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Planning restrictions: the shape of things to come

The triangular staffroom at Meerbrook first school in Milton Keynes has just 25 square metres of space, and there is no separate work room or meetings area. Andrew Armes, the authority's chief architect, is apologetic about this but, like other architects working on school projects, he is constrained by government guidelines on space and cost.

When architects design a school, they work to a brief - usually provided by the local authority. It is a complex process driven by capital spending limits and design criteria which originate from the Department for Education and Employment.

The size of a school and the space allotted to each component is set down in the DFEE's "Building Bulletin, Area Guidelines for Schools". Local authorities can go beyond the guidelines and brief architects to be generous with space - but they would have to fund the excess costs and, in many areas, the DFEE sets the standards.

Armes, together with many others who produce design work in the education sector, argues that the basic planning criteria are unrealistic. A typical brief for an infant and junior school for 480 children will specify approximately 2,000 square metres. The guidelines allow a range from 80 to 104 sq m for staff accommodation. "It is impossible to get near the botto of the range," says Armes. "And even providing the absolute minimum, the top of the range is exceeded by 10 square metres."

With building costs of roughly pound;800 per sq m, the extra space would cost the local authority pound;27,000.

It is a similar story for pupil facilities - cloakrooms, changing rooms and toilets. The DFEE guidelines allow for 17 per cent of the non-teaching area of the school, 136 sq m, in the example given above. "The reality would be well over 200 sq uare metres," says Armes. "Architects respond by trying to make spaces flexible," he says. "We double up."

The open space at Meerbrook can be a teaching area, a meeting space for staff or a place for a party. But the trend towards closed cell classrooms as a result of curriculum changes, combined with tight guidelines, is inevitably having an effect.

"If the move towards more prescription in the way that space is used continues, it will become impossible to build within the cost constraints or to the guidelines," says Armes.

HOW SPACE IS EATEN UP

12 sq m head's office

10 sq m senior staff office

10 sq m reception area

12 sq m secretary

40 sq m staffroom

10 sq m reprographics

20 sq m staff toilets

Typical LEA criteria based on DFEE figures

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