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As our contributor in this special supplement, Rob Charlton of Space Architects, makes clear on pages 11 and 12, the education sector has been through feast and famine over recent decades, when it comes to incentives and programmes to drive the creation of improved buildings for learning.

With the culling of one of Tony Blair’s better ideas – Building Schools for the Future – by Michael Gove in the austerity years, the sector was left in something of a wilderness when it came to how new buildings would be procured. As Charlton points out, BSF led to a wave of building, from the humble to the extraordinary (Zaha Hadid’s £4,500 per m2 Grace Academy).


Instead of a continuation of bold new builds, the Government pursued a make-do and mend approach, with the Priority Schools Building Programme refocusing on dilapidated schools which needed urgent repairs or replacement of facilities. In its second phase, the PSBP had its £2bn of funding fully redirected towards refurbishments and partial rebuilds.

Since 2017, the Department for Education has been pursuing a new Construction Framework, due to only last four years for design and build contractors accepted onto the list, and providing schools with the option of single, or batched schemes. The latter option doesn’t allow school heads to directly appoint constructors from the framework however, instead requiring a competitive tender approach.

Covid hasn’t deterred the Government, and it confirmed the second round of this £7bn framework in January.

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There is a separate programme focusing on offsite, but the central framework, as Rob Charlton confirms, hopes to “learn lessons” from past procurement, but also “build on it.” The other thing it aims to do is encourage further standardisation of design, with the justification being a new emphasis on “long-term value,” plus a pledge to deliver zero carbon buildings.

While a standardised approach to zero carbon will be highly beneficial, whether or not a one-size-fits-all approach to most school spaces is the right way to go is highly doubtful in terms of efficiency. Although budgets will never be in the Zaha Hadid territory for most schools, our features in this supplement show that a bespoke focus on client needs is what brings true value. If the DfE wants ‘long term value,’ schools need spaces that will perform in a flexible way for each client, for the long term.

James Parker Editor


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ON THE COVER... A new addition to The Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells provides a combination of contemporary design and harmony with the historic buildings surrounding it. The library and classrooms extension is Bell Phillips Architects’ first in the education sector Cover image © Kilian O’Sullivan For the full report on this project, go to page 14



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