Your story announcing the second review into the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) procurement process is a welcome step as it recognises that there is scope for improvement (21 September, page 11).
As advisers to the BSF consortium, we are aware that procurement is process-driven and we know this regimented approach can stifle innovation and design quality.
In the system, there is little opportunity for contact between designers and end-users, especially during bidding. This does not give architects the chance to truly respond to the needs of the stakeholders and the school.
The process is also lengthy. Generally, the time taken to assemble the “strategy for change” document is 18 months. The building team then has four months to submit solutions, which is not long enough.
Why does the selection process have to be so prescriptive? Why go from six, to three, to one, when going from three to one will reduce risk and help establish strong teams for the future. The pre-qualification questionnaire, ITPD (invitation to participate in dialogue) and new stage ITCD (invitation to continue dialogue) are all written submissions – how can we as architects demonstrate design innovation and design quality in words?
BSF projects need to embrace the wider estate and encourage maximising the land asset – if a school is part of the community, surely we should consider wider design issues. They must also embrace change management and enable the delivery of learning today and tomorrow. IT solutions, facilities management and design solutions are worked up in isolation now; we want to see a joined-up approach.
Then there is the need for realistic costs to be applied by Partnerships for Schools, especially in relation to the remodelling and reconfiguration of existing schools.
What we really need is flexibility and a holistic approach that will give room for creative thinking. I am pleased the review will focus on design and I advocate the need to integrate IT into school environments.
I also embrace the opportunity for schools to be a catalyst for regeneration. We have just completed Barnsley schools and this is central to the overall improvement of the area and its economic standing. Let’s hope this review delivers a better process for delivering schools that are up to the future.
Caroline Buckingham, director and head of education, HLM Architects