School building policy has lurched from one extreme to the other: we need some balance

It’s not easy to argue the case for more spending on anything at the moment. But that is what we have had to do on schools. A measure of our society is how we treat our children. The need for school places is increasing, and incredibly 80% of schools need repair and maintenance work or to be replaced completely. At the same time there is a widespread view across the industry that the current school building per square metre costs are just too cheap.

Building Schools for the Future, the previous scheme under the last government, wasn’t a perfect programme. It was complicated: the procurement process was drawn out and contained duplication, and the brief from a passionate head teacher was sometimes a little too individual. The RIBA campaigned for a long time to simplify the process and create savings. But a great deal of learning, and the development of best practice for school design, took place during that programme. And not only good but great practice: creating inspiring, uplifting and productive places for students and teachers alike. The programme was conceived with a vision of the future – with a level of flexibility to the designs to allow for wider community use and changes in education.

Current schools delivered through the government’s Priority School Building Programme are required to be delivered on a budget of £1113/m2. This is undeliverable

We couldn’t carry on in the way that we had been; there was a lot of money spent that the users of those buildings would not see. But to borrow an oft-used phrase in policy – we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Current schools delivered through the government’s Priority School Building Programme are required to be delivered on a budget of £1113/m2. This is undeliverable – not only because material costs are higher due to inflation in this economic climate, but also because it means cutting corners and reducing spending on corridors, ancillary, outside and assembly space. I believe we will pay the price for this in the long term.

As architects it is our responsibility to understand how our buildings create and affect communities of people. And so it is our responsibility to be direct when we know the outcomes may be adverse.

Following last month’s major reshuffle of the government Michael Gove has been replaced as secretary of state for education by Nicky Morgan. Will she reshape any of Gove’s policies ahead of the election?

Governance review group
You will have read that RIBA Council has agreed to set up a governance review working group, and there is some speculation as to the reasons why. Quite simply, a periodic review was agreed when the Institute was restructured some four years ago to ensure that our governance structures and processes are robust and fit for purpose. I am confident that in the main we have the right structures in place. But it is right and effective to go back and look at it from time to time, to be sure that all is how it should be.

There are some things we might want to improve on – ensuring that there is a clear link between elected councillors and the membership; involving those elected councillors in committees, working groups or other important work at the RIBA; and that we have clear and transparent reporting processes so the rest of the RIBA membership knows what is going on. A focused review will help us do all of that. I look forward to giving you an update on the groups progress in the autumn.