The following notes will be most useful for colleagues in the next wave of BSF schools; but will also be useful for anyone with a major redesign or rebuild at any point in the future.
As a result of our experience with the first wave of BSF, it is clear that unless the contractors are given a very precise steer about the design and facilities required in the new schools, their default mode will be to put up buildings more geared to their convenience in fulfilling their maintenance contract for the next 25 years than putting in place the effective, green, inspiring learning environment that we have every right to expect. The results have been uneven across the three schools in phase 1, with significantly greater design problems in one than the other two, but some common features in all.
1. New classrooms are often smaller than the old. Cutting floor space cuts cleaning costs for the contractor but may produce classrooms, labs or workshops that are too small for effective teaching and learning.
Advice: measure up your existing space. Demand no less than you need.
2. New classrooms have sometimes had no built in storage and/or insufficient display space. Riser cupboards have been allowed to cover whole walls. This allows easy access to electronics for the contractor, but blocks out far too much space that cannot be used neither for display nor storage.

  • measure up your existing space for storage and display. Demand no less than you need.
3.The over-emphasis on ICT in the educational thinking behind BSF means that these problems are particularly acute in Departments that require experiential learning: designing, making, experimenting, but also affect other facilities that have been treated unevenly as afterthoughts in different schools; e.g. libraries, SEN facilities, exercise room.
  • if you are in DT, Food Tech, Art or Science be especially vigilant about exactly what you need. Don't assume goodwill, imagination or even a basic understanding of your requirements on the part of the contractor. As far as they are concerned they are putting up a building - any old building. A school Science Lab or a public toilet, its all the same to them. They will cut corners and cut costs. Anything not specified in their contract will not be done. Spell out very clearly what you need as an effective environment for teaching your subject, put it in writing and keep records. If you don't have it in writing and they don't do it, they will deny they have been told. You will need to lay it on with a trowel.
4. Oversight from the BSF team. The bottom line here is that the BSF team use the standards laid down in the building bulletins. So long as a proposed design fits these, they've ticked their box, whether they are adequate to the school's needs or not. This enabled the contractors to construct DT workshops at one school that were considered adequate only for groups of 12-15 instead of whole classes.
  • The BSF team are also picking up cautionary tales from the experience of Phase 1 which is informing their approach to Phases 2 and 3 BUT in the final analysis they will not go beyond a legal bottom line. They are therefore not a failsafe guardian of the school's needs.
  • Therefore, whoever is responsible for overseeing the project from the school will need to be thoroughly trained in building regulations and need to be be given the time to aquaint themselves with guidelines and examples of best practice for building classrooms, labs or workshops for given subjects. Because these guidelines are not compulsory (and the approach of the new government is to consider them as unnecessary and costly "red tape") they will need to be insisted upon by the school.
5. Heat and Air Con. There have been a lot of problems with overheating (in corridors, reception areas, ICT suites etc) and inflexibility in centrally controlled heating and cooling.
Advice: This is not an area most of us will think about in terms of design and we need to; and to put questions to the designers about how to have flexible control of heat and ventilation and what the environmentally sustainable alternatives to air conditioning are. If these building are to be up for more than 30 years they need a design spec that fits the need for carbon nuetrality by mid century and at the moment they are well short of it.
6. Signing off. Once a design is signed off it is set in stone. Once a building is signed off its all over bar the snagging.
  • Make sure everyone has been consulted on final designs (and that these are presented in a way that is understandable for the colleagues concerned) and any objections, problems resolved before the school signs off.
  • Before the school signs of on the completed building, make sure there has been a walk round by all the appropriate parties, including Trade Union representatives, to identify any significant problems and set up a plan to resolve them before signing off takes place.