Heads, you win
Happily, where there was 'jealousy and battles' between schools, often the 'established' ones and the former polytechnics, Cross says there is now 'remarkable cooperation' and a positive, shared commitment. To build on that, SCHOSA is this month holding a 'think tank'meeting, where issues likely to be discussed include the level of its subscription (currently £650).
Outgoing secretary Michael Foster says SCHOSA's only real expenditure so far been on the secretary's £10,000 honorarium. 'The debate is whether, to become more important, SCHOSA should seriously raise its subscription in order to establish it on a different plane, ' he says. 'We could have the money to set up task forces on various issues, a working fund for research, and have more time for lobbying for important issues for architectural education. But there's a new broom - he'll look at it freshly and advise the council which is the best way.'
Cross adds that what has been a shoestring organisation has had to deal with the ARB and the RIBA, with their relatively high-powered administrations. 'If SCHOSA is going to play more in the bigger league, it has to match that with fast response times and various efficiencies. I think there's a limited possibility for what SCHOSA can do, given its current financing.'
Cross inherits a solid position from Foster. Foster trained at the AA in the early 1960s, and has been in practice ever since, for the past 33 years with the Tooley and Foster Partnership. After part-time teaching at schools including the RCA he became AA president, getting involved in the search for a new president to replace the late Alvin Boyarsky, eventually with Alan Balfour. In 1995 he was asked to become head of SCHOSA, replacing the then head of Manchester College, Michael Darke. 'It had become rather divisive - and a sort of vehicle for Darke, ' says Foster. 'They wanted somebody to organise it. Someone who knew about education but wasn't an academic.
That's why I think I fitted the bill.'
Foster's first task was to make peace with the RIBA; his second was to change SCHOSA's constitution so it could make decisions more quickly. Now it seems all is sweetness and light between his ex-organisation, the RIBA and the ARB, with regular meetings and none of the stand-up rows of the past. Inside eight years, Foster turned up SCHOSA's volume. 'In the past five years it has become a real consultative body for architectural education, ' he says, with pride.
On the down side, however, Foster believes that during his spell heads of school became 'much more weighed down by bureaucracy by their institutions', with less time to teach architecture.
Today, SCHOSA's major efforts are on prescription procedures, particularly with the ARB, explaining why certain systems might not work. Six schools are already in the cycle for the new regime, with the ARB seeking agreements with each school that all emerging students meet a standard, with criteria jointly agreed by the ARB and the RIBA. The ARB rightly wants these standards maintained, with annual information from schools to assure them.
'All this is quite demanding for the schools to take on, ' says Cross, 'and in the first year of the system operating, it is quite an imposition to deal with. Schools are worried about presenting the information in the right way and the possible consequences of getting things wrong. People are nervous.'
Those nerves are down to the system's 'bumpiness', Cross and Foster agree, both citing De Montfort and Huddersfield.
Happily, though, they are sure that such events will be rarer in the future. 'We've had endless meetings and achieved a lot of satisfactory outcome, ' says Foster. 'I think people do naturally come to SCHOSA now, which they didn't in the past. They thought it was rather peripheral.'