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Teacher blows whistle on school spaces

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The government’s Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) is creating such small spaces for certain subjects that they are ‘unfit for purpose’, a teacher has claimed

The whistleblower, who did not wish to be named, teaches design and technology at one of 12 schools due to be rebuilt under the North West PF2 contract led by Morgan Sindall. He contacted AJ directly because of his alarm over the proposed design for his school.

He said the PSBP’s standardised approach to new school provision – in which the government’s Education Funding Agency (EFA), rather than schools themselves, is the client – had resulted in a 45 per cent cut in space for his own department. He added that the programme’s focus on standardised design and mandatory reduced space standards favoured English, maths and sciences, leaving ‘non-core’ subjects such as design at the ‘bottom of the academic food chain’.

He said: ‘I do not believe the design as it stands is fit for purpose.’

‘On raising my concerns, with the school leadership team, I received repeated assurances that the design met the EFA’s criteria and had been endorsed by the school governors. 

‘Apparently, consultation with user groups, teachers, parents, local councillors and other stakeholders has been restricted over the past two years of design development, due to contractual and legal limitations and the design is now fixed and forms the basis of an agreed construction contract.’

The whistleblower, who was a chartered engineer before becoming a teacher, told the AJ he expected similar problems would emerge at other PSBP projects – of which there are 261 due for completion by 2018.

Architects echoed his view that schools’ individual needs are not being properly addressed under the programme.

Richard Hyams, director of Astudio, said his practice no longer actively pursued PSBP work because of the limitations it placed on architects.

He said: ‘We were rarely meeting the real clients – the teachers and pupils – and felt that they were being given the solutions fixed by others, rather than having an influence in shaping their school based on local needs.’

‘The problem isn’t the contractors, it is central government which is telling the design industry what makes a good education facility, rather than telling us the outcomes required - such as raising attainment, different teaching pedagogies and more flexible and adaptable buildings – which would allow the designers and schools to shape the designs.

‘Instead, we are told that the answer is classrooms and corridors to teach traditional subjects as this is the government’s focus today.’ 

Adam Clark, director of Halliday Clark Architects, said there was a ‘common tension’ between the requirements of teaching staff, the space standards set by the EFA, and project budgets.

‘Coupled with the common occurrence of abnormal costs surfacing post procurement as a result of varying levels of detail achieved within the control-option information, the pressure to deliver a building that achieves, let alone exceeds, the school’s aspirations is becoming extremely difficult,’ he said.

‘As a practice, we are known for creating something from nothing on many projects, when it is our buildings which shape the enthusiasm and stimulation of both teachers and pupils.

‘The government should give architects more of a say in the fundamental criteria that are used in school design.’

Other industry sources told AJ that there was an implicit acceptance on the part of heads opting into in to the PSBP that they were surrendering a degree of control over their new school in return for simply getting modern buildings – in stark contrast to the previous government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘The Priority School Building Programme is ensuring that vital building work takes place across the country.

‘Every school plays a central role in the rebuild of their premises and is involved throughout the design and development process.

‘On top of this, all baseline and area designs were developed following thorough consultation with school advisory bodies.’

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