design. With a strong focus on colours taking inspiration from the school houses, through the pillars to the design of the uniforms, the pupils can see their influence everywhere they look.

I can’t believe this is ours, it’s amazing! You can’t walk through here without seeing through every classroom, through every area. I can’t imagine how well this has turned out, it’s beyond my best dream!”

Claire Armistead

Head Teacher, Rhyl High School


Putting health and wellbeing first

Our landscape strategy played an important role in the design of the school, whereby an unusual challenge presented itself, in the form of very hungry seagulls! We introduced a naturally top lit dining space, encouraging pupils to take their lunch indoors and providing necessary protection.

We focused on creating a flexible, functional, safe and sustainable environment that promotes outdoor learning.

This was achieved through the use of raised beds with diverse planting, promoting socialising through different zones designed for different uses including dedicated spaces for SEND and Year 7 pupils.

We also improved the traffic flow on site which has led to an increase in the number of students cycling to school as well as safer drop off on site.



A passive approach

Sustainability was key from the outset. We looked not only to reduce energy consumption, but establish a culture of energy awareness and sustainability with both the students and the staff.

To secure funding we were required to achieve BREEAM Excellent. We achieved this through considering energy performance from the outset, looking to improve energy efficiency in every aspect of the design.

Firstly a design strategy was developed to optimise natural lighting and utilise natural ventilation wherever feasible. Once the boundaries of passive design were exhausted, low energy/high efficiency equipment was applied to the installed systems required to service the school.

Finally the buildings passive, low energy approach was complemented with a range of on-site renewable technologies and a building management system that would optimise its operation.

The metering strategy enables the raw energy consumption data to be presented for facilities management and also serves as an educational aid, helping establish a culture of energy awareness and sustainability to the students and staff alike.

Materials were selected for their robustness and detailed to maximise life spans, taking into consideration the coastal environment, thereby adding to the sustainability credentials of the building.

Key information

Project summary


Rhyl, North Wales


Denbighshire County Council






BREEAM Excellent


9,599 m2


1,200 Pupil Spaces
3 storeys


Wales Planning Awards 2017

Consortium of Local Authorities in Wales (CLAW) 2016
Winner - Project of the Year

RIBA Regional Awards 2017

National EISTEDDFOD of Wales 2017
Shortlisted - Gold Medal for Architecture


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