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Politicians need to be educated when it comes to building schools

Rory Olcayto
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We’re campaigning to put education and school building at the top of the political agenda, says Rory Olcayto

It’s a sad state of affairs when Jeremy Paxman is more concerned in his TV interview with labelling Ed Miliband a ‘north London geek’, than, say, asking him where he stands on the government’s track record on building schools. Sadly, that’s the road down which British politics is heading: one obsessed with personality and appearance.  There are some genuinely political topics being debated as the countdown to the general election begins – immigration, for example, and austerity. But let’s cut to the chase: those topics are all about fear. Fear, after all, is a motivator; it inspires people to act.

On the other hand, you could debate openly about topics that matter, like education. That’s what we’ve been doing these past few weeks with our #greatschools coverage. It has had a huge response from the profession and from others involved in schools procurement. And rightly so. Data from analyst Glenigan this week revealed education as the ‘brightest sector’ in a stalled construction sector. Education starts were up 18 per cent during the first quarter of 2015, a time when other areas of the non-residential sector – particularly commercial and industrial work – were slowing down.

Despite this boom, there’s a fair bit of gloom. Architects on the whole are unhappy with the government’s Priority School Building Programme, as our poll this week shows. Headteachers, too, are dispirited, with one, Andrew Seager, of Stratford School Academy in Forest Gate saying PSBP was ‘probably the worst experience I’ve ever had as a head teacher’.

Architects, as you might guess, are very much pro-BSF, the design-led programme used by the previous Labour government. Yet, in my experience of visiting a fair few, not all BSF schools were well designed, and some will have maintenance problems for years ahead. As Adam Clark of Halliday Clark told the AJ: ‘In some cases higher cost indices were not required or appropriate for certain schools, creating in some cases an opulence which didn’t sit comfortably with best use of the taxpayers’ money.’

Clearly another approach is required.  That’s why we’re talking. Debating. Trying to find some common ground. We just want #greatschools – for our children to learn and play in, for teachers to enjoying working in. Oh, and for architects to enjoy designing and making a bit of money in the process.

Acting? Not any more

This is my first edition of the AJ as editor. I’ve had many kind words of support since, for which I am very grateful, plus an online comment from a former student who said I have ‘just the correct air of arrogance to fulfill the role admirably’. Compliments like that are typical in Glasgow. Still, hopefully any hauteur from my teaching days at Strathclyde University have evaporated after years of humbling exposure to the great work architects do, making our towns and cities better places. I’ll do my best to maintain the standard set by my predecessor, Christine Murray, and I hope you will join me in wishing her every success as the new editor of  The Architectural Review.


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