MINISTERS NEED to replace “crumbling” schools and spend more on design and construction to ease overcrowding for pupils, the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) said.
Riba also suggested building on green belt land as a way of addressing the shortage of housing and called for Ministers to increase spending on walking and cycling routes to promote healthier lifestyles.
In a report setting out its demands for the next government, Riba warned that more than three-quarters of schools contained asbestos and criticised the construction and refurbishment programme established to replace the Labour-era scheme scrapped by Michael Gove.
The Riba report said: “Apart from filling to the brim, British schools are also crumbling, creating poor learning and teaching conditions.
“Of the 29,000 schools in Britain, 80 per cent of the stock is beyond its shelf life, and a significant part of the school estate is in poor condition and insufficiently maintained.
“The estimated £8.5bn backlog of repairs needed for existing schools are creating poor teaching and learning conditions and potentially exposing children and staff to health risks – for example, it is thought that more than 75 per cent contain asbestos.”
Turning to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s reforms in England, the report said the “turbulent national school rebuilding and refurbishing policy” of the past decade “stifles the number and quality of new schools”.
“The current Government initiative set up to address the needs of schools requiring urgent repairs – the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) – intends to rebuild or refurbish just 261 schools by 2017.
“Progress has been slow – three years on from the announcement of PSBP, building work has started in fewer than 30 schools, with the first completed in May this year.”
New school designs are 15 per cent smaller than those built under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, with “smaller corridors, assembly halls, canteens and no standalone atria”, the report said.
“Narrow corridors can exacerbate bullying and harassment as a result of overcrowding during peak times, and less space outside classrooms more generally can limit students’ ability to socialise, opportunities for informal learning and schools’ capacity to generate extra income through venue hire.
“Restricted circulation space can also increase incidental and deliberate damage, consequently escalating maintenance costs.
“Not enough consideration is given to these aspects in design and procurement guidance for PSBP schools.”
The report said the £1,113 per square metre cost used as the basis for new schools was “simply too cheap to achieve quality schools that will stand the test of time” and called for a 20 per cent increase in funding.
With an estimated 1.5 million new homes needed in the next parliament, Riba called for a review of green belt land around towns and cities to see whether it could make a more suitable place to build than areas of pristine countryside further away from urban areas.
The report also called for 10 per cent of the transport budget to be spent on schemes to encourage walking and cycling.