Select Committee on Education and Skills Seventh Report

4  Sustainability

136. Sustainability was not mentioned in the Building Schools for the Future launch document, but in the three years since then the issue has risen to the top of the political agenda.

137. There have been three particularly significant developments in the debate in the time that we have been holding this inquiry. First came the Stern Review, in October 2006, setting out the economic consequences of climate change and putting forward ways in which the problem might be addressed. In the chapter on 'Adaptation in the Developed World', the report says that "Government has a role in providing a clear policy framework to guide effective adaptation by individuals and firms in the medium and longer term". One of the four key areas it outlines where the Government should provide this framework is:

"Land-use planning and performance standards should encourage both private and public investment in buildings, long-lived capital and infrastructure to take account of climate change."[109]

138. Secondly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced a number of summaries for policy makers setting out the effects of climate change and the policy initiatives that are needed to combat those effects. In its summary Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, it too comments on the need to make adaptations in order to diminish the adverse effects of climate change.[110] In language very similar to that of the Stern review, it says that

"One way of increasing adaptive capacity is by introducing the consideration of climate change impacts in development planning, for example by […] including adaptation measures in land-use planning and infrastructure design."[111]

139. Third, and most directly relevant to our inquiry, the Government published its Draft Climate Change Bill. This included provisions to incorporate in statute the Government's previously announced target to reduce UK carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 compared to a 1990 baseline.[112]

140. As the Sustainable Development Commission told us, the schools estate contributes 2% to national carbon emissions overall, but that figure represents almost 15% of UK public sector carbon emissions.[113] If the Government is to meet a target of at least 60% reduction against the 1990 baseline, and if it intends to set an example by the way in which it looks after the public sector building stock, it clearly has to address the issue of schools' carbon emissions.

Assessing environmental impact

141. The principal indicator of environmental impact used in the Building Schools for the Future programme is the Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method for schools—known as BREEAM schools. There was a great deal of discussion with witnesses about whether this indicator—on which all new schools have to have a score of very good, just below the best score of excellent—helps to show whether a school has been built sustainably or not.[114] The Sustainable Development Commission provided a very detailed critique of BREEAM schools, comparing it with the Government's own document on sustainability in schools and finding it wanting.[115] The SDC told us:

"The major drawback of BREEAM Schools is that it does not encapsulate a vision for sustainable school buildings and is therefore unable to inspire, and is not designed to assist with the basic design decisions necessary to make the most of the current capital investment opportunities. The current urgency on the climate change situation and lack of progress towards sustainable development demands a very much stronger response than BREEAM and the question of whether to seek BREEAM 'very good' or 'excellent' is something of a red herring as neither would on its own create a generation of sustainable school buildings. If BREEAM is the limit of the aspiration, BSF and other capital programmes will fail to support schools sufficiently in meeting these goals."[116]

142. The BREEAM schools tool is a check list, giving credit for different environmentally beneficial actions in building a school (giving credit, for example, for using a brown field site rather than a green field site). Martin Mayfield of Arup, who was one of those who argued that BREEAM was insufficient as a measure of sustainability, told us:

"It is a reasonable tool to guide teams in improving the sustainability credentials of a building. However, it has two characteristics which render it currently inappropriate as a methodology to achieve the degree of carbon emissions required to achieve the 60% reduction target

  • Only around ? of the assessment relates to carbon emissions.
  • BREEAM 'excellent' can be achieved with a relatively minor improvement in carbon reduction.

"These issues need to be addressed if BREEAM is to be used to support the headline reduction target."[117]

143. The DfES argued that BREEAM was a useful tool, but acknowledged that however high a project scored it would not necessarily indicate low carbon emissions or carbon neutrality. Sally Brooks told us:

"We will set up something separate which is just about carbon use, which says, 'This is a stand-alone expectation that carbon reduction of x %' or 'Within BREEAM the carbon bit is mandatory and you cannot offset the carbon against the others.' I think we are looking at mandatory expectations around reductions in carbon emissions."[118]

144. The Minister for Schools, Jim Knight MP, has been quoted as saying that separate carbon tests and offsetting schemes were being considered: "A separate carbon test is a real option".[119] Since then the Government has announced that in future all new school buildings within BSF will have to be carbon neutral, although it appears that at least some of improvement this will be achieved through carbon offsetting rather than carbon neutral designs.[120]

The costs of reducing schools' carbon footprint

145. The challenge of requiring all new schools to be carbon neutral is substantial, not least because, as yet, no school in England is carbon neutral.[121] We asked some of our witnesses about what it would cost to build schools with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Dr Stewart Davies, Business Commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission, said that for a 60% reduction against the 1990 baseline the SDC's best estimate was that

"[…] somewhere in the region of 15%, 20% is what it would cost, but […] if a programme as large as BSF went consistently for that style of construction and level of requirement, then you would have the traditional learning curve in business that reduces costs, so I think there should be a good opportunity, as the BSF programme went on, for that cost difference to come down. The second point is that, of course, you get some of that up-front cost back in lower operating costs, and it may be that it is a ten-year payback, but in the life of the schools programme you may well get your money back as you go along. The third point I would make on cost is the opportunity for standardisation. If, instead of doing things 500 different ways in ten different colours, you can actually reduce that to 50 ways in five colours, you can get a cost reduction as well. There is an additional cost upfront at the moment that is not factored into financial model that dictates the allowed cost per square metre and we need to change the financial model against which schools are being procured to get fast enough progress in this area."[122]

146. Martin Mayfield agreed with Dr Davies on his point about costs per square metre:

"[…] we need to move the datum from cost per square metre to cost per pupil to allow greater innovation around how to deliver the curriculum. The amount of money that councils get given by the Government is based upon a standard which relates to area, so if we can take that out of the picture and relate it to pupils, you can then look at innovation, reduce the size of that school or optimise the size of that school to deliver the curriculum."[123]

147. Martin Mayfield also argued that there should be a greater degree of flexibility over building standards for different aspects of a school's construction, which were often in conflict:

"Building bulletins were originally produced by DfEE as guidance for school designers. So, they were produced as guidance documentation but they are now used within the BSF environment as benchmarking and in a much more legislative manner. They are giving standards rather than guidance, so the language of them is not quite right […]. For instance, the acoustic guideline drives for a very high level of acoustic quality which drives for buildings to be sealed, which drives for buildings to be air conditioned and the carbon emissions of an air conditioned building is around double that of a naturally ventilated building. So, it is pushing it in the wrong direction for good reasons but there are contradictions there which need to be addressed."[124]

148. We asked the Minister for Schools whether, if the additional costs of reaching BREEAM 'excellent' rather than BREEAM 'very good' could be adequately quantified, the Government would increase capital allocations to individual schools to allow that rating to be achieved. Jim Knight told us that the answer might be to take action specifically on emissions rather than across the range of factors that BREEAM takes into account:

"It might be that we are able to allocate a specific sum per secondary school that we would want to see in exchange—a reduction in the energy usage, an increase in energy efficiency, a certain proportion produced by renewables and, possibly, the use of offset. Those are the three tools for carbon neutrality. It may be that, if we were to be able to allocate more resource, we would set targets on all three of those."[125]

149. As well as the announcement that all new schools are to be carbon neutral, the Secretary of State said in a speech to the NASUWT conference in April that the Department was setting aside £110 million over the next three years to help provide 200 low carbon schools. He said that "If we succeed, this could result in 2,000 carbon neutral secondary schools, enabling us to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 8 million tons over the next decade".[126] This investment does not however equate to the 15 or 20% extra funding the SDC estimated would be required to reduce significantly schools' carbon footprint.

150. We welcome the extra funding the Government is to provide to help achieve its target of carbon neutrality. We hope that this will be carried forward into the general funding of the BSF programme. However, the Government should specify what proportion of the total carbon emissions will be achieved through carbon offsetting. The ideal would clearly be for all new school buildings and plant to be carbon neutral. To make schools sustainable there are likely to be extra capital costs, but these can be offset against lower running costs. While in Government accounting terms capital and revenue are always accounted for separately, it makes sense to shoulder higher capital costs if over the whole life of a building it has the same or lower costs as a building which is not constructed with the principle of carbon reduction in mind.

151. We also consider that the Government should take seriously other suggestions for reducing schools' carbon footprint. The possibility of funding schools on a per pupil basis rather than a per square metre basis is one that could mesh with educational transformation as well as sustainability. For example, if students in the future are likely to be spending less time in school because of collaborative arrangements for education in the 14-19 phase, less space may be needed. We recommend that the Government provides funding on the basis of an amount per pupil rather than an amount per square metre where authorities request it.

152. As we discussed earlier, opportunities for standardisation in ways which improve cost effectiveness without unnecessarily constraining local decision-making should be maximised and the ways in which different building standards potentially conflict should be examined in order to help local providers to make appropriate decisions. The different standards could be made more flexible; a slightly reduced acoustic standard might be acceptable if in consequence the school could be ventilated naturally. Greater flexibility on building standards, emphasising that they are guidance rather than requirements, would allow authorities at local level a greater degree of choice over their school estates, and allow them to find the most suitable ways of making schools in their area more sustainable.


153. It is very difficult for a school to be sustainable in isolation. There is a wide range of other factors that have to be taken into account as shown by the DfES' action plan on sustainability which lists eight 'doorways', including amongst other things transport, purchasing and waste, energy and water and inclusion and participation.[127] The construction of a school could be undertaken in the most sustainable way imaginable, but it would mean little if the only way pupils could get to the school was by car. As Martin Mayfield told us "a sustainable school is only as good as the infrastructure in which it sits. So, it will not get there on its own, it needs to be part of a waste, transportation and energy infrastructure that supports it in the right manner."[128]

154. The DfES' sustainability action plans says that by February 2008 the DfES' capital investment programmes will be in full alignment with the aims of the strategy, and that the Strategy for Change document that is produced at the beginning of the BSF process for each authority is being revised "to require local authorities to align their BSF visions with the eight doorways". We welcome this move, as it will mean sustainability will have a prominence in each BSF project from the beginning.[129]

Sustainable procurement

155. Sustainable procurement is another important element of the whole sustainability issue. In 2005, DEFRA and the Treasury jointly established a Sustainable Procurement Task Force, which produced a report in June 2006.[130] The Sustainable Development Commission told us:

"The sheer scale and profile of the BSF programme make it a test case of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force's highly relevant findings. The SPTF report recommends that Government uses public buying-power to support social, economic and environmental aims, transform markets, and deliver real long-term efficiency and sustainability improvements. The SPTF identifies schools as a priority area and recommends that DfES and HM Treasury work together to ensure that BSF is meeting high sustainability standards and to learn lessons for other capital projects. Giving priority to the implementation of the insightful and pragmatic recommendations of the SPTF report would greatly enhance the likelihood of success of the BSF programme in delivering sustainable schools."[131]

156. Stan Terry of HTI suggested to us that one area where more could be done was in recycled building materials, with more being demanded of the construction industry:

"I look at the study that WRAP [Waste Resources Action Programme] did, the Davis Langdon study, which actually identified that you could put up to 30 % of recycled material into new building, new school buildings in this sense, and it would not impact on cost. The Partnership for Schools has reduced the level to 10 per cent. Why? I think they identified in that study that you could save up to 4,000 tonnes of waste material going to landfill, but they have opted for a lower standard."[132]

157. John Widdowson of New College Durham told us that recycling of building materials had been a significant part of the college's redevelopment project:

"[…] we demolished everything on site. There was not a single square metre on a 28 acre site that was not touched by the build and none of it was taken off site. It was all recycled and used to re-level and as foundations for buildings and roads […]"[133]

158. Procurement of building materials and procurement of the goods and services schools require when in operation both have a significant effect on a school's sustainability. We ask the DCSF and Partnerships for Schools to tell us how the recommendations of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force are being implemented in BSF. We also ask for a response on whether they consider that using 30% of recycled material in construction would be cost neutral and, if so, whether they will consider raising the level required.

Educational sustainability and systemic change

159. It is not just the physical school environment that needs to be sustainable. Methods of teaching and learning, particularly when they involve considerable innovation, also need to be established for the long-term. The danger is that a head or senior management team may have a particular vision which they pursue successfully, but that the drive to continue departs with them when they leave the school, and so the school reverts to more traditional methods.

160. The sustainability of the approach to learning relies on the people, methods and governance in a school or group of schools. The challenge is to find a way to ensure that when new and transforming ways of learning are introduced they form a baseline from which the school can make progress in lifting levels of attainment rather than being a short-lived experiment. We have found no straightforward answer to this issue in the course of the inquiry, but it is an issue that needs to be examined if effective new ways of teaching and learning are to become established and help in making systemic improvements rather than being isolated beacons fuelled by the vision and enthusiasm of particular individuals.

Sustainable use of schools

161. A school may be built to the most exacting sustainable standards, but if the people using the building do not use it in a sustainable way, then the benefits may not be apparent. Sally Brooks of the DfES pointed out that in a survey of schools designed to be sustainable energy use in the early years of operation had in some cases been much higher than anticipated.[134]

162. The Sustainable Development Commission made a similar point in its memorandum, and argued that "Better incentivisation arrangements will need to be developed to ensure schools are maintained and operated to minimise emissions. It may be worth considering the payment mechanism developed by the Department of Health for health buildings, which includes incentives for continuous reduction in energy consumption".[135] Similarly, HTI said that BSF "will require efficient management of school buildings which should result in lower energy and water bills".[136]

163. One way to help ensure that schools are managed in a sustainable way is to involve the pupils. Jim Burke, Principal of the Academy of St Francis of Assisi in Liverpool, a school built on sustainable principles and which has an environmental specialism, told us:

"We have eco councils in each year group and we have a school eco council and they are the driving force behind a lot of the energy savings and the waste management. They are involved in a lot of the decision-making and that is how students, as you say, we are trying to prepare consumers of the future, and this has been one mechanism which we have already found to be very beneficial."[137]

This was something that we also saw when we visited the Blue School in Wells for our inquiry into Citizenship Education.

164. The message here is that, as with issues with infrastructure, there are a huge number of different factors which go towards making a school sustainable. There is the physical structure itself; there are issues about whether or not to incorporate sprinklers, on which we had a significant amount of evidence in favour from outside the education professions;[138] and there are questions about the fixtures and fittings and the need to spend more money than the bare minimum to ensure furniture is robust and, as the charity BackCare told us, to ensure that children do not suffer pain and discomfort.[139] On that last point, it may make more sense to lease those fixture and fittings rather than to buy them, which would help with flexibility and future proofing, and so aid sustainability in that way. All of these issues need to be kept in mind when trying to deliver sustainability in schools.

109   Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, HM Treasury, 30 October 2006, p 416. Back

110   IPCC, Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability, Summary for Policymakers, Brussels, 13 April 2007, p 19. Back

111   ibid. Back

112   Draft Climate Change Bill, Cm 7040, EFRA, 13 March 2007, paragraph 5.4. Back

113   Ev 115 Back

114   See for example questions 517 to 537. Back

115   Ev 116 Back

116   ibid Back

117   Ev 155 Back

118   Q 711 Back

119   TES, 30 March 2007, "National rebuilding scheme goes eco-friendly". Back

120   TES, 27 April 2007, "Official: all new schools must be carbon neutral". The new policy applies to schools which had not yet been designed at the time of the announcement. Back

121   The Building Research Establishment has commissioned Wilmott Dixon, architect White Design and engineer Max Fordham to build a carbon neutral mini-school as an exemplar. See Willmott Dixon builds model for zero-carbon schools, and Yvette Cooper launches world leading sustainable buildings on BRE's Innovation Park, Back

122   Q 541 Back

123   ibid. Back

124   Q 469 Back

125   Q 851 Back

126   Speech by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to the NASUWT conference in Belfast, 10 April 2007 Back

127   Sustainable Schools for Pupils, Communities and the Environment, An Action Plan for the DfES, April 2007. Back

128   Q 515 Back

129   Sustainable Schools Action Plan, page 39. Back

130   Procuring the Future: sustainable procurement national action plan, DEFRA, June 2006. Back

131   Ev 123 Back

132   Q 476 Back

133   Q 371 Back

134   Q 700 Back

135   Ev 120 Back

136   Ev 128 Back

137   Q 605 Back

138   West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service [Ev 268]; Zurich Municipal [Ev 227]. Back

139   Ev 274 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 9 August 2007