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Expert warns small standardised schools 'are set to stay'

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A former government advisor on school design has warned architects to expect the current standardised approach to new education buildings to last for ‘several years’

Mairi Johnson, who held senior roles at Partnerships for Schools (PfS) and successor body the Education Funding Agency (EFA), said she did not expect any change of direction from baselines enshrined in Priority School Building Programme (PSBP).

Johnson, who is now global education lead for consultant Aecom, told AJ that new secondary schools built under the programme were expected to suffer increased ‘congestion’ issues because of less spacious corridors and stairwells.

She said that smaller classrooms were also likely to limit teachers’ ability to be creative with the way those rooms were arranged, beacause of the blueprint for new schools that sprang out of the James Review of schools capital. It reported in 2011 and resulted in a drive for greater standardisation in school design and space reductions of 15 per cent for secondary schools and 5 per cent for primaries.

‘Free schools are going into buildings that weren’t supposed to be schools – places like factories and offices as part of a drive for parental choice,’ she said.

‘There may well be an ‘equality’ argument for smaller mainstream schools at a time when new free schools are existing in challenging environments.

‘We’re going to have to build schools that are simple for foreseeable future.

‘I don‘t think that the direction of travel is going to be towards larger and more well-ordered schools

‘It might be several years before we have an opportunity to make anything different.’

Johnson added that post-occupancy reviews scheduled for the PSBP schools - of which there are currenently expected to be 261 - would be unlikely to throw up practical design issues to be addressed because their questions would not be worded to do so.

She was speaking after a whistleblower teacher told AJ he did not believe his proposed new school was ‘fit for purpose’ because its proposed layout cut design and technology space by 45 per cent.

The teacher, whose new school is part of the PSBP’s North West PF2 recently awarded to Morgan Sindall, said that by the time he had seen the designs for his school’s new premises they were fixed and could not be altered as ‘contractual and legal limitations’ had restricted the consultation process.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Industry Professional

    Isn't this the same M Johnson who at the BFE conference last year proudly presented these standard designs! " anyone that wants to move away from the baseline and can do so within budget is welcome to try. We’ve left room for innovation” ???

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