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Dangerous, dilapidated and poorly built?

RIBA report emphasises the importance of well-designed school buildings on young people's wellbeing, behaviour and attainment

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 11, 2016 | Facilities & buildings

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has released a report on the state of school buildings, ‘Better Spaces for Learning’. 

The analysis of Post Occupancy Evaluations of primary and secondary schools in the UK is made up of a nation-wide poll of teachers, and numerous conversations with stakeholders involved in delivering government-funded school buildings. The report makes the case for an urgent review of the government’s Education Funding Agency’s current school building programme. 

In order for new school buildings to get ‘top marks’ from pupils and teachers, RIBA says the government needs to ensure that the increasingly centralised schools capital project delivery system can respond to the unique local circumstances of each building project. The proposals can be summarised around three themes: 

The report reveals: 

  • One in five teachers have considered quitting because of the wretched condition of the school buildings they have to teach in
  • The government’s Education Funding Agency’s new school building programme is too rigid and is leading to waste and poor value for tax payers
  • Over 90% of teachers believe well-built and designed schools improve educational outcomes and pupil behaviour
  • Over-engineered schools, with government-specified equipment that only costly consultants know how to operate, is costing £150 million per year which could have been avoided if schools were designed better

RIBA has identified that good school design can reduce running and maintenance costs, in some cases by more than several times a teacher’s average salary a year; it could have prevented the English school estate from spending upwards of £150m annually on unnecessary operation and maintenance costs. 

President of RIBA, Jane Duncan, said: “This country is in the grip of the worst shortage of school places in living memory. Our report highlights the vital importance of school design and how it affects the general health and wellbeing of their users, our children and their teachers. As limited funding is available to deal with the growing problem, every penny spent on schools must deliver maximum value for money. Award winning well-designed, successful schools with happy pupils and productive staff like Burntwood School in London shouldn't be the exception, they should be the standard.

“How can we expect our children to compete with the world’s best when too many of our school buildings are substandard? 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 hardworking teachers. We urge the Government to review its programme of building new schools.”

RIBA Award-winning Mellor Primary School in Stockport

The new report is further insight into the Government’s own assertion that just 5% of the nearly 60,000 school buildings across the UK are performing as intended and operating efficiently. The prevalence of damp, leaky classrooms and asbestos-ridden buildings in British schools means too many pupils and teachers are struggling to learn and teach in conditions damaging to their health and education.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, says: “the design and maintenance of school buildings is crucial for providing the right amount of school places, and the right learning environment for pupils. We welcome RIBA’s report looking into this.

“Many schools are in a very poor condition, and the government's capital budget allocation is insufficient to address all the problems schools face. Schools are forced to dip into reserves to carry out emergency repairs that act as mere sticking plasters. We need the government to review the findings of their recent property data surveys and develop long term solutions for all schools, not just the few lucky enough to win funding through the Priority Schools Building Programme. With an estimated 75% of schools containing asbestos, we also need a proper strategy to remove this risk to children and staff. 

“School leaders know too well how dilapidated or poorly designed buildings can impact negatively on school budgets, and, crucially, pupils’ learning. At a time when school budgets are at breaking point, the use of intelligent design to reduce school running costs is something the government should be keen to explore. 

“We particularly welcome RIBA’s call for a more flexible approach to the design of new school buildings. We know that every school is unique, with specific challenges, needs and ambitions. We agree that expecting a new school building to be well designed in six weeks is simply not feasible.”

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