Schools to lead in establishment of a minimum design standard for public sector buildings

A new Minimum Design Standard to encourage excellence in the design of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) schools has been launched by Schools Minister Jim Knight.

The Minimum Design Standard for BSF, jointly developed by the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF), Partnerships for Schools (PfS) and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), will mean that designs which do not meet the rigorous standard will not be able to proceed through procurement. It is, says government, 'a first for any public sector building programme'.

Further information about the Minimum Design Standard can be found on the CABE website.

Richard Simmons, Chief Executive of CABE, said: ‘We welcome the announcement wholeheartedly. This will have a longer term impact on the quality of our schools than almost any other educational reform – curriculums may change but the buildings are essentially fixed. We now want to see every public sector building programme adopt a minimum design standard. Where schools have led, we would like to see health centres, railways stations and all other public buildings follow.’

Proposed designs for BSF sample schools will continue to be assessed by CABE’s schools design expert panel. Only designs graded by the panel as ‘very good’ or ‘pass’ will be able to proceed through procurement and into construction - designs graded ‘unsatisfactory’ or ‘poor’ at their final review will be stopped.

For the first time, educationalists will also be included on the panel to advise how the design can best meet the local authority’s aspiration for transforming education.

The Minimum Design Standard was launched today at Stockwell Park High School in Lambeth, a BSF school which scored the highest possible rating when it was reviewed by CABE in 2007.

It goes one step further than the cross-Government World Class Places strategy, which pledges that all new government-funded building programmes, including social housing, schools and health centres, will include improved design standards. Every significant public sector project could have the opportunity to be advised or reviewed by a team of design experts from the CABE.

Mr Knight said the Minimum Design Standard is a clear signal that objective review of sample designs is key to helping improve the quality of school design.

'BSF is an unprecedented programme to sweep away the legacy of long-term underinvestment; replace school buildings coming to the end of their shelf-life with high class facilities; and transform secondary school standards.

'BSF schools already are already winning design awards – including Bristol’s Brunel Academy, Lambeth’s Michael Tippett SEN School, Leeds’ Allerton High School, and Waltham Forest’s Kelmscott School. Such high-quality should be the norm for all secondary schools.

'There had been no national school building programme for decades before BSF – but we learned fast from the early phases, that involving experts like CABE early and intensively made sure that local authorities got the support they needed in getting designs right.

'The Minimum Design Standard takes this further and is absolutely fundamental to BSF’s long-term success.

'It is the first time ever that independently assessed, clear, objective and robust design standards have been laid down for a public sector building construction programme. It adds real teeth to the design process so that any project failing to make the grade will simply not move forward – and that all building projects are fully assessed before construction. It will make the design process faster and more efficient by promoting best practice and thinking in school design. And it means that teachers and students are involved right from the start.'

Features of the new Minimum Design Standard include:

• A new, simpler four-point grading system with designs rated ‘Very Good’, ‘Pass’, ‘Unsatisfactory’ or ‘Poor’;
• Educationalists, sustainability and landscape specialists to join the peer review panel;
• Views of teachers and students will be fed into panel discussions;
• Project architects will be able to present their school designs to the panel;
• Three separate reviews of designs will be carried out, with designs graded ‘Unsatisfactory’ or ‘Poor’ at the third review unable to proceed through procurement;
• Random checks will be carried out on non-sample scheme schools to ensure that the quality of design is consistently high across a local authority BSF scheme;
• CABE will provide more in-depth feedback reports, example panels will be published to educate and inform, and more training opportunities for Client Design Advisers to enhance the support given to local authority BSF teams.

Tim Byles, Chief Executive of Partnerships for Schools, said: 'There is nothing more inspiring than visiting a BSF school and seeing first hand the response from students, their parents, teachers, and members of the local community to their new learning environment. Long after the initial ‘wow’ factor starts to evaporate, the school community is left to enjoy the benefits that good, thoughtful and appropriate design plays in their day-to-day lives with tangible results from improved attendance and behaviour, to greater use of school facilities by local residents.

'The National Audit Office report stated that BSF schools are being built to a higher specification and space standard than ever before, but we must all strive to ensure that each and every BSF school is designed in such a way to create environments that help every young person achieve their full potential. That is why we are confident the new Minimum Design Standard will demonstrate our commitment to excellence in design, and signal that proposals which fail to meet or exceed this standard will be sent back to the drawing board.'

In order to help bidding teams achieve the standard, CABE is also launching a new online resource, ‘Successful school design’, with practical advice and guidance on the design strategies needed to meet the 10 criteria used by the schools design panel. This includes annotated examples of good schemes seen by the panel.

The 23 companies currently bidding in the BSF market will be invited to attend MDS workshops to ensure the new process and methodology is understood, to ask questions about how the MDS will work in practice, and to receive private feedback on how their design performance compares to the sector as a whole.

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