The Education Reform Act of 1988 heralded the start of a dramatic overhaul of the financing and management of schools in England. Its Local Management of Schools provisions forced local education authorities to devolve many aspects of financial management to individual schools. The act also included provisions for schools to acquire self-governing, grant-maintained status and op out of LEA control for capital development. Even though take-up has not been as swift as planned, more than 800 of the national total of 24,000 schools have not joined this scheme.

Funding and budgeting

Formal cost limits for capital expenditure on all public-sector maintained schools were abandoned in 1986. Most of the country’s schools are still under LEA control and depend on county councils or metropolitan boroughs to provide their building funds.

Apart from the new grant-maintained schools, the balance is made up of voluntary-aided (mainly religious) schools that account for some 15-20% of the total and qualify for 85% direct grants from the Department for Education. The DFE funds grant-maintained and voluntary-aided schools and handles borrowing approvals in the LEA sector.

Sources of funding for LEA schemes include:

  • borrowing, subject to Government controls. Where money is borrowed from the Treasury via the DoE it will be subject to DFE credit approval limits
  • capital receipts
  • an allocation from the council tax, also subject to Government controls.

Initially, the opportunity to opt out attracted many schools that were dissatisfied with the poor support, lack of specialist facilities or spending allocated by their local authorities. Grant-maintained schools are responsible for obtaining legal advice and for paying all insurances and their own VAT. They also face no restrictions on their development plans and building programmes and are free to employ the consultants and contractors of their choice. But from 1 April, the new Funding Agency for Schools took over responsibility for approving submitted bids and for providing funds for named projects in grant-maintained schools.

Apart from grants for named projects, for which the current acceptance rate is about 50%, grant-maintained schools also automatically receive £12,000 plus £20 per pupil (minimum of £16,000) for minor capital projects with a life expectancy of more than five years. At present, it is illegal for schools to raise funds from private sources or lending houses. Nevertheless, the Government is keen to introduce private finance initiatives into education and ministers are reviewing a number of ways this could be accomplished.

Grant-maintained schools now account for only about 4% of the total, some way short of the target of 1500 self-governing schools by the end of 1994. However, it is anticipated that new measures to be introduced by the FAS, together with recent Government plans to increase funding for grant-maintained schools, may breathe new life into the scheme.

The forecast capital expenditure for all grant-maintained schools in 1994/95 is approximately £700m, of which the Government is expecting to give borrowing approvals of approximately £485m for LEA schools, £92m for voluntary-aided schools and £118m for grant-maintained schools.

Obtaining approval from the DFE requires:

  • compliance with the statutory regulations in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981 and Design Note 17 on energy and services, and with the advisory guidelines on health and safety, fire regulations and regulations for the disabled
  • completion of the building project and performance details on forms ABB1, ABBX and a number of others.

Grant-maintained and voluntary-aided schemes that concentrate on the provision of facilities for science, maths, languages, information technology, music and so on are more likely to attract approval than those for non-National Curriculum subjects, administration areas and the like. The DFE is currently empowered to contribute additional minor grants for special topics and priorities, but this may soon be limited to grant-maintained schools only.

Repair and maintenance

Repair and maintenance is generally funded from the Annual Maintenance Grant, which forms part of each school’s revenue expenditure. Building R&M services, together with ground maintenance, cleaning, school meals and so on are usually provided through direct LEA contracts.

About 50% of all grant-maintained schools have opted out of using local authority services and have set up independent contracts instead. A recent RICS survey, Grant Maintained Schools: Construction and Property Requirements, estimated that grant-maintained schools hope to spend about £115m on new building and repair and maintenance over the next two years, with more than 50% of projects between £250,000 and £1m in value.

The majority of grant-maintained schools have little experience in the building industry and are currently receiving overtures from consultants seeking to advise them on private funding, procurement, condition surveys, repair and maintenance contracts and other facilities management services such as energy procurement.

The DFE claims that most grant-maintained schools are happier with the total control they now exercise. Parents and school governors with experience in the building industry are often able to help with development programmes, but the liabilities associated with the role of the school governor will encourage more formal arrangements and the appointment of experience consultants on larger projects. Grant-maintained schools tend to be more cost conscious and often provide facilities that can earn revenue outside school hours for instance through the letting of sports halls and classrooms as meeting or activity areas.

Space planning

Mandatory minimum teaching areas are laid down in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981 and further guidance is available from building bulletins, design notes and videos from the Architects and Building Group of the DFE.

Other useful documents include Building Contracts Undertaken on Education Premises: Strategies for the Health and Safety of Staff and Pupils (HSC Education Service Advisory Council) and various Good Practice Guides from the Energy Efficiency Office of the Department of Energy.

Basic teaching rooms are generally 50-65m2, increasing to 70-100m2 for practical spaces, laboratories and so on. Although areas for schools are based on models derived from curriculum percentages and subjects, typical overall teaching and gross floor areas derived from an analysis of a number of schemes are:

A general target ratio for teaching to non-teaching areas is 60:40. The percentage to be added to net floor areas - including teaching, storage and administration - for circulation and internal walls varies from 15% to 19% for single-storey schemes and from 16% to 22% for two-storey schemes.

Recent relaxation of controls and cost limits has led to a move away from vernacular and system-built schools towards more innovative high-tec designs that provide greater flexibility. Users expect architects to listen to their views on the curriculum, and on pastoral and social requirements.

On restricted sites, the need to encompass a range of facilities within one building often leads to designs including a large dominant sloping roof, which links functions and creates internal interaction spaces.

On greenfield sites, designs tend towards clusters of interlinked buildings, which accommodate the diversity of current educational needs, while allowing for future renewal. The cost model for this article has been based on one block from such a cluster scheme on a greenfield site.

The Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme appears to be the only independent building system widely available to local authorities. It is still used on about 10% of all primary school building projects. A recent study indicated that the average cost of CLASP schemes for new, first phase and extension work at £550/m2 was 6% cheaper than the norm for other DFE schemes, which average £584/m2. CLASP is no longer so dependent on supplying pre-finished bulk purchased components and now offers a supply-and-fix building methodology, which uses less labour and guarantees greater quality control.


Educational buildings are the mainstay of county council and other LEA property divisions. Their brief is to provide:

  • schools that are flexible and properly fitted out for the intended purpose
  • aesthetically pleasing and durable buildings to a high quality, with good detailing
  • designs that take account of life costs, thus reducing expenditure on running and maintenance, as well as initial costs
  • designs that are finalised before tenders are sought.

Most school new-build and extensions are still procured using a traditional contract strategy involving bills of quantities. Even though this route is likely to continue to be favoured for the majority of LEA projects, continuing pressure on council finances on top of Government encouragement for opting out is opening up other contract strategies. Construction management is one option that could use an existing network of subcontractors for industrialised systems such as CLASP.

Another possible route is design and build, which can offer savings in both time and money. The main concern would be over-detailing and quality. One LEA expressed doubts whether design consultants working under pressure for D&B contractors provide as good a service as they do when directly employed by the LEA. Under D&B there is also the need to ensure that the contractor’s designers produce a building that satisfies and properly interprets the educational brief.


The DFE publishes quarterly information on costs and performance to all education authorities. The current guide base cost is £493/m2 (first quarter 1994) for all projects providing new accommodation, excluding fixed and loose furniture and fittings and all abnormal costs.

This figure is to be compared with the following costs from a sample of recent school projects in the South East involving new-build and extension schemes.

The sample comprised single-storey primary schools and one- and two-storey secondary schools. The variations in cost/place resulted largely from the differences in space standards:

Preliminaries account for 4-8% of the cost, depending on the accommodation being provided, the complexity of buildings and the form of construction. Extensions to existing buildings lift this to 10-15%, depending on restrictions on working area, phasing and so on. Drainage and external works for new schools account for 15-30% of total cost, though for individual buildings they are often 5-10%.

Cost Model

The cost model is for a new-build secondary school, let under competitive tender, employing a professionally led design team and following a traditional procurement route. The price level (DLE tender price index 241) is based on a competitive tender in April 1994.

The model comprises a 1600m2 hi-tec technology block, which is one of a number of buildings for a complete scheme of 10,340m2 that also includes a main teaching accommodation block, a music and drama building and a sports hall. The technology block is mainly of one-storey steel-frame construction with a second storey concrete-framed extension at one end.

It is built on traditional concrete foundations with brick cavity walling, polyester-coated steel windows, pitched, slated and curved metal roof, and traditional finishings. The building costs exclude any allowance for contingencies, loose furniture and equipment, fees and VAT.

Adjustments should be made to the figures for schemes with different procurement routes, specification standards, sizes, site constraints, location and market conditions.

A table of alternative teaching area costs is provided for use at early budget stage, based on the cost model and a number of other schemes.


The main structure is a single-storey structural steel frame built off isolated pad foundations with a reinforced concrete frame to the lower storey of the two-storey utility/domestic science block. The steel frames are hoisted into position using a mobile crane running along a central hardstanding. Drainage runs, strip foundations and concrete ground slabs are then completed afterwards.

Roofing work commences with the high level curved apex, followed by the clerestory windows inset into timber sub-frames and concluding with the sloping lower levels to eaves, ensuring minimal damage to completed work.

A considerable amount of planning is necessary in complex and highly serviced buildings to ensure proper co-ordination of services in ducts through to final positions in laboratory benches and so on. Internal finishes should be hardwearing. When preparing contract documentation and on-site provision for extensions to existing schools, care must be taken to ensure minimal disruption to the running of the school. Wherever possible, major works should be undertaken during school holidays.

Issues to be addressed include phasing the work so that it does not disturb the school but remains cost effective; proper provision and control of access; full adherence to site safety; proper conduct of personnel; and the reduction or avoidance of noise especially during exams.