British Government Trims Down School Sizes

LONDON — The British government released guidelines for a new direction in education infrastructure in early October. Officials say the change will result in a reduction of cost, with average funding required for new schools dropping to $22.4 million (U.S. dollars), after that number sat around $33.6 million under the previous administration. The government has informed builders to expect school projects to be approximately 15 percent smaller than under the previous administration.

The new standards will be used as the template for 261 school buildings slated for construction over the next five years, for a total estimated cost of $3.2 billion. The size reductions will be accomplished by shrinking the spaces allocated for corridors, assembly halls, cafeterias and atriums.

The change is being seen as a reaction to the previous administration’s $71.1 billion Building Schools for the Future program, which garnered design awards, but was cancelled in 2010 by Education Secretary Michael Gove as the economy faltered and the public became upset with such a large spending program.

Peter Lauener, chief executive of the Education Funding Agency, recognized the change would have a negative impact on the building and architectural markets, telling the London-based newspaper The Guardian, “If you have shares in atriums, sell.”

British spending on school infrastructure has followed a relatively predictable path, growing from $56 billion per year in 2000 to $102.5 billion in 2009, peaking at the same time that the economy began to crumble.

The new rules are expected to hold the minimum class size at 580 square feet, meaning all space reductions will come from other areas. The country’s National Union of Teachers decried the move, arguing that discipline problems would increase if students were given less space.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has also voiced its disapproval of the change, arguing that schools would actually be less cost effective, as the size restrictions would cut down on the usefulness of school facilities in terms of providing space for after-school programs and public meetings.

Lauener particularly singled out the previous administration’s hiring of well-known and respected architects. He argued, “A school building should be a safe and welcoming environment in which great teaching can take place, but it is teachers who will inspire children — not buildings.”

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