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James Review: CABE's design standards had 'little affect' on quality

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The James Review into the the ditched BSF programme and the future of schools building has said CABE’s design standards had ‘little effect’ on the quality of schemes

The taskforce, led by Sebastian James the operations director of the DSG International Group (formerly known as Dixons Stores Group), also said there was ‘little evidence’ that examples of poorly designed schools had reduced ‘despite [the] work’ of the commission’s school panel.

Published today (see full document right), the report also said it was ‘a shame’ that some of the lessons learned from the 63 early BSF designs could not be applied ‘across the estate’.

Full report extract:

In 2007 the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) were commissioned by the Department to introduce Design Review Panels. Each BSF school design was reviewed by these panels. These panels judged all of the 63 early BSF designs, and these were shown to be inadequate even after several stages of re-design. Many of them were at too late a stage in the project process to be stopped, and were nevertheless built. We have attached in Appendix F a number of examples of how individual design can lead to design faults. Clearly not all Academy and secondary school designs were poor, and it is a shame that some of the lessons learned from these excellent schools could not, because of the process and lack of evaluation, be applied across the estate.

2.40 Minimum Design Standards were introduced in 2009 after CABE lobbied the Department and PfS. School designs were required to attain a ’pass’ or ‘very good’ standard. This was judged by scoring the designs against 10 criteria, published by CABE. These design standards, though, had little effect. Given the large numbers of schemes, it is reasonable to assume that a body of best practice would develop and examples of poor design would reduce. However, despite work on this by CABE and others there is little evidence that this happened. Thirty three percent of designs remained ‘Unsatisfactory’ or ‘Poor’ even at the final design stage.

2.41 Tables 2 and 3 show how school designs were rated before the Minimum Design Standards were introduced and after they were introduced.

Poor design is often not the fault of the designers themselves, but a symptom of the design brief and of the requirements that designers have been given by the client. The design issues that the Review team saw were forgivable in a first school, but became unforgivable as the numbers of new schools grew into the hundreds.

2.43 All re-design necessitated by these problems took time and incurred additional cost. The length of time between a project being seen by CABE and submitting a finalised design for planning was typically a year. The lack of consistency in the quality of the designs put forward over time also demonstrates an absence of continuous improvement across the sector.

Response from CABE:

‘Our evidence shows that the design quality of 76 per cent of schools presented to the schools design review panel improved, after responding to CABE’s comments.  In addition, the direct link between the MDS and the Partnerships for Schools funding mechanism ensured that poor or unsatisfactory schools did not receive public funding. CABE offered best practice advice and design support both through its enabling programme and publications such as creating Excellent Secondary Schools.

‘It was widely acknowledged, even before the James Review, that the Building Schools for the Future procurement process was too complex, time consuming and wasteful. We support standard principles of design quality to ensure schools are fit for purpose and put the education and wellbeing of students first. However, we believe standardised, fully-specified design templates are not the way to achieve this; schools are not retail environments and should not be built on the same principles. A successful school relies on creating inspiring, nurturing environments which are part of the fabric of a community and sensitive to their environment. Efficiency and value for money are critical, but what’s needed is a system of flexible designs and local feedback so that they can be adapted to meet the specific needs of children and the local environment in which schools are built. It is essential that what is put in place is a system which allows contractors, design teams and educationalists to work together in partnership to improve best practice and keep innovation in our school-building programme.’ 


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