Caroline Buckingham of HLM architects argues that the government needs to join up its policies on school buildings

My first impression of the James Review is that it is sensible and pragmatic. Everyone was expecting the focus on standardisation, and it makes absolute sense to have that approach to school design.

Standardisation is nothing new. A similar thought lay behind the exemplar schemes that were commissioned at the start of Building Schools for the Future, and architects successfully produced those. Our challenge as designers and architects is to balance a standardised approach with a design that fits the locality and can be delivered on lower costs and reduced timetables.

One thing that doesn’t seem clear, however, is how you link standardisation with making the existing schools estate fit for purpose. The government’s strategic approach needs to address that, as you’re going to end up with people putting new buildings alongside refreshed older ones.

There is an opportunity for a masterplanning approach, where you work out not just the condition of existing buildings, but also look at their life cycle.  You need to have a plan that considers the replacement needs of all the buildings that make up a school, or you’ll end up having kids in lovely new classrooms but with a leaking hall a couple of years down the line.

Caroline Buckingham is education director at HLM architects

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