RIBA's report, ‘Building a better Britain’, warns that as well as filling schools to the ‘brim’ because of a shortage of places, a significant number of the country's 29,000 schools are in poor condition, and insufficiently maintained.
In March, the National Audit Office estimated that 240,000 new primary school places will be needed by September to meet increased demand.
The architects say that the estimated £8.5 billion backlog of repairs needed for existing schools is creating poor teaching and learning conditions and potentially exposing children and staff to health risks, including asbestos, which according to Government figures is thought to be in more than 75 per cent of schools.
It claims that the Government’s initiative to address the needs of schools requiring urgent repairs, the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP), has made slow progress.
Under the PSBP, the intention was to rebuild or refurbish 261 schools in England by 2017. However, building work has started in fewer than 30 schools, with the first completed this May.
RIBA also argues that new schools are 15 per cent smaller than those built under the last Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, and have smaller corridors, assembly halls and canteens.
It says that this could have a direct impact on maintenance costs and children’s well-being, as narrow corridors could exacerbate bullying as a result of overcrowding, while less space outside classrooms limits children’s ability to socialise.
The report goes on to argue that the overriding cost-efficiency of new schools, set at £1,113 per square metre, is ‘simply too cheap’ to achieve quality schools that will stand the test of time.
Through cutting costs and sizes of schools, it says that the PSBP programme may end up costing the Government more in escalating repairs and rebuilds, than it will initially save.
RIBA concludes by making a number of recommendations including increasing the capital cost per square metre for new schools by at least 20 per cent to improve building durability and limit future maintenance costs. They also call for research into understanding how buildings and space can affect pupil attainment.
The report, which also features chapters on Homes, Health and Older People, Energy and Flooding, comes ahead of the release of the Government Property Data Survey in August, which outlines the full extent of the repairs and maintenance of all schools in England.
Stephen Hodder, president RIBA said, ‘The next UK Government should empower our cities, towns and villages to prosper and provide the homes, education, services and jobs that are vital for the nation. Tackling the failed current school building programme must be a priority.'
A DfE spokesperson said, 'We are spending £18 billion on school buildings in this Parliament. We are giving councils £5 billion to spend on new school places over this Parliament — double the amount allocated by the previous Government over an equivalent period. In addition we have also confirmed a further £2 billion for basic need up to 2017.'