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Schools need masterplans to halt ad hoc development of building stock

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In theory, schools are perfect candidates for masterplans. They are honour-bound to consider their long-term development, and are in a position to make realistic forecasts as to the number of their members, the activities they indulge in and the hours they keep.What's more, there are set weeks in the year when operations cease, offering an ideal opportunity to programme in building work. In reality, of course, the vast majority of our schools are struggling to cope with basic maintenance of their existing building stock, making grand plans for the future seem like a pipe dream.

Our overview of the government's approach to funding schools (pp44-45) reports that, of the 22,000 schools in England,14 per cent are patched-up Victorian buildings and 60 per cent are pre mid-1960s stock.

Repairs and refurbishment are a pressing priority and an uncontroversial means of channelling limited investment into tangible results.But there is a danger of spending money on patching up buildings without asking how the buildings can actually contribute to the development of the school.Many pre-1960s buildings were systems-built with little or no concession to the particulars of institution or site. The more bespoke offerings were designed for organisations which have long since moved on. Nick Chambers, profiled on pp2425, describes how St Paul's School has arrested the cycle of ad hoc development by investing in a masterplan.

This is, admittedly, a privileged school, but in architectural terms its problems are universal and its solutions could be universally applied. The cost of a thorough assessment of a school's building stock and making considered plans for development is high - but negligible compared to the cost of a single building, and possibly lower than a basic programme of repairs.

The government is struggling to find the most appropriate means of allocating limited modernisation funds among the many state schools in need. The bravest decision would be to finance a programme of considered masterplans.Favouring the quick fix over the long term will only prolong the agony for schools hampered, rather than helped, by their current stock.

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