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James Review: RIBA says 'pupils deserve better than flatpack schools'

The RIBA has hit out at the the Review of Education Capital led by Sebastian James, urging the Government against building overly-standardised ‘identikit’ schools

Among the recommendations in the report, which is part of the Government’s overall review of all capital investment and will shape future delivery models for 2011-12 onwards, is a call for ‘standardised drawings, specifications and processes’ to ensure ‘far less waste.’

Howevwer RIBA President Ruth Reed has raised a number of concerns about the ‘over-simplistic’ review and its ‘over-emphasises as a solution the role of standardisation in school design’.

She said: ‘There is certainly a case for the standardisation of certain elements of a school building, but the review fails to recognise that a school which is ‘fit for purpose’ must meet the needs of its client.

‘The Housing Minister Grant Shapps recently quite rightly condemned the identikit housing estates that are being churned out up and down the country, and we would be concerned if the pattern-book mass housing delivery model were endorsed by the Education Secretary Michael Gove and applied to schools, which work best when they respond to the needs of students, teachers and the context of a site.

She concluded: ‘We urge the Government to recognise the complexities in delivering the best new school buildings possible and to reject the over-simplistic approach recommended by the James review. This is not about more work for architects; it is about ensuring the best outcomes for school users and best value for money for the taxpayer.’

Read the full report right.

A Standardised Approach to Drawings and Specifications

3.3. One of the principal issues identified with the current system is the lack of learning and systematic improvement of quality, cost and time from one school building project to another. This has been caused directly by the design and procurement process which has resulted in most schools designs being ad-hoc. Among the many knock-on problems that this has created are high costs (of both design and build), variable quality, a need for every school to pass through an arduous cycle of checks and balances, and no opportunity for improvement.

3.4. The Review recommends that a suite of drawings and specifications should be developed that can easily be applied across a wide range of projects. These drawings would cover the layouts and dimensions of spaces and walls, and details of how different materials and components will be fixed together. The specifications would be a written description of the standards and performance required of the materials and components that make up the building.

3.5. It is vitally important that this approach of standardised drawings and specifications should not be thought of only as a way to reduce costs. In fact, the Review believes that using a few designs whose cost can be spread between many projects will allow for the very best talent to be applied to them while dramatically reducing the per school cost. We believe that using standardised drawings and specifications will improve quality through bringing together all the relevant expertise and experience, and for continuous improvement.

3.6. Using standardised drawings and specifications across many projects does not mean buildings will all look the same. The drawings and specifications can allow for facilities to be tailored to a reasonable degree to reflect the individual educational vision and site location. The Review recognises that projects are individual, but our research

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