Fears grow that the Department for Education is failing to heed lessons from past school building programmes

Plans to cut the size of new special schools have been attacked by Labour, with calls growing for Michael Gove to heed the lessons of previous research on school building.

Building exclusively revealed last week that the Department for Education is planning to cut space standards for special schools by up to 20%, discarding existing regulations that are just two years old and based on expert research into the needs of pupils with a wide range of disabilities.

The move, part of cost-cutting measures also set to include reducing the size of secondary schools by around 15%and primaries by around 5%, will hit the “most vulnerable” children, shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan told Building.

He said: “[Education secretary] Michael Gove is literally putting the squeeze on some of the most vulnerable pupils in the country with this mean measures to lower space standards for special schools.

“Pupils deserve the highest standards of school building not the bog standards favoured by Mr Gove.”

Brennan’s comments follow criticism of the move from organisations ranging from Design Council Cabe, to learning disability charity Mencap and the RIBA.

But a Department for Education spokeswoman said special schools classrooms would “still have at least twice the area per pupil as mainstream schools and schools for those with the most severe needs will have three times the area”.

She said: “We want to ensure that schools are built efficiently. Any space reductions have been carefully researched to ensure that teaching is not affected.”

But Architect Robin Nicholson, chairman of the previous government’s Zero Carbon Schools Task Force, claimed that the DfE was throwing away knowledge gained under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF)programme.

“Whatever you think of BSF there is an amazing amount to learn from the programme and that knowledge is being wasted,” he said.

“Instead we are going to reinvent the wheel and that is a scandalous waste of money. A badly-designed school is an unsustainable investment.”

Nicholson called for DfE to publish the results of Partnership for Schools (PfS) “excellent” Post-Occupancy Evaluation research.

“We desperately need this feedback in order to do [more] for less and to build more resilient schools,” he said.

Nusrat Faizullah, British Council for School Environments chief executive also called for DfE to publish the post-occupancy research, which she said would provide “vital learning” for the government’s much-delayed £2bn Priority Schools Building Programme.

Building understands the post-occupancy work has been completed, and is ready to be published, but DfE has yet to give PfS the green light.

A PfS spokeswoman said: “[PfS] has undertaken Post-Occupancy Evaluation work following the completion of early BSF schemes on behalf of DfE. PfS is currently looking again at this work so that the lessons learned can feed in to future capital projects.”