Select Committee on Education and Skills Seventh Report

3  Educational transformation

99. There was a clear aspiration from the outset of Building Schools for the Future that local authorities should use this opportunity to transform secondary education in their areas. As it said in the BSF launch document,

"At the heart of Building Schools for the Future is a desire not only to rebuild and renew individual secondary schools, but also to help LEAs to reform and redesign the pattern of education, for example working with local Learning and Skills Councils to best serve each community for decades to come. It is an opportunity to think differently about all aspects of the process of developing and delivering new schools, exploring such questions as:

  • What do we want education to be in the 21st century?
  • How can we learn from the best current schools?
  • What is the right pattern of local provision (for example, the Location and size of schools, or the relationship between primary, secondary and post-16 provision, or collaboration between schools and further education colleges)?
  • How can we best translate the vision into specific schemes and projects?
  • What kind of leadership is needed to achieve this?
  • How can we best involve schools and communities along the way?
  • How can we create the most productive partnerships with the private sector?"[84]

100. The crucial question here, and one that the Department does not answer in this document, is what do we want education to be in the 21st century? Does it mean enabling more children to attain at a higher level using the current measures of achievement; for example, a greater proportion gaining 5 A* to C GCSEs, including English and Maths, or taking A levels? Or does it mean taking a more fundamental look at how children learn and what they need to learn, and provide facilities to enable that to happen?

101. HTI told us:

"School leaders, governors, teachers, students and communities need assistance in building a vision for their school of the future. Without that kind of support we will simply get more of what we have now and the transformative opportunities presented by BSF will be lost both in building design and pedagogic practice."[85]

102. People that we spoke to emphasised that having a clear vision of what is wanted is vital. Michael Buchanan, Education Director of Place Group, told us:

"I think that buildings are not the answer to transformation in education. They can assist and they can assist particularly in removing obstacles to a more flexible curriculum and so on, but they form part of an education vision which is also very much to do with leadership and curriculum and working practices, and so on, so the building can support a lot of changes within education other than physical changes, cultural and working changes, and I think they are very significant in terms of schools as organisations. Because schools, of course, are not factories, they are not conveyor belts, they are places where human interactions take place, and therefore all the factors which affect the quality of human interactions are important."[86]

103. Caroline Morland of Edunova described how, in the projects with which she had been involved, the attempt had made to ensure both that aim for the project was clearly identified and that sufficient flexibility was incorporated to allow for future development:

"We are building in choice, so the solutions that are coming out now are more around the plural world, that the building will be fit for multiple ways of doing things with different configurations and different deployment of technology and internal structures. So, we are not backing one horse. We are not saying we can look into a crystal ball and we know what it is going to be like in 15 years' time for that school. What we are saying is it could be this, it could be that and it could be another and this building will be resilient to certain forms of adaptation to enable it to operate irrespective of which model ends up evolving and developing in that community and in that school […]. There are probably four or five scenarios that we test a technical building against rather than 150, but what we are striving for is that we are not making that determination, we are not forcing a single pathway in terms of the infrastructure, and we are enabling the building to move depending on how the educational emphasis goes."[87]

This suggests that, as we commented earlier, the early phase of development of what is now called the Strategy for Change is key to the success of the whole process. People need to be given enough time to think through the issues about how secondary education should be provided in their area before they are required to start making firm decisions. A clear statement of the national ambitions for 21st century education could help to provide guidance and challenge to this local decision-making process.

Local decisions versus Government policy

104. On delivery, there is another vital question; what freedom do local authorities, schools and others have to take decisions and provide solutions at local level? To what extent does the DfES, with an eye on other education policy objectives, seek to second guess what is best for a given area?

105. For example, the DfES in its memorandum said that a local authority has to demonstrate that it has robust proposals on a number of issues including school improvement, and would need to show it had considered Academies where "appropriate and relevant".[88] The Schools Commissioner told us that part of his role was to encourage local authorities to make use of the BSF opportunity to address a number of the Government's main priorities, including—

"Increasing the diversity of secondary school provision in their area, particularly by supporting schools to become self-governing Foundation Schools, Trust Schools or Academies;"[89]

106. Janet Newton, Project Director of the BSF Project Team for Lancashire County Council told us what the experience had been in developing the project for Burnley and Pendle without including Academies:

"We started in 2002 looking at the circumstances in Burnley and Pendle, and we developed with our schools a vision for education in the school community, we had a series of conferences with the educational community, the wider stakeholder groups, and we invited the DfES to be present at our conferences. It was in the early stages of the Building Schools for the Future, before the bid went in in October 2003, and we were exploring collaboration, collaborative working, federations, how many schools we should have, the location of the schools and should we have an academy, and one of the objectives that we have in Burnley is parity of esteem […] Parity of esteem was one of the clear objectives that we wanted to achieve, and there was overwhelming support from the entire education community and stakeholders not to have an academy in Lancashire, or in Burnley and Pendle […]. We had to robustly indicate [to the DfES] why an academy would not be appropriate in Burnley and Pendle. Lancashire is a very large authority, and what is necessary in Burnley and Pendle as a solution may not fit elsewhere in Lancashire, but it was not appropriate for what we were doing in East Lancashire."[90]

107. There is a real conflict here between different Government aims. Given the amount of expenditure which is being authorised, it is right that the DfES should satisfy itself that it is being spent appropriately. On the other hand, it does not look much like "devolving resource and power to local level" if there is a detailed check list of Government objectives which have to be addressed to allow a project to be signed off. The fact that Lancashire, from which we took evidence, and Knowsley, which we visited, have been given the green light with projects that did not contain Academies indicates that there is some flexibility, but it is flexibility that has been hard won by determined local authorities, and many may consider that this is a battle best avoided.

108. The Building Schools for the Future project is a bold initiative, and some of what we heard about the constraints on development at local level suggest that the Government is nervous about just how bold it has been. While it is important to ensure that expenditure is properly monitored, we have seen no evidence that local authorities have put forward particularly inappropriate plans for their BSF projects. The Government should have the courage of its convictions, and allow local authorities greater flexibility to develop local solutions within a clear framework of priorities, such as the need to promote innovative approaches to learning and the need to embed sustainability.

109. There is a further complication to the question of who should be in charge of the developments in any given area. There is a real tension between the Government's aims for local areas with BSF and the increased autonomy of schools. With local authorities having less control over schools than ever, with schools having a very large degree of control over their own future and with the DCSF micromanaging policy from the centre, the ability of local authorities to shape the pattern of schooling in their own areas is inevitably constrained.

110. There are ways in which real local innovation could be encouraged. Authorities in later waves of BSF are being given the opportunity to redevelop one of their schools, in a policy known as One-School Pathfinders. Sally Brooks of the DfES told us that these schools were

"a down payment on BSF, if you like, it is not separate. So local authorities have been required to tell us how it fits into their overall strategy. Obviously, a local authority that is going to be in wave 14 will not have fully worked out a strategic plan for its whole school estate in ten years' time, but they should have an overview of what they intend to do and they need to demonstrate to us, if they are rebuilding a new school in that area, that they have their pupil place planning which says it is going to be needed, that they have integrated it into where they want to put the new school when they do get BSF, that, for example, if they are focusing a certain specialism on that school, the facilities are going to be available to the other schools in the area. That is absolutely part of what they have got to tell us before they get the money.

111. We agree that the One School Pathfinders need to be seen as part of an authority's overall BSF project, but we would like it to be taken further. The DCSF should place a requirement on local authorities to ensure that One School Pathfinders are used as test beds for ways to transform education.

112. Similarly, local authorities could be encouraged to find innovative ways of delivering education in schools in order to transform learning. Knowsley has gone for a radical approach, closing eleven schools in its area and replacing them with seven new learning centres which will be built as a series of flexible spaces rather than having large numbers of individual classrooms. Knowsley is an area which historically has had low levels of achievement amongst its young people and the local authority has taken the opportunity of BSF to try to do something innovative in order to improve that situation. As we noted above, however, in order to do something like this Knowsley has had to justify its actions to the DfES throughout the process, and this is something that many authorities may choose not to do.

113. We gained an insight into how the Knowsley restructuring might work in practice when we visited the New Line Learning Federation of schools in Maidstone. This is a hard federation of three schools,[91] one an oversubscribed school where pupils have high levels of attainment, and two others serving disadvantaged communities which are operating somewhat below their capacity. The federation has introduced flexible learning spaces— called learning plazas—enabling pupils to be taught in year groups in a variety of different activities within the same curricular area and with the levels of support and pace being varied with ability. A great deal of effort is made to engage the pupils in learning, and an equal effort is made to understand pupils' behaviours and background so that the schools can help them to overcome the difficulties that they face.

114. Pupils from certain social and ethnic groups have persistently low levels of attainment at school, and current practices and polices have not produced a sustained, system-wide improvement for them.[92] If the Government is serious about wanting BSF to provide educational transformation, it ought to be encouraging local authorities to be more innovative.

Developing the use of ICT

115. A greater and more sophisticated use of ICT is another of the main aims of the BSF project. The DfES told us:

"The BSF approach to ICT is founded on the following principles:

"The funding allowance for ICT within BSF is at unprecedented levels. At the heart of these principles is a philosophy that new schools will be designed and built around the use of cutting edge ICT, including teaching and learning, school management and buildings management systems and solutions. The aim is to optimise the educational impact of ICT, in a way that 'retrofitting' ICT to existing school buildings cannot hope to emulate."[93]

116. While the last sentence of that statement raises questions about how schools which are being refurbished rather than rebuilt will deal with the integration of ICT, it is clear that a great deal of faith is being placed in the benefits that ICT will bring over the coming years. The key issue here seems to be maintaining flexibility, both for the hardware and for the software and the way in which teaching and learning may develop. Nick Kalisperas of Intellect told us:

"[…] where you have got, say, an inner city secondary school as opposed to a secondary school in a rural location, the inner city school is probably going to want something which is much more classroom-based because of the geographical location of its pupils, they will be much more within the classroom, whereas those within a more rural location will be more geographically spread. Therefore, you are looking at potentially offering people things such as distance learning, greater distance learning and perhaps the use of mobile devices. I think that sort of difference needs to come to the fore and we need to be aware of it so companies […] can develop solutions which are tailored to meet the needs of individual schools as opposed to developing, say, one standard solution which, ultimately, probably will not do what it is supposed to do."[94]

117. There was acknowledgement from witnesses, however, that, as we discussed earlier, while each school would have particular needs, the range of different computing options across the schools estate would not be huge. Mike Blackburn of BT Education and Local Government told us:

"I would absolutely agree that there are not thousands of different options for this, but you have to be able to allow that innovation and use in the classroom to be taken forward by the teacher and the pupil as well in the way they want to take them forward".[95]

118. We believe that ICT is a vital area for the development of education over the coming years, but that does not mean that each school needs to have a bespoke system created for it which differs from systems in all other schools. Apart from anything else, in the future, with the development of greater collaborative working between institutions on 14-19 education, for example, it will be important for systems to be compatible with each other and for students not to have a huge range of different systems to contend with. We recommend that information about systems in use is made widely known amongst authorities in later waves of BSF so that they can take advantage of the experience of those which have already procured their ICT.

119. An argument which BT made against the Government's approach to IT is that, while it is central to the BSF programme, its use is not sufficiently radical:

"The role of ICT in BSF is being seen as that of a supplementary teaching and learning facility rather than a transformational tool. This actually adds unsustainable cost and little is being done to change the existing cost and environmental parameters. This means that BSF projects are likely to end up with the same number of schools, teachers, teaching assistants, the same curriculum, hours of operation and unproductive holiday periods […].

"ICT has not been established as a differentiator in BSF. The approach we have seen has been to procure ICT to satisfy a minimum standard at least cost. This has resulted in many of the opportunities for innovation, value-add and transformation that ICT can facilitate being lost."[96]

120. There does appear to be a lack of confidence in the DfES' approach to ICT. The DfES acknowledges that it is of central importance, but appears to see it as something with which pupils need to be familiar and to master rather than something which might revolutionise learning. It is perhaps wise not to make too great claims for one particular mode of learning, and technology can fail to live up to expectations, but if the Government is serious about engaging a larger proportion of the school age population in effective learning new approaches will be needed, and ICT does offer one way of transforming the school experience. The risk is that, when there is no clear guidance, ICT may be used as a tool by pupils but its potential to monitor their progress, manage their learning and inform decisions about future teaching will be under-used. Guidance on making the most of ICT and examples of good practice should be issued by the DCSF.

Future proofing

121. The issue of how to ensure that new schools remain fit for purpose in the long term— perhaps for the rest of the century—is one that goes beyond the provision of ICT. Throughout our evidence, witnesses argued for flexibility to ensure that schools are able to adapt to circumstances which we as yet cannot foresee.

122. Hilary Cottam from the Design Council told us:

"When you are talking about future-proofing, if we just think about the way that learning has changed since the 1950s, even if we could build schools which encapsulate that and think about the whole way we understand cognitive behaviour and things like that very differently now to 50 years ago, if we could make schools address that, we would have moved forward, never mind what the future proofing is going to be. A lot of these things are technologically based, they are about flexibility within systems, they would allow for further future proofing into the years to come.[97]

She also argued that there needed to be a proper investment in evaluation of projects once completed, which was not currently happening.[98]

123. John Sorrell of the Sorrell Foundation told us:

"What I believe is very important is that over the next two to three years, a vital period, we need to be looking very, very, very hard at this and looking at and learning what is developing, as the visions are created, the briefs are created, the early schools are being done. This has to be a central question as we are doing it, because we shall learn as we go along what we need to do to create the kind of flexibility for those schools of the future, to do a future-proofing you are describing. We should not be at all sure at this moment that we have got it right, but we could over the next two to three years because in a way what we are into is a kind of phase of prototyping."[99]

124. We agree that all these BSF projects must be approached with a view not just to providing environments compatible with the current state of educational thinking, but with an eye to future needs and developments.[100] As part of that process it is vitally important lessons are learned from the earliest schools and projects in the process. There should be a post-occupancy review of every school within the BSF programme so that a proper assessment can be made of what has worked well and what has caused difficulties, on procurement and construction issues and also on the design and conception of the school. These reviews should be given the widest possible circulation so that all those involved in BSF, in the current waves and in the future, can use them to ensure that mistakes are not repeated, that good ideas are adopted more widely and that the desired flexibility for the future is in place. Transformation of education for the 21st century will only occur if we learn the lessons about what works best.


125. One of the key issues in secondary education in the coming years will be 14-19 education. The Government is committed to the introduction of 14 diplomas to be available to all students in the age group across England by 2013, although it explicitly says that it does not expect any school to be able to provide them on their own, and that they will be delivered collaboratively by schools and colleges across an area.[101] In the section on FE above we noted some of the problems in linking BSF with redevelopment of colleges. When planning the development of schools in an area, local authorities must ensure that the way provision for 14-19 education is to be made and in which responsibility for delivering each of the diploma lines is to be shared is considered at an early stage. It is important that schools should be seen as a system, not just individual institutions.


126. One of the main current Government initiatives on schools is the drive to make education more personally tailored to individual students. It is highlighted as a key issue in the BSF launch document[102] and is mentioned in the DfES memorandum as one of the areas in which an authority must demonstrate that it has "robust proposals".[103] The Secretary of State set up a review on personalised learning which published its report in January this year.[104] It commented specifically on the way in which the redevelopment of schools through BSF gave the opportunity to ensure that schools were designed to deliver effectively personalised learning:

"There is no single blueprint for a school designed for personalising learning. However, the experience of those that have made progress in this area would suggest that spaces will need to:

  • be flexible enough to allow for a variety of learning and teaching approaches and greater diversity in the size and age mix of pupil groupings;
  • be familiar and welcoming for parents and the wider community, inviting and encouraging them into school;
  • emphasise participation and collaboration, through being open, safe and inviting;
  • support interaction, knowledge sharing and learning amongst teachers and support staff; and
  • use technology—both within and outside classrooms—to enhance learning."[105]

127. Sally Brooks of the DfES told us that:

"I think personalisation, in as far as it affects Building Schools for the Future, […] is about making sure, not just that the ICT allows pupils to have access wherever and whenever but that the spaces that you are designing into a school allow small, quiet work spaces that individual pupils can access, that they allow group spaces where a group of people can sit together and work around a single white board on a project, that they allow places where 60, 90 people can sit together in a lecture hall and see what is happening and where, in fact, schools can link with other schools so that you can have experts coming into one school to give what would be a very valuable lecture at secondary level and schools in the area can link in through their IT and appreciate it."[106]

128. Personalisation is a key element in the Government's plans to improve levels of attainment. It does not appear, however, to be a radical or transforming policy. The report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 review group has a chapter entitled Realising the vision—designing a new school experience, but the experience that it describes is one that would be very familiar to recent generations of pupils. Everything that it suggests is reasonable, but it suggests incremental improvement rather than transformation.

129. When we asked Jim Knight what educational transformation meant, he told us:

"It is fundamentally about teaching and learning and a focus on standards. There is a role for diversity and choice in terms of accountability and ensuring that we do not have complacency in the system, but fundamentally it is about the development of teaching and learning, the personalisation. We are working through our response to Christine Gilbert's review on teaching and learning for 2020, but one of the interesting aspects to that is the notion of learners learning from each other more, of teachers facilitating learning and teaching people how to learn, the skills to learn, as much as teaching the knowledge itself. That sort of development is, I think, at the core of it alongside giving learners choice over curriculum, choice over qualifications, which is part of the 14-19 changes, for example."[107]

130. This takes us some way to understanding the Government's views, but more is needed. If personalisation is to provide a solution to improving attainment, schools need clearer guidance on how to adapt their physical environment, teaching methods and curriculum in order to deliver it successfully. The DCSF should provide a clear vision of what it wants from personalisation, with guidance about how it might be realised in BSF projects, not as a prescription but in order to inform the debate on how schools should operate in the future.

Accountability framework

131. A further issue that needs to be looked at is the way in which schools are held accountable for their performance when they are in the BSF process. This was an issue raised with us during our visit to Knowsley; the difficulty of managing local change while complying with national prescription. That is, inspection and audit procedures take no account of the effects of implementing a programme whose aim is to transform education, so that those who take the Government's exhortation about the need to transform the educational process expose themselves to the risk of criticism from the inspectorate, and this may help to make authorities and schools more cautious in what they are seeking to do. It is in our view unreasonable for schools and authorities to be required to give equal priority to every other Government policy initiative when BSF is in progress.

132. It is obviously important to safeguard the position of pupils currently in a school which is being rebuilt or refurbished. It is unacceptable to build schools for the future if the current generation suffers, but it is also clear to us that schools which are attempting innovative ways of delivering education should be given credit for that. There needs to be flexibility in the inspection framework to take account of a school's position in the BSF programme when that is appropriate. We recommend that Ofsted, in consultation with the DCSF, should draw up and publish for consultation a protocol on how its inspection regime is to be modified for schools in BSF.

Integration of secondary, primary and special needs education

133. Transformation of a different kind can take place by using the variety of funding streams available. In our inquiry into special needs education, we visited Darlington Education Village, which on one campus site housed three schools, primary secondary and special needs, and allowed the use of shared facilities of a high standard as well as allowing pupils attending the different schools to learn together in appropriate circumstances. Similar projects have been developed elsewhere.

134. Chris Archer, Services Director, Children's Services Department, Nottingham City Council, explained what his authority was doing:

"[…] we have a campus where a brand new special school is going to be created from the closure of two highly successful special schools already, to create a centre of excellence which will sit side by side with our full service extended school, which is to be heavily refurbished, but will also sit on the site of a primary school, also sit on the same campus as the local tartan running track and the sports centre and the proposed new competition-standard swimming pool. So, what we are aiming for is a campus of some magnitude here."[108]

135. This model clearly has an appeal educationally, in allowing economies of scale. It may be one way of addressing the dip in attainment shown by some pupils in transferring from primary to secondary school, by making it a smoother process, or indeed by making some schools all age schools. We believe it also has benefits for special needs education, offering a good flexible alternative to the simple choice between mainstream and special schooling.

84   Building schools for the future: A new approach to capital investment, DfES, February 2004, p 30. Back

85   Ev 128 Back

86   Q 33 Back

87   Q 573 Back

88   Ev 167 Back

89   Ev 329  Back

90   Qq 105-06 Back

91   That is, three schools with one governing body. Back

92   See, for example, Education and Skills Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2002-03, Secondary Education: Pupil Achievement, HC 513, October 2003; and Tackling low educational achievement, Robert Cassen and Geeta Kingdon, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 22 June 2007, Back

93   Ev 168 Back

94   Q 285 Back

95   Q 288 Back

96   Ev 66 Back

97   Q 143 Back

98   ibid. Back

99   ibid. Back

100   Not least because of the potential financial consequences of failing to do so: see the section above on PFI and capital funding. Back

101   For a full discussion of 14-19 diplomas, see Fifth Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2006-07, 14-19 Diplomas, HC 249, 17 May 2007. Back

102   Building schools for the future: A new approach to capital investment, DfES, February 2004, p 9. Back

103   Ev 167 Back

104   2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group, DfES, 4 January 2007. Back

105   ibid, page 25. Back

106   Q 629 Back

107   Q 820 Back

108   Q 567 Back

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