Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 15:45 UK

Architects vet new school designs

bulidng work
The BSF programme aims to refurbish England's secondary schools

Design plans for new school buildings in England will have to meet a strict minimum standard under government rules announced on Wednesday.

Architects and educationalists will vet design plans and those considered poor or unsatisfactory will be rejected.

Last month the National Audit Office raised concerns about accounting procedures for Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme.

BSF aims to refurbish or rebuild every secondary school in England by 2020.

But the NAO report said the government was too optimistic about the progress of the scheme.

It said the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) had under-spent by £4.4bn over the past nine years and last year could have spent an extra £250m on schools.

Specific requirements

Now, under the minimum design standard, only the best plans will follow through to completed school buildings.

The DCSF says the new standard will outline specific requirements which must be met in order for a design to be approved.

The department says the standard will help speed up the process of approving plans, by reducing red tape and the number of unsuitable plans submitted.

A new four-point grading system will rate designs "very good", "pass', "unsatisfactory" or "poor".

The views of teachers and pupils will be fed into panel discussions.

And educationalists will also be included on the panel to advise how the design can best meet pupils' and teachers' needs.

Many plans for school rebuilding projects to date have been poor.

Of 187 designs inspected so far by the government's design watchdog, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe), 82 were considered mediocre or poor.

'Robust design standards'

Schools minister Jim Knight said the minimum design standard was "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."

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