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Which is in the best of academic health

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Readers who came across your short editorial feature last week (aj 18.03.99) might be forgiven for thinking that the Plymouth School of Architecture was nursing sore knuckles. I am happy to use your columns to assure them that we are in the best of academic health. As our external examiners will tell you, if all other schools had the high level of achievement that we have in Plymouth, the future of architecture would be secure, both in its pedagogy and in its practice.

We treat the riba/arb joint validation panel visits as an opportunity to share our aspirations and our concerns. When it visited us in February 1998 we discussed a specific concern we ourselves had about the reconciling of a particular set of award regulations within the university, with our own judgement concerning diploma school pre-requisites. If the extract from the jvp report had been quoted at length, this would have been abundantly clear.

The jvp helped us as we were formulating our strategy in this regard, and was clear enough in its endorsement of the school to give us continued recognition. I am happy to say that this concern is now behind us. Our external examiners in the following year were clear in their acknowledgement of the very high standards and academic rigour in the school, as can be seen by reading their own reports.

As anyone who read the whole jvp report would realise, its tone was extremely supportive, and the panel was quick to become aware of the excellent spirit within the school. It would be interesting to read the reports of those schools who did not fare so well, or who themselves received a report which included (always helpful) criticism. Of course, it is not possible for your readers to contemplate the qualities of our school, and those of others, as perceived by the jvp, because its reports are confidential.

Or at least we thought they were until we read your editorial.

We all want to drive up academic standards and the quality of architecture, and in Plymouth we are no less concerned about these matters than is any other school. In our aspirations at Plymouth to an architecture of integrity, driven by design excellence and a wish to serve humanity, we believe we take our place with the best schools in the country. So do our external examiners, and all who visit us. Our staff and students alike are firm in these aspirations, as any visitor to our large and full studios will see.

We are, however, very unhappy to see what is called a confidential report in effect becoming a press release. If jvp reports are to have the essentially helpful and supportive role their authors seek, their circulation must surely be protected, or the relationship between the schools and the riba/arb joint validation system will break down as trust dissolves.

Michael Wigginton

Head of school

Plymouth School of Architecture

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