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Priority School programme 'goes against best practice'


Ministers’ bid to slash the cost of school building projects with formulaic designs has delivered little more than ‘functional’ boxes with sub-standard features that may in some cases increase bullying and vandalism

This is the warning from RIBA, school leaders and construction firms in a one-off evidence session of the Common’s Education Committee - the last before it dissolves ahead of the general election.

While the impending election leaves no time to draft a formal report, the committee last week published reams of evidence from organisations and individuals, critiquing Whitehall’s Priority School Building Programme [PSBP].

RIBA’s submission warned that the programme’s ‘current standards were leading to a number of design compromises in public areas of school buildings’.

‘Pressure to reduce costs is leading to toilet facilities being located in areas which go against best practice in school design,’ it adds.

‘These pinch points also have wider impacts as they increase the incidence of bullying and vandalism.’

A submission to the committee by construction firm Wates, says the first phase of PSBP had produced schools with ‘formulaic dining areas’ that required meal times to be staggered and kitchens that ‘do not easily facilitate religious dietary requirement’.

Andrew Seager, head teacher of Stratford School Academy told the committee at the hearing that his new school designed by Nicholas Hare Architects resembled a ‘big’ and ‘functional’ box which excluded key features he had been previously promised.

‘The real difficulties we have had are with the running of the project and the quality of the finishes,’ he added.

We have impoverished external areas

‘Buildings are fit for purpose but there are significant problems with the delivery of the project and the quality of work – 700 snagging items and some major defects - and we have what I can only describe as impoverished external areas.’

But schools minister David Laws defended the PSBP.

He told the committee’s MPs the programme had improved on the previous administration’s ‘extremely expensive’ scheme, the Building Schools for the Future (BSF).

‘We are not building…’almost palaces’ with enormous entrance halls,’ he added.

‘They are great and lovely to have, but every time you build a school for £40m or £45m you are not able to afford a school that should cost on average about £20m.’

The Stratford School Academy had been the ‘most difficult project’ of the programme, he added.

AJ has launched a campaign to put design at the heart of the debate of school provision.

In an essay marking its launch, architect and author Mark Dudek railed against the idea that ‘architect-designed schools were an unnecessary luxury’.

‘It is hard to believe that our rulers would have every school look the same, rather like a low-grade industrial warehouse,” his essay states. “Handing over schools architecture to the engineers is misjudged.’


Jayne Bird of Nicholas Hare Architects

’It is very difficult for [Stratford School Academy]. They were previously part of the BSF programme, so their aspirations were beyond what could be delivered through the PSBP.

‘The programme is all about  function and adequacy - meeting the need of the school estate – so there is very little room for embellishment.

‘When this scheme started in 2013 the London market was very buoyant, contractors could pick and choose their work. There wasn’t any room for uplift.

‘Given those restrictions, we have done the best we can and consider the new build is an improvement on the previous facilities. However I can understand why Andrew Seager is saying what he is.’


Priority School programme 'goes against best practice'


Readers' comments (3)

  • Don't pillory the architects for the schools resulting from PSBP, they are just like runners trying to race with both hands tied behind their backs.
    Neither should architects be pilloried for the high costs of the BSF schools, where the whole commisioning process was so wasteful.
    As ever the hypocracy and simplistic policies of politicians leaves one gasping. Will sanity ever be restored to this area of government investment?

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  • PSBP certainly provides some cost rationalisation which is good compared to BSF. The most important aspect of school design is the internal environment, good design of schools really should be expressing architecture through good design thinking, not design aesthetics. Boxes have to work because we have to meet demand of rising pupils. What's wrong with BDP's St. John Bosco Arts College? Functional with creative spaces, is vandalism and bullying an issue there?

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  • School design can be very rewarding but is always challenging. I think design is a conversation and should not be about ego's. The number one priority is that the school has to function/work well and the design will evolve and develop from this.
    Robin Edwards - gbs architects

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