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RIBA hits out at 'wasteful and restrictive' school building programme

Goats Lee Primary School
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The RIBA has criticised the government’s centrally-planned approach to procuring schools, claiming it wastes millions in taxpayer cash

In a new report released today (11 May), the institute brands the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) new school building programme as too rigid, resulting in money being spent on unnecessary and often complex systems. According to the RIBA, over-engineering and the ’one-size-fits-all approach’ was costing the English school estate more than £150 million a year in operation and maintenance costs.

The institute also said that while some good schools are being built under the system, the overall standard of new buildings varies wildly.

The Better spaces for learning reads: ‘The new approach adopted by the government when it established the EFA has succeeded in delivering schools to incredibly tight budgets, but it has also proved to be hugely restrictive in terms of the design and timeframes allowed for the construction of new schools.

‘This one-size-fits-all approach means that opportunities to innovate or respond to local context to optimise investment are being curtailed. With the right reforms, the results could be much better.’

The worst examples have forced schools to raise an additional £500,000 from alternative sources to bring projects delivered by the EFA to an acceptable standard.

The institute went on to claim that more than 90 per cent of teachers believed well-built and designed schools improve educational outcomes and pupil behaviour.

’We urge the government to review its programme of building new schools’

RIBA president Jane Duncan said: ‘How can we expect our children to compete with the world’s best when too many of our school buildings are sub-standard?

‘Educational improvements resulting from the current programme of school building are not reaching the basic standards that British taxpayers and our economy expects.

‘We need to do better for all of our children and their hard working teachers. We urge the government to review its programme of building new schools.’

Key recommendations from the report:

The RIBA believes that in order for new school buildings to get top marks from pupils and teachers the government needs to ensure that an increasingly centralised schools capital project delivery system is able to respond to the unique local circumstances of each school building project. Our proposals can be summarised around three themes:

• Reviewing how information and communication flows between the school, government, and design and construction teams during a project

• Adopting a more flexible approach to the rules governing the design and size of new schools to allow for the best possible use of resources

• Taking a smarter approach to the use of building management equipment that controls the internal environment of modern school buildings 

Response from the DfE
’The £4.4 billion Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) is transforming run-down buildings to state-of-the-art facilities, targeting funding at those school buildings in the worst condition. We are building schools based on what works in terms of good design – not so-called iconic buildings that are expensive to maintain.

’Under the previous programme, Building Schools for the Future, the most expensive schools cost in excess of £45 million and took three years for building work to begin. We have cut this to one year under PSBP and the average cost of rebuilding has dropped by a third, giving young people across the country the modern learning environment they need to unlock their potential.

’“The Education Funding Agency’s baseline designs were developed in consultation with educational advisory bodies and based on the experience and feedback from school rebuilding projects across the country. A total of 537 schools will benefit from construction through the two phases of the PSBP and we have received positive feedback from the schools that have already opened in their new or refurbished buildings.’

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