Another week, another delay to the James Review of Capital Investment in Schools. When the review of school building was announced in July 2010, straight after the controversial cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future Programme, the plan was that the team would report to ministers just before the Spending Review and that the framework for a new programme of school building would be taking shape by the end of the year. A combination of a High Court review of the cancellation of BSF, coupled with the early realisation that building schools is not quite the same as building supermarkets, has meant that the review has been plagued with delays.
Aside from the significant reduction in funding for school buildings under the new system, one of the most controversial parts of the review is that it is widely expected to recommend far greater standardisation of school design. New London Architecture and the soon to be disbanded CABE held an interesting event this morning on the pros and cons of standardisation, and the sheer number of worried looking architects in the room served to show just how important the Building Schools for the Future Programme has been for the construction industry since 2003.
Understandably perhaps, there was a great deal of concern about whether the review will recommend a limited number of standard school designs that will be rolled out across the country, and whether a greater reliance on off-site manufacturing will mean that only the big players in the construction industry will be able to profit from the new programme. Here the panel was united in the view that Education Secretary Michael Gove MP should focus on setting minimum standards for school buildings, but should steer clear of any form of top down ‘standard design’. After all, isn’t this the Conservative way?
At a time when the vast majority of departments are looking at stripping back regulation and guidance, and when the mantra of the government is ‘Localism’ and community empowerment, it seems strange that Gove’s Department for Education seems to be heading in the opposite direction. Stricter control over the curriculum, centralised minimum entry requirements for new teachers and now the potential for standardised school design appears to be the future for the education system in England (unless you’re a free school, of course).