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Call to clear up education minefield

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A leading academic has called for the creation of a new body to resolve the latest education spat and navigate a course through the confusion of schools validation. Professor David Dunster, head of the University of Liverpool's school of architecture, has called for an end to the current 'box-ticking' culture and a return to a constructive dialogue between schools and examiners.

And he has proposed removing both the RIBA and the ARB from the validation process and handing responsibility to an independent 'college' of examiners. The new peer review body would work to the less prescriptive Quality Assurance Agency criteria, he said, and could be overseen by CABE.

'The three bodies with a voice in education - ARB, the RIBA and SCHOSA - seem to be going off to the periphery, ' he said.

The call follows a damning response from heads of schools forum SCHOSA to the RIBA's proposed changes to its validation criteria. SCHOSA is heavily critical of the contradiction between the RIBA and ARB criteria and will be writing its own guidelines to try to find a 'common standard'.

SCHOSA claims the RIBA's draft five-year review document, 'Tomorrow's Architect' is 'backwardlooking' and 'a challenge to academic freedom'. It warns the split between the RIBA and ARB's standards has 'serious implications' and could result in a two tier system - with some schools choosing to opt out of RIBA validation. And it suggests that legal challenges could result if schools fail to achieve validation as a result of the confusion.

President of SCHOSA Wendy Potts said it was crucial the RIBA understood the 'knock-on effects' of the changes being proposed. The heads of schools accepted the need to move forward, she said, but the latest proposals represented a 'dramatic departure' from the gradual process of the past.

'There has to be evolution, not all stop, all start, ' she said, adding there was a danger that 'the core sense' of what architectural education is about would be lost with increased emphasis on management and professional training within the revised criteria.

Dunster - who called the current crisis 'potentially disastrous'- said SCHOSA's criticism could be stronger. 'They seem rather temperate, ' he said.

A spokesperson for CABE said taking on responsibility for schools validation was not a priority. However, following its funding increase in April, a new head of policy and research will look into the problem. ARB chief executive Robin Vaughan said he did not agree with SCHOSA's findings, but would look carefully at the report. And a spokesperson for the RIBA said consideration was being given to SCHOSA's comments.

The heads of schools will be considering SCHOSA's own guidelines at their next meeting on 23 February.

Read the full SCHOSA report online.

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