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Modular schools roll-out shows ‘brash naivety’

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Architects react to news of the James Review’s proposed school-building programme, which will force headteachers to choose from a handful of pre-approved standard designs

Architects have hit out against the ‘brash naivety’ of government plans to replace the axed £55 billion Building Schools for the Future Programme with a handful of pre-designed school templates drawn up by construction companies.

Architects’ and surveyors’ costs would be reduced under the proposals while headteachers would be forced to choose their future school, its structure, internal fittings and fixtures from a catalogue of pre-approved designs.

An upcoming interim report by members of the James Review taskforce – headed by up Dixons and Tesco bosses – could also recommend 15 per cent reduction to the size of classrooms and communal areas.

Darius Umrigar, Devereux Architects managing director, described the approach as ‘brash naivety’, he said: ‘The over-simplistic assertion that a set of “template designs” can be rolled out across the country is quite frankly absurd.’

Dale Jennings, partner at ORMS, added: ‘We’ve already had schools with Portakabins all over them and that’s why we had a BSF programme.

‘Cutting the size of the school is just a crude way to reduce the cost. We [architects] did that in the housing sector for a time and ended up with ludicrously small flats.’

James Berry of Woods Bagot said: ‘A one-size-fits-all policy fails to take into account the simple need for  variety and dynamism. The homogenisation of design education is a rather terrifying approach and, for me, is reminiscent of the strictures of Victorian society rather than the fast-evolving digital age that our children currently occupy. Without resorting too heavily to overstatement I would say that this approach represents a serious threat to the ability of our education sector to compete on an international basis.’

Anthony Hoete of What_Architecture was recently asked to reduce the cost of a £35 million primary and secondary school in Lambeth by 40 per cent and he said the client was ‘open minded’ about a flat-pack solution but cautious to proceed without a precedent.

He explained: ‘Flat-pack has come from Sweden where there is a Swedish model of free schooling, which in the UK context is seen as a successor to the academies.’ The James Review’s recommendations ‘combine mass production with an ideological structure,’ according to Hoete, who added: ‘The question is whether local authorities have the tools to take on such a novel form of construction procurement.’

Paul Bonaccorsi, of modular buildings supplier Britspace thinks the market for flat-pack schools could now be worth up to £200 million a year.

Bonaccorsi has commissioned a string of architects to work on schools projects in Leeds and Sheffield which will cost between £1,200 and £1,600
per m2. He said: ‘You go to school to learn, it’s not a shopping centre. There’s no point in building fresh air [where] there is no function. You don’t need [indoor spaces] to some of the scale that were built in [BSF] schools.’



Ian Kemp, business development director, Caledonian Building Systems

Ian Kemp

Ian Kemp

The greatest value in terms of cost savings, programme efficiency and design capabilities can be secured when the architect and the modular construction company work closely together.


Anthony Langan, director Aedas

Tony Langan

Tony Langan

New system-build solutions applied to schools have the potential to improve quality, reduce procurement times and produce cost savings, however, this will require real upfront investment to ensure that the best solutions are used from the outset.


Paul Monaghan, director, Allford Hall Monoghan Morris

Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan

Some contractors already design ‘flat-pack’ schools. Some projects we work on have very high quality finishes, due to a lot of standardisation. On inner city sites planning is often a big issue and I can’t imagine how templates would always fit.


Teva Hesse, head of London branch, CF Møller Architects

Teva Hesse

Teva Hesse

The idea of rationalising building components is nothing new – the underlying motive has been to reduce costs, resulting in sub-standard facilities: noisy, draughty, poorly insulated and inflexible buildings that burden schools with unsuitable spaces and high maintenance costs.


Jonathan Hines, director, Architype

Jonathan Hines

Jonathan Hines

Flat pack schools will eliminate the huge educational opportunity for school communities to engage in designing their own environments. Every school and site requires a unique solution. What about sustainability, air/light quality and connection to the outside?


Alison Grennan, Head Teacher at St Luke’s C of E Primary School

Alison Grennan

Alison Grennan

Not many teachers or governing bodies are skilled enough and have sufficient knowledge to be able to design their own school from a catalogue without support. This flatpack idea also assumes one size fits all, but each school works differently.


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