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Bodging builders fail lab test

Millions are being spent on transforming labs - but is cash being wasted on shoddy work? Cherry Canovan reports from the annual gathering of science educators.

The Government's pound;60 million programme to revamp school laboratories is being undermined by a series of bodge jobs and design howlers, the Association for Science Education heard last week.

Fume cupboards that pump out noxious vapours at eye level, electricity boxes that bash teachers on the head, and classrooms that do not have enough seats are just some of the problems that have already been reported.

Peter Borrows, director of school science service CLEAPSS, said that, few local authorities had architects or buildings departments with experience of lab construction. Schools were therefore at the mercy of private contractors who may have no knowledge of how to do this type of work.

He said: "There is a lot of money being spent on new and refurbished labs. Sadly, some of it has, and I am quite sure will be, spent unwisely."

He suggested teachers were being consulted too little and too late. Heads of science might get as little as a weekend to comment on plans, or might return from the summer break to discover the money had run out in the middle of a project and vital services had been cut.

"There is a feeling of 'leave it to the architects - they know what they are doing'," said Mr Borrows. "You really should not assume that anybody knows what they are doing."

He said that science teachers and technicians should be involved as much as possible to avoid errors at all stages of the process. He cited a case where electricians fitted sockets in a nice blank wall - unfortunately this was where a whiteboard was meant to go. In another, the benches were covered with a material so flimsy that they were ruined on the first day when pupils put hot containers down on them.

CLEAPSS adviser Bob Worley also warned that heads' wishes might clash with teachers' needs. "Heads like to show people what a modern laboratory looks like and may favour a Star Trek appearance," he said. "But futuristic designs, for example children seated around octagons, may cause problems such as reduced work space."

ASE reports, TES Teacher, 18

For advice contact the CLEAPSS (Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services) helpline on 01895 251 496

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