CABE calls for new focus on design to ensure success of school building programme
2 July 2006
The design standards in secondary schools built over the last five years fail to meet the government's ambition of transforming young people's education.
The design quality of secondary schools built over the last five years is not good enough to secure the government's ambition to transform young people's education, according to a report published by CABE.
While there are signs that design quality is improving, the report says that too many of the mistakes of the past look like being repeated in the first wave of schools being built under the building schools for the future programme (BSF).
On average, five schools will be rebuilt or refurbished every week for the next 13 years. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve children's education. So as well as looking at completed schools, CABE interviewed those involved with schools still on the drawing board, to see whether new procurement processes were now delivering quality. CABE found a growing understanding of the BSF process, but believes that all the findings in this report will still apply.
The aim is to transform learning
The government does not want to just replace crumbling schools with new ones, but to transform the way people learn. Launching the BSF programme in 2004, the prime minister linked the quality of school design to the quality of education, calling for all schools to be 'built around the needs of students, teachers and the wider community' and to be 'geared to develop the talents of each individual young person to the fullest extent'.
CABE's report, published to coincide with the parliamentary education and skills select committee on 3 July, draws on evidence from an audit conducted by CABE to assess the quality of secondary schools built between 2000 and 2005. Assessing 52 out of 124 completed schools, the audit found that 19 per cent were good or excellent and 31 per cent were partially good, but that half were poorly built and badly designed.
Whilst CABE's audit shows that most schools perform well on size, safety and accessibility (all of which are regulated), those schools ranked as poor were particularly bad at providing inspirational educational environments.
Powerful impact of design on education
Design quality has a direct impact on pupils' experience and so on their behaviour. For instance, if the dining room is so small that pupils are forced to eat in shifts, the resulting noise is distracting for those in class. Almost no school is getting the basic environmental issues right, like using natural daylight and ventilation well, and this affects concentration. Some design is so poor it even produces L-shaped classrooms, or corridors so narrow they can only be used one-way.
Good design, by contrast, is welcoming and inspiring. One school has found its spacious new cafe is keeping pupils on site throughout lunchtime. One new school gym is fully booked from 7.30am and another new school works so well it even attracts pupils back in the evenings to study.
Highlighting work they have already done with the DfES (Department for Education and Skills) to improve school design, CABE is now calling on everyone involved in the BSF programme to recommit themselves to excellence in design.
Key recommendations from CABE
Aimed at everyone involved in the new schools programme, from DfES to individual local authorities and the schools themselves, CABE's report includes the following key recommendations:
- An urgent review of school design briefs, funded by the DfES. These have hardly changed in the past 20 years and need to reflect new ideas about how pupils learn, including the massive impact of ICT, and the influence that the extended schools agenda may have on school buildings and grounds.
- Practical, individual support for head teachers, so that they are familiar with the complexities of the procurement process, and the help available to them.
- Provision by the DfES of expert seminars, workshops and tours of inspirational buildings to raise the level of ambition and disseminate best-practice.
- All design proposals prepared by the private sector to be submitted to a DfES-led schools review panel for approval. If the review panel considers a submission unacceptable, funding should be withheld until it is good enough.
Richard Simmons, chief executive of CABE said:
"School needs to change from a place where children are forced to come to be taught to one where a community of individuals can share learning experience and activities. It's clear from our audit that there are simply not enough schools being built or designed at the moment that are exemplary, inspiring, innovative or flexibly designed. It's imperative that the government allows time for design and doesn't compromise quality for speed."
Other key findings from CABE's audit included:
- Any procurement route can produce good design. But all except one of the poorest ten schools used PFI, whilst of the good and excellent schools, only three out of the top ten did so.
- All of the good and excellent schemes in the audit were completed in 2005. This suggests that delivery is improving. However, the majority of BSF schools on the drawing board are facing the same problems as previous programmes.
- Generally, schools performed best on issues of functionality: classrooms had adequate space for current teaching methods, buildings were considered to be safe and there was adequate parking. Schools performed least well on build quality, with a reliance on mechanical ventilation and artificial lighting and poor quality fixtures and fittings.