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This, Mr Gove, is how to create a great school

If the Education Secretary is out of ideas for schools, he should read the AJ – or ring up his Irish equivalent, writes Rory Olcayto

One year has passed since education secretary Michael Gove made his odious comments, but the sheer effrontery of his words regarding the future of England’s school estate still have the power to shock.

In light of revelations over bankers’ bonuses and share deals, and the growing argument over how remuneration should reflect effort, the fuss made over client design advisors (CDAs) making a few hundred thousand on BSF projects seems utterly ridiculous. (If the previous Tory government hadn’t strip-mined local authorities of architectural services in the 90s, there would have been no need for CDAs anyway.)

The surprise attack was launched by Gove at a Free Schools conference, yet so far his vision for parent-designed schooling in retrofitted buildings has flopped. In 2011, only 24 schools out of 323 applications opened their doors. And statistics published recently in the Guardian on the number of students on free school meals, 9.4 per cent against a national average of 18 per cent, suggest critics who said the programme was socially divisive were right.

How different then, the situation in Ireland – a country far worse off economically than the UK, where the Department of Education and Skills together with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland has launched a major new competition for the design of a post-primary school in west Dublin.

British architects who have long admired modern Irish architectural culture will find the entry notes revealing. Under the heading ‘Competition Objectives’ it reads: ‘The competition is an open two-stage design contest for an architect-led design team’. That’s right: an architect-led design team. Remember those? It goes on to say it should be modern, exciting, functional, sustainable, flexible, adaptable for reproduction on other sites and with high design standards. And it will be built. Along with 40 or so others recently proposed by the Irish government.

The difference between Gove and co and the Irish is night and day. As the RIAI website declares, architects, uniquely among the professions, provide and fund, through the medium of competitions, a vast quantity of work at virtually no cost to the community. Yet our government is fresh out of ideas and seeks to divide and rule in order to give the impression of getting something done, rather than reward a profession that has developed its own form of Big Society Localism.

By chiding ‘award-winning’ architects and highlighting the pay of CDAs, which outweighed payments to architects employed to actually design schools, it was seeking to do just this.

Perhaps I should have mentioned too: Gove’s counterpart in Ireland, the brains behind this new competition, is Ruairi Quinn, an architect himself.

This week we publish seven new school projects from across the UK, a real mix of procurement and architectural styles. Simon Foxell, a CDA for the Birmingham BSF programme targeted by Gove last year for apparently earning too much money, shows us two small projects he has designed under the banner of his firm The Architects Practice.

At the other end of the scale we present secondary schools conceived as part of big state programmes: AHMM in Barnsley for BSF and Archial’s PPP school in Greenock. Primary school projects by JM Architects in Scotland and Duggan Morris in England complete our overview. And Gove, you can be assured that none of them did it for the money.

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