Design Council Cabe’s director criticises government moves to relax space and sustainability standards

The government’s official advisor on architecture has questioned its school building strategy following the news that the Department for Education is planning to relax space standards.

Last week, Building revealed that the department has approved plans to relax space standards for schools, with a reduction of the overall gross area averaging 15% in secondary schools and 5% in primary schools for the entire school build.

It also emerged that the DfE has made green design a low priority on free school building schemes, such as All Saints free school in Reading, which was originally intended as a zero-carbon passivhaus building but will actually be built only to minimum standards for a marginal reduction in capital cost.

Director of Design Council Cabe, Nahid Majid, said it was a “false economy” to risk pupils’ long-term development by cutting design standards.

“Of course it’s vital that we build schools to cater to increasing demand, and to do this cost effectively is crucial,” she said.

“That said, being seen to be responsible and intelligent in procuring building work does not have to mean adopting a moratorium on anything that isn’t  ‘bargain basement’.

“According to the Carbon Trust, UK schools overall could save around £70 million per year by reducing their energy costs. The proposed All Saints free school would have cost only 5% more, but could have had a lower whole-life cost.

“With regards to space standards for schools, the UK is one of the only countries in Europe which does not have mandatory space standards. Schools are where we will inspire and shape the next generation. It’s a false economy to put that at risk by offering young people a sub-standard learning environment.

“We should invest in our next generation, and at the same time, build schools that not only inspire students but actually reduce costs in the long run.”

A DfE spokeswoman said: “We are looking to lighten the burden of school building and premises regulations - in part, to reduce red tape, but also because we believe that high quality teaching is not dependent on expensive, custom-designed school buildings.

“Generally, we want to encourage a more flexible and entrepreneurial approach to thinking about capital and school building.”