Bedales School, credit Matthew Rice

Building better places to learn

Better-designed school buildings that are safe and encourage children to learn are amongst the recommendations RIBA has highlighted in its manifesto for the new government. Education Business explores the proposals further

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has published its manifesto of priorities for the new government, entitled Building Global Britain, which contains recommendations to support a high quality, sustainable built environment across the UK.

It highlights the great importance that the built environment has on everybody’s lives, and the crucial role it plays in tackling some of the government’s key policy areas and challenges.

Amongst the recommendations, the report urges the government to build schools that are better spaces for learning.

It says that the better design of public buildings can inspire communities and is a better use of scarce public money.

The report also acknowledges that well‑designed neighbourhoods can create better health outcomes for children and adults, and that the development of new high‑quality, affordable homes can alleviate the housing crisis and unstick some of the UK’s productivity problems.

What’s more, it highlights the need for better environmental standards in housing, which can bring down energy costs.

Building Global Britain states that Brexit represents challenges and opportunities for the sector. It says that the UK’s built environment can support and create happy, sustainable communities, but that requires a stable UK economy with a capacity to grow, access to the right skills and talent as well as world-leading research and innovation.


RIBA believes that schools should be safe, encouraging spaces for children to learn, and that the best school buildings support student engagement and attainment, and improve staff morale.

The report recognises the problem the education system is facing; the UK must provide the additional 420,000 new school places needed by 2021, while simultaneously addressing the poor learning and teaching conditions in many parts of the country.

RIBA says that whilst money is scarce, spending on school buildings can help deliver better value for money. Citing its research from last year, Better Spaces for Learning, the report claims that good school design could have prevented at least £150 million from being spent annually on unnecessary maintenance and services.

It says that evidence-based design can help school leaders minimise spending over the long-term whilst delivering a positive learning environment.

The report draws attention to what it believes is lack of connection between the financing, design, construction and operation of buildings.

This means that little evidence is gathered on how school buildings perform against the predictions made during its design.

This is a significant missed opportunity to help local leaders utilise the best evidence to inform decision making.

The report therefore says that if the government is to develop safe and well‑designed schools, it should recognise the role of good design and quality in school buildings to support the best outcomes for pupils and teachers.

It should support a standardised approach to Post Occupancy Evaluations (POE) and dedicated funding to ensure that data collection is robust. POE is the process of obtaining feedback on a building’s performance in use so that when commissioning future buildings, lessons can be learnt and past mistakes corrected.

RIBA’s report also believe that the outcomes of school POE reports should also be published to strengthen transparency and public trust and ensure that future projects learn from previous successes and mistakes.


RIBA believes that the planning system works best when it matches the needs of local communities. England has this year seen the election of new metro mayors, and devolution deals with combined authorities are unlocking potential for greater economic autonomy across the country.

The next step should be to support a further transfer of powers on housing and planning from Westminster to our local communities and regions to help shape a better built environment.

A planning system that is supported by local people will only be possible with higher levels of public trust. Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) agreements should not be subject to commercial confidentiality, which allows some developers to weaken their obligations to deliver benefit to communities from new developments.

Existing Government rules on disposal of public land are currently a missed opportunity to strengthen public trust with a more strategic approach to housing and by delivering social as well as economic value.

To create a planning system that puts people at its heart, the RIBA recommends entering into dialogue with new and existing authorities, to support a more robust package of devolved housing and planning powers.

It believes there should be an end to the use of commercial confidentiality for viability assessments in Section 106 and CIL negotiations. It also recommends that there is a requirement to consider social return where public land is disposed of, following the same approach as the Social Value Act.


The report says that high quality, inclusive, mixed tenure development helps communities to flourish, and can also tackle many of the challenges that society faces, supporting health and wellbeing, giving families space to thrive, reducing energy demand, and lowering the cost of social care.

Yet estimates suggest that poor quality housing still costs the NHS £2.5 billion a year.

The RIBA report says that the current housing crisis is the result of decades of fragmented policy-making by successive governments. This has affected our quality of life, social cohesion and it also threatens our economic productivity.

In order to support the development of high quality homes across the country, the RIBA recommends establishing a Chief Built Environment

Adviser to raise design awareness and coordinate policy across government.

It says that the delivery of a wide range of homes, available under a wide range of tenures, should be a priority, and that national standards for internal space, accessibility and sustainability should be protected and strengthened.

It also believes that the government should demonstrate leadership by prioritising long‑term value above short-term gain.

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