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RIBA President hits out at 'misleading' school design report

RIBA Ruth Reed has slammed a new report that claims ‘impressive new’ school buildings have ‘no observable impact’ on pupil achievement

According to the survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), students at BSF schools make less progress than expected, based on their intake and past performance, claiming they achieve an average GCSE score 11 points lower than pupils at non-BSF schools - equivalent to almost two grades lower. 

The report goes on to say that there is no significant difference in the level of absenteeism between BSF schools and non BSF schools for year 9 and 11 pupils. 

However Reed has hit back: ‘This report flies in the face of the evidence the RIBA has seen, both anecdotally from headteachers and via more detailed research that has been and is being undertaken. 

‘If you ask the question “does creating a more fit for purpose educational environment improve attainment and attendance, and the behaviour of pupils?”, then going on the basis of the evidence, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

‘75 per cent of students at the new well-designed Folkestone Academy achieved five A*-C GCSE grades in 2010, compared to 12 percent in the school that it replaced.

She added: ‘BSF is dead in the water, so to compare BSF to non-BSF schools is misleading.  For certain, some BSF and non-BSF schemes alike have failed to deliver value for money. 

‘Good design is simply that which delivers the desired outcomes for the client. The standard of teaching has the greatest influence, but there can be no doubt that improving educational environments can play a cost-effective and important role in improving attainment, pupil behaviour, and the experience of teachers and other staff.’


NFRE’s key findings

Attainment: despite rigorous analysis and controlling for a range of  background characteristics, pupils at BSF schools make, on average, less progress than would be expected, based on their intake and past performance. Pupils at BSF schools attain a total GCSE points score on average 11 points lower than pupils at non-BSF schools, equivalent to almost two grades lower. 

Attendance: despite rigorous analysis and controlling for a range of background characteristics there was no significant difference in the level of absence between BSF schools and non BSF schools for year 9 and 11 pupils.  This finding was the same whether using authorised and unauthorised absence as the outcome.   However, year 9 pupils in schools that had a mixture of rebuild and refurbishment had, on average, significantly less unauthorised absence.

The relationship between improved attendance and levels of attainment has been identified in a number of previous reports. This new research may indicate that although there is no evidence of better attainment yet, the fact that there is a possible improvement in attendance suggests that attainment may also improve in the future.

NFER’s Ben Durbin said: ‘There has been a lot of controversy and conjecture about the benefits of new schools and this independent research, based on Government data provides some hard facts. However, this study is based on a relatively limited dataset, and its findings should be considered in this context.  We hope to carry out further work looking at more data.’


Readers' comments (1)

  • Ruth Reed's point about Folkestone is valid and a study comparing the results of schools before their BSF build and after their rebuild would seem of more value.
    What is also often forgotten in these arguments is the right of students, staff, parents and community to have an environment which is fit for purpose, and which is respectful of them and their needs.

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