The role of design within the government’s £45 billion Building Schools for the Future programme is set to be boosted thanks to a raft of reforms including a powerful new architect role within delivery body Partnerships for Schools.

“I’m looking at a hurdle so those designs which are not good enough do not go forward” - Tim Byles

“I’m looking at a hurdle so those designs which are not good enough do not go forward” - Tim Byles

PFS confirmed this week that it is seeking to appoint an architect as its new director of design, an individual tasked with championing high-quality architecture and sustainability, and liaising with organisations such as Cabe and the RIBA on the huge building project that already involves around half of England’s local authorities.

It was also announced on Wednesday that Cabe’s scrutiny of BSF will no longer be managed by the Department for Children, Schools & Families but by PFS itself — in a sign of closer collaboration between the two organisations.

PFS chief executive Tim Byles revealed he is backing the concept of a design threshold or “hurdle” that every project must meet before it can progress, an idea first mooted by Cabe in February.

“High-quality design that helps deliver inspirational learning environments is something that I am personally committed to, and today’s announcement is a welcome development that marks a closer working relationship with Cabe,” Byles said.

“Cabe will continue to perform the function of an independent design review… it is contractually set up to be independent.

“I’m encouraged by the engagement the design community has shown in improving design… I’m now looking at whether we can have a hurdle on design, so that those [designs] which are not good enough do not go forward.”

Cabe chief executive Richard Simmons also insisted that the independence of its design review panel — which last autumn deemed all but one of the first batch of secondary schools reviews “unfit for purpose” — is not under threat from the new arrangement. “Working more closely with PFS will help to ensure good design for all BSF schools,” he said. “PFS recognises that the independent scrutiny of designs [by the panel] is an essential part of achieving that. The panel will continue to provide very clear and robust assessments.”

Cabe head of campaigns Matt Bell added that no decisions had been finalised on the concept of the design “hurdle” but that the role of the PFS design director was “useful and important”.

“This is a key question for the delivery agencies,” he said. “Do they have the balance between quantity and quality… have they got sufficient capacity on design at a senior level? You have to have people whose job it is to champion good design.”

Wanted: Design director with Class

Job Description The post is touted as an opportunity to “transform education for millions of young people”
Duties To communicate with key internal and external stakeholders and oversee a team of design managers
Location Central London, among PFS’s 100-strong team but with opportunities to visit local authorities across England
Salary Up to £70,000, plus a 20% bonus and a civil service pension