Baseline designs for schools: guidance

Published 11 March 2014

1. Baseline designs: background to their development

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) developed the baseline designs in response to a recommendation in the Review of Education Capital, in April 2011, led by Sebastian James.

The review called for a suite of standardised drawings and specifications which could be applied across a wide range of educational facilities.

The designs are examples of how the requirements of the Priority School Building Programme’s PFI facilities output specification can be met within cost and area allowances. They are suitable for both primary and secondary schools, and detailed enough to enable environmental modelling and to establish building costs.

Initially, the baseline designs will be used to help finalise briefs for school building projects and for discussion with local planning departments.

Contractors can develop them into detailed schemes, or propose alternatives. We expect the baseline designs to evolve in response to feedback, and intend to add further versions.

2. Cost and area allowances

So that as many schools as possible are able to benefit from the available funding, EFA was asked to reduce the gross area funded for schools, and the cost per square metre.

The funding for school buildings is now £1113/m² (excluding external works, particular circumstances and fees). This is the level currently achieved by free schools and academies.

Reductions in area have been achieved without compromising teaching or school organisation. In secondary schools, teaching spaces and non-teaching areas are within the same minimum limits as before. The number of teaching spaces also remains the same.

The main reduction in area of primary schools has been achieved by omitting an ICT room, as this provision is no longer a default requirement due to the widespread use of portable ICT equipment in classrooms.

The new area guidelines were discussed and agreed with the relevant advisory bodies covering the teaching of science, art, design and technology, performing arts, ICT and also libraries.

They were also rigorously tested against a range of curriculum and organisational models. Sports halls have not been reduced in area.

2.1 How the baseline designs have been costed

The baseline designs have been costed and are achievable within the funding allocation.

This has been achieved by:

  • efficient wall to floor ratios within the parameters of the design solution (for example, wall to floor ratios in the ‘finger block’ will be inherently less efficient than in the ‘superblock’, however the finger block is inherently more flexible in relation to more challenging site shapes and topography)
  • using orthogonal forms with no curves or ‘faceted’ curves, having minimal indents, ‘dog legs’ and notches in the plan shapes
  • maximising stacking where possible (for example, uniformity of block height, adherence to structural grid as much as possible to minimise transfer structures, stacking of toilet cores where possible)
  • efficient circulation layouts
  • design replication (for example, elements of layouts can be replicated across more than one site reducing re-design costs, particularly in the secondary finger block)
  • design repetition (for example, limiting the range of window sizes/types)

Specification reductions, rationalisations and omissions have also been applied to ensure affordability. Examples include:

  • external envelope specifications (no glazed curtain walling or ETFE roofs, low cost envelope materials such as render or metal panel, above ground floor window head height, optimisation of window areas as a percentage of classroom external wall area and and no external roof terraces)
  • internal materials and finishes specifications (basic specification solid core doors, no folding partitions, basic stair and balustrading finishes, fair faced concrete soffits)
  • mechanical and electrical specifications (no internal CCTV other than to the main entrance, reduced lighting specifications, simplified building controls and energy management system in place of complex building management system)

The above are examples where savings have been made. However, we make no compromises, and continue to seek improvement, regarding optimum environmental conditions for learning. We achieve this through:

  • a robust natural ventilation strategy, including the provision of thermal mass where necessary
  • sufficient levels of balanced glare-free daylight to classrooms, without overheating

2.2 Area

Every baseline design meets the schedule of accommodation required with no extra area. This has been achieved by economic planning, for example minimising circulation area by having double loaded corridors.

A core level of flexibility has been achieved within the area, for example the primary solution allows for the option in the junior suite of 62m2 classrooms with just a food bay, or 55 metre-squared classrooms and a specialist space.

Schools larger than 2FE have a small hall as well as a main hall, and this offers the option of using one as a dining hall. The secondary school designs can be adapted to suit a range of curriculum models.

2.3 Area allowances

The funding for the gross areas of new school buildings is based on new formulae.

For secondary schools the new formula is:

1050m² (+ 350m² if there is a sixth form) + 6.3m²/pupil place for 11- to 16-year-olds + 7m²/pupil place for post-16s.

For primary schools the new formula is:

350m² + 4.1m²/pupil place.

2.4 School Premises Regulations and design guidance

Revised school premises regulations for maintained schools come into force on 31 October 2012. Their requirements, and the supporting guidance, are reflected in the output specification and therefore in the baseline designs.

The Department for Education produced various pieces of guidance on the design of schools and school facilities, which is now under review. Revised guidance is likely to be published during 2013 and 2014.

The baseline designs have been developed in anticipation of likely changes.