Standardisation plans for school building attacked

15 April 2011

Plans for standardised design in school building have been condemned by the shadow schools minister, RIBA and Design Council Cabe, Building Design reported.

Labour’s Kevin Brennan voiced fears that schools would not be fit for purpose following the long-awaited publication of the James Review.

“The building environment of a school is important for learning. Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s about innovation and creativity. Michael Gove seems happy for children to learn in completely unsuitable buildings,” he said.

RIBA and Design Council Cabe immediately lined up behind Brennan, calling on education secretary Michael Gove to allow bespoke design rather than imposing standardisation.

Critics of the move to standardisation have pointed to apparent discrepancies in government thinking on building design following recent comments on the issue by housing minister Grant Shapps.

Shapps has complained that “too often new [housing] developments are dominated by the same, identikit designs” and he has also criticised “Legoland homes” in favour of design-led developments which make “homes more environmentally friendly, [bring] disused buildings back to life or [reflect] the character of the local area”.

RIBA president Ruth Reed said: “There are a great deal of mixed messages coming out from government. The housing Shapps is talking about is developed using private money but when public money is being used on schools, they’re not applying the same standards of design.”

Design Council Cabe director Di Haigh argued standardised designs would not make the process simpler as intended.

“What’s needed is a system of flexible design and local feedback to meet the specific needs of the children and community in which schools are built,” she said.

In a separate story Building reported that up to 150 current PFI school contracts could face a review aimed at cutting costs if a test case in the healthcare sector is successful. Although a review of PFI in schools has not been commissioned, officials expect that if a current pilot review in the healthcare sector of the Queen’s Hospital PFI in Romford is successful, the education department will come under pressure from the Treasury to adopt a similar exercise. 

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