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Friday25 July 2014

Do you have confidence in Gove’s school building strategy?

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Yes says Michal Cohen, there is a collective will to make the programme a success; but Yasmin Shariff believes the government shows few signs of being an intelligent client

“Yes”

Michal Cohen
Director at Walters & Cohen

I have confidence that the government’s school building programme will happen. In fact, I believe it’s essential from the government’s point of view that it delivers an unmitigated success to regain trust from those for whom the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future was a huge disappointment, including contractors and architects, as well as pupils, parents and teachers.

We have an opportunity to improve schools on two fronts: fixing those in poor condition, and providing the extra pupil places required. I believe it is still possible for the government to achieve this on the very limited budgets available, and that this is best done in partnership with those professionals who have learned so much over the past 10 years.

What I don’t yet know is whether the government’s strategy will agree with my own opinion that we need to aim for a 60-80 year lifespan — so that in 10 years’ time we don’t look back and regret squandering the money on temporary fixes.

Architects can show how innovation, flexible accommodation and the creative use of space give schools choice and value for money. I hope we can persuade the government to use this wealth of experience.

I know that for many end users it will be sufficient to have a school that isn’t cramped and doesn’t leak or get too hot or too cold, and, of course, we can provide that.

However, I’d still like to think there’s a collective will to provide the best quality learning environments that respond to their unique situations and take pride in serving their communities.

In short, there are too many of us who care about good education environ-ments for it to fail.

“No”

Yasmin Shariff
Director at Dennis Sharp Architects

Has anyone got confidence in a government that is dragging its feet over something so basic that will determine the competitiveness of UKPLC and affect the education, health and wellbeing of thousands of families?

Our schools are in desperate need of attention. A £22 billion backlog of maintenance was identified in April 2011. Action is urgently needed but we still have no capital programme allocation.

In July 2011, after 14 months in office, education secretary Michael Gove announced that a complete overhaul was underway and that he was making tough, immediate decisions to get best value for money.

After two years in office, we have yet to see any tough or immediate decisions from Gove. The privately financed £2 billion Priority Schools Programme, templated schools and “good enough design” have been much talked about but no allocation made.

Refurbishment and repairs are favoured, but there is no acknowledge-ment that these are costly. Meanwhile the fabric of our schools continues to freeze, creak, leak and overheat. The lack of action will rapidly turn the £22 billion backlog into £44 billion.

PFI deals of the past bode poorly on ministers’ capacity or willingness to stand up to the skilful machinations of large contracting and legal firms. The only indication that the government is attempting to be an “intelligent client” is Mairi Johnson’s baseline drawings and specifications, which have the potential of overcoming planning and regulation hierarchies.

Other than this glimmer of hope I have no confidence in the government’s capacity to deliver a capital school building programme, despite the talent and skills of the architectural community, which remain frustratingly straitjacketed.

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