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Time to build excellent schools and end a decade of waste


17 September 2010

Press office contact:

Melanie Mayfield
T: +44 (0)207 307 3662
E: melanie.mayfield@riba.org

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has called on the Government to ensure that future investment in schools results in better buildings that are cost-effective, fit for purpose and fully meet the needs of teachers and students.

Responding to the Department for Education’s James Review of Capital Investment in Schools, which will guide future spending decisions over the next Spending Review period (2011-2014), the Institute has called on the Government to commit to the following five-point action list to improve the UK’s school estate:

  • Ensure all groups commissioning new schools or refurbishment works to existing buildings (whether they be parent-led groups as part of the free school programme or Headteachers and Local Authorities) have adequate support and advice in order to prepare a detailed brief that meets their needs and aspirations.
  • Define ‘fitness for purpose criteria’ and apply them rigorously to all projects. The RIBA believes that a school that is fit-for-purpose is one that is delivered to fit the brief of the students and teachers using it.
  • Manage user engagement (students, teachers and the local community) in the selection of design and construction teams more rigorously in order to make the most of the consultation period, thereby avoiding unrealistic expectations and abortive costs.
  • Ensure that different procurement routes (the method by which a building project is planned, costed and delivered) are available to suit the different size and complexity of individual projects and enable the most appropriate and cost-effective allocation of risk.
  • Avoid bureaucratic over-detailed standards that will stifle creativity and innovation and limit competition.


The RIBA has offered its expertise to a detailed Government review of the standards expected from future school projects. The Institute believes that a simple and transparent set of standards that align design quality with educational outcomes must be defined, and that these standards win the active support of teachers, designers and constructors.


Speaking today, RIBA President Ruth Reed said:

'Billions of pounds and huge amounts of time have been disgracefully wasted in the last decade in an attempt to improve our desperately poor school estate. It is time for wiser spending and we welcome the James Review as an opportunity to achieve greater value for money and the improved delivery of better school buildings.

The RIBA believes that a decent school environment is an entitlement for all young people and the Government has a duty of care to provide it. Well-designed schools make the people who teach and learn in them feel valued and consequently attainment and results rise, bullying and truancy fall.

However many of our existing school buildings are simply not good enough. There are serious issues, ranging from school capacity, due to demographic change, and health and safety, to fitness for purpose and the ability to accommodate current and emerging educational practice.

Furthermore, without major improvement the school estate will not meet the Government’s and local authorities’ statutory requirements to reduce carbon emissions.

The Goverment urgently needs to simplify and improve the process of delivering better schools before any more time and money are wasted.'


The RIBA has long argued that the process of schools procurement should be improved to cut costs, save time and produce better buildings.

The flawed and outdated Private Finance Initiative (PFI) often used on school building projects sees two full designs worked up by separate teams of contractors, architects and consultants. This duplication is confusing for the school client (eg headteacher) and can result in poor design decisions and the waste of upwards of 8-10 months of procurement time and £2.5 million pounds on every school project (2005, Major Contractors Group).

In January 2008, the Institute proposed to the Government a drastically simplified model of procurement that puts the school client at the heart of the design and procurement process working with one single design team, as per any client working on any commercial project. The client should take ownership of the design and the contractor chosen by their ability to deliver the project. This would result in schools that cost millions of pounds less, delivered in close to half the current time.

The RIBA’s submission to the James Review includes detailed recommendations of alternative procurement models that can be combined and should be implemented by the Government. 

The RIBA’s full James Review consultation response can be viewed at



Notes to editors

For further press information contact please contact Melanie Mayfield in the RIBA Press Office – melanie.mayfield@inst.riba.org or 020 7307 3662


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