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New schools to cut costs by nearly a third compared with BSF

The cost of building secondary schools will be cut by an average of £6 million as part of a 30 per cent cost reduction on the axed £55bn Building Schools for the Future programme under 219 PFI priority schools.

The Department for Education has published baseline design standards which comply with the output specifications written for the £2bn Priority Schools Building Programme PFI projects.

H&V News understands savings (based on BSF) on an average two form entry primary school are expected to be around £1m. There are 122 primary and 91 secondary schools to be procured among the 219 PFI schools which will go to market later this year.

Contractors will be expected to build schools designed to a maximum cost/square metre price of £1,113/sq m for the school building, excluding costs such as fees and external works) for an all-in total of £1,465/ sq m – the level currently achieved by free schools and academies but significantly less than theBSF programme.

The designs represent a 15 per cent ‘reduction in wasted space’ for secondary schools and 5 per cent for primary schools based on BSF.

The EFA said that the savings were representative of the whole school and it would be up to the supply chain to design the allocation of space within the building envelope at the cost set out, but insisted this would not mean smaller classrooms becoming more acceptable.

The standards will not be compulsory for the extra £400m capitally financed programme for the 42 most ‘in-need’ schools to be procured through the academies framework.

However, EFA director of capital Mike Green said he wants contractors to aim towards those standards for the 42 schools to be procured shortly as well as the 219 PFI-schools.

He added: “I want the schools to be built at this price or less. On the framework we have we are working towards these baseline designs.

“I would like to think contractors will see our direction of travel and adapt this.”

He added: “I get that people have to work and make a profit but it’s about not being into designing everything uniquely and from scratch.”

He also told H&V News that savings achieved under the £2bn programme would not mean less being spent overall on schools and said “no-one is threatening to take any money off us – we want great schools but would like them to be appropriate and efficient”.

The standards produced initially are based on a 420-place primary school 1,200-place secondary schools.

Galliford Try education director Michael Buchanan told H&V News he was “excited” to see the standard published because it gives companies like Galliford Try the “green light to go public with what we are doing”.

The contractor is currently working up three proposals with different architects in regions including Scotland and the Midlands.

Mr Buchanan said while 30 per cent savings will be challenging he is confident they will be able to meet them, provided the projects are batched at a significant enough scale to ensure cost efficiencies through the supply chain.

He added the contractor has spent the last 18 months working towards solutions priced at the £1,113/sq m figure and is hoping to use elements including a ‘kit of parts’ form of design, BIM and offsite construction to achieve the savings demanded by government.

The EFA will produce further baseline standards both before schools are procured, and after construction work has been completed on early adopters so lessons can be learned from new construction methods.

The EFA believes the accompanying environmental standards will ensure the schools meet the equivalent of BREEAM Very Good ratings – despite the compulsory rating under BSF schools still being under review.

The plans are designed to attempt to tackle over-heating and high energy consumption primarily.

Key environmental criteria to meet PSBP Output Spec include:

  • Cross ventilation with no cold drafts and heat recovery in winter.
  • Use of thermal mass, night cooling and cross ventilation to prevent summertime overheating.
  • Daylight design to produce balanced glare-free luminance across the classrooms and to reduce energy consumption due to electric lighting.
  • Acoustics to provide good listening conditions with classrooms easily upgradable to teach children with hearing impairments.
  • Energy and water efficient buildings that are easy to monitor through internet based metering of separate energy end uses.


The designs were commissioned in response to the James Review which called for a set of standardised plans.

While they are meant to provide a guide for contractors, individual companies can choose to develop the standards into detailed schemes or propose alternatives and will be evaluated on a mixture of cost and design efficiency.

The EFA said the plans:

  • Include dramatically improved environmental standards compared to BSF schools; 
  • Are designed to a cost/square meter price of  £1,113/sqm for the school building;
  • Allow for modular construction so that parts can be built off-site to reduce costs further;
  • Stop the waste of taxpayers money on unnecessary consultancy fees and the unnecessary duplication of design work.

Mr Green said: “[The plans] show that good design can be delivered at a low cost and we are aiming for around 30 per cent [reductions].

“We are trying not to limit the innovation of contractors. Is modular building allowed? Yes. Is off-site building allowed? Yes.

He admitted the standards are “more difficult” to set out for refurbishment projects as they depend on “what you start with” but that there are designs for the 1,200-place finger-block secondary school, based on a ‘kit of parts’, that could be used for refurb jobs.

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