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The standardised school design approach can work

The Education Funding Agency needs to remain open to feedback and flexibility to achieve its school design ambitions.

The first Education Funding Agency bidders day in October at last kick started the Priority Schools Building Programme.  Although this has taken longer than the industry would have liked, from an Interserve Construction point of view we have been using this extra time to ensure we have a comprehensive set of solutions to offer.

The challenge is clear: we have to deliver standardised solutions that seek to meet the EFA vision, within its pricing structure.

Having been working on the academy framework since its launch, Interserve Construction has recognised the need for greater flexibility in school delivery and new solutions, which include our PodSolve school, currently being built in Leeds.

Ingenuity will therefore be the key to winning work. This does not solely rest with Interserve, as it is the expertise in our supply chain, from designers to component manufacturers and specialist installers, that has already been incorporated into our innovative solutions.

It is also clear that in delivering this programme we can play a significant role in the local economies that surround these new schools.  From an Interserve perspective, we are reassured that the batching approach taken by the EFA can enhance the contribution of local SMEs in our supply chain, which will make a major contribution to the local economy.

What is evident is that the days of iconic design are gone. But it does not mean we have to return to historic programmes like CLASP-type buildings that have been unable to evolve to meet changes in education provision.

Every school is different, whether that relates to its physical constraints, the pupil cohort or its teaching and learning style. But a standardised vision to deliver new school buildings can still work. The problem is in the word ‘standard’, as it is often perceived to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

By starting with good design and a focus on the basic fundamentals such as heating, ventilation and lighting, that have been proven to affect the learning potential of children, we can create standardised spaces that still enable flexibility, giving each school its unique identity.

With this in mind, in publishing the base line designs the EFA has created a platform that should deliver the educational environments they believe are necessary for current teaching and learning.

Despite some reported interpretations, what the EFA are not doing is dictating a standard solution. This is critical, as Interserve believes that a school is about improving educational outcomes, delivered through both construction and facilities management services.

So what we need from the EFA is an open mind, a good understanding of the future shape of this programme and continuing dialogue. This will allow us to use the knowledge and ingenuity in our proposals to create outstanding school environments.

Mike Green, director of capital for the EFA, has already recognised the challenges of delivering specific school projects within a PFI model, like those involving listed buildings.  So a sensible approach to the most appropriate delivery stream within the priority schools programme is already being taken.

In conclusion, whether it is funded through capital grant or a private procurement model, Interserve is keen to play its part.

We have taken the opportunity of the delayed start to this programme to draw on the best practice from all sectors in construction. This has allowed us to develop what we consider to be the most effective and flexible range of solutions for delivering unique school environments, within a standard framework.

David Large is Interserve’s construction divisional director

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