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Fear that blueprints will limit creativity

WHOLE-class teaching and innovative design could become victims of ambitious government plans to rebuild England's schools.

Experts fear that schools minister David Miliband's efforts to keep costs low by building schools according to centrally agreed blueprints will result in structures which do not meet individual schools' needs.

The Government is providing pound;3.2 billion in 20056 as the first stage of a 10-year programme to replace and refurbish English schools.

While most in local government have welcomed the move, there are concerns that the Government's insistence on producing "exemplar" designs will impose a strait jacket on local decision-makers.

Private companies involved in the scheme may be unwilling to work on projects which differ greatly from the approved designs because of the greater cost involved, they say.

That would reduce the number of ground-breaking designs such as the pound;6 million four-storey glass-fronted Hampden Gurney primary school in London which has won awards for its design.

It could also cause problems for schools in areas such as Barking and Dagenham in London which make greater use of whole-class teaching methods which require bigger than normal classrooms.

The Government is consulting on 12 exemplar designs, six each for primary and secondary, which can be used as blueprints.

Sig Prais, senior research fellow at the National Institute of Social and Economic Research and an advocate of whole-class teaching, expressed concern that teaching methods, classroom acoustics and the size of schools could all be restricted by the designs.

Martin Lipson, director of schools and leisure at 4Ps, a body which is funded by the Local Government Association and gives support for councils working in publicprivate partnerships, warned: "Exemplar designs will help reduce costs but any attempt to create blueprints might restrict people's thinking. Whole-class teaching needs much bigger classrooms than will be available under the exemplar designs."

Mr Miliband has told local government leaders that he hopes the designs will remove the need for schools to "reinvent the wheel" every time a new school is proposed.

"These designs will be a basis for local input not a limit on it," Mr Miliband said.

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