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Doing business in education: New minimum design standards

The commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has warned that the Building Schools for the Future could result in thousands of poorly designed schools.

The organisation said that its ten-strong expert design panel – supported by the government – had looked at 24 designs and reported that only three were rated ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Twenty-one were ‘not yet good enough’ or ‘mediocre’.

The panel said many featured poor site planning and school grounds dominated by car access and parking. Some were like ‘edge of town retail parks’ rather than ‘lively education establishments’.

They lacked sustainability and had designs with secluded yards that could become bullying hotspots, and noisy, open plan areas that would make teaching difficult. The best designs used plenty of natural light and created lively spaces for learning, CABE said.

CABE is working with Partnerships for Schools and the government to thrash out how the standard will operate in practice. It’s expected that designs that fail the standards at bidding stage will have to be improved. But for companies that have a good track record in design and sustainability, the commitment could prove an advantage.

CABE’s ten point assessment criteria:

  1. Identity and context: making a school the students and community can be proud of.
  2. Site plan: making best use of the site.
  3. School grounds: making assets of the outdoor spaces.
  4. Organisation: creating a clear diagram for the buildings.
  5. Buildings: making form, massing and appearance work together.
  6. Interiors: creating excellent spaces for learning and teaching.
  7. Resources: deploying convincing environmental strategies.
  8. Feeling safe: creating a secure and welcoming place.
  9. Long life, loose fit: creating a school that can adapt and evolve in the future.
  10. Successful synthesis: making a design that works in the round.


£6 billion The value of projects in the Glenigan top 100

£2 to £3 billion PfS annual spend up to 2011

250 Schools in the BSF programme between 2011 and 2023

50% The increase in the number of schools being delivered each year from now until 2023

Over 3000 Schools still in the pipeline

100 The number of new schools currently under construction

42 Schools renewed and open by end of 2008

2023 The BSF deadline for all schools

£1,850 per sq metre The average cost of new BSF schools (excluding VAT and information communications technology)

£10bn The estimated extra cost of the programme so far


A wealth of information is available online for contractors looking to break into the multi-billion pound school building programme:

Get the inside track from this project monitoring database Glenigan –

Cutting edge inside knowledge from the Infrastructure Journal –

The PfS website contains sections on how contractors can get involved in the programme and tracks the progress each local authority is making –

The National Audit Office’s recently examined the BSF programme and contained a raft of reccomendations that could prove useful to contractors –

Carillion’s dedicated website for its work on the BSF programme –

Construction and property consultancy Gardiner –

Partnerships UK is a joint venture between the government and private PFI investors to support the delivery of infrastructure renewal and the efficient use of public assets –

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), which lobbies for good school design –