Select Committee on Education and Skills Seventh Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Background to Building Schools for the Future

1.  It is worth emphasising the scale and scope of BSF; there is no project like it anywhere in the world. Not since the huge Victorian and post-war building waves has there been investment in our school capital stock on this scale. (Paragraph 18)

2.  We welcome the ambitions of the programme and intend this report to assist in maximising its effect on improving the quality and sustainability of the environments for learning in this country. (Paragraph 18)

The current situation

3.  Our inquiry has led us to recognise the importance of early planning and so to believe that delay in the programme is a less significant risk to its success than inadequate preliminary thinking and clarity at a local level about what is required (Paragraph 21)

Procurement problems

4.  The participation of teachers, other school staff and pupils in the planning process is vital to the success of school redevelopment projects, and this needs to be acknowledged by all those involved. As the comments collected by Teachers' TV show, those working in schools have a clear understanding of what is needed in a building to create a positive learning environment. Involving them in the earliest stages may require time, but will help to develop robust plans which will contribute to the success of the process. (Paragraph 35)

5.  There clearly have been problems with the authorities in the early waves of BSF, but the fact that the project has slipped from its early targets is not necessarily significant. What does matter is whether those authorities who have suffered delays have been able to resolve problems and come up with proposals that are robust and achievable, and whether lessons have been learned for those authorities coming into the process at later stages so there is no repetition of the same delays and difficulties. (Paragraph 39)

Learning the early lessons

6.  The DCSF and Partnerships for Schools should develop as a priority a knowledge management and learning strategy to support authorities, schools, contractors, suppliers and others involved in BSF to share best practice and learning as the programme develops. (Paragraph 44)

7.  There is a strong argument that on the basis of cost and time savings some of the choices on these nuts and bolts issues could be restricted. PfS have made some progress on this with, for example, guidance on the general principles for design of toilet blocks. There needs to be a discussion about how to build on this kind of initiative to make the most of the market position of Building Schools for the Future on a whole range of procurement issues. (Paragraph 49)

8.  We ask the DCSF to respond to the criticism of procurement of ICT, and to set out its plans for ensuring that ICT procurement within BSF does enable technological development to be properly taken into account. (Paragraph 52)

9.  There is a very strong argument that the initial 'visioning' phase should be lengthened. All authorities in the waves so far announced should already be addressing the issue of what they want of their schools. The difficulties faced by the earliest waves of authorities in coping with deadlines suggest that this would be time well spent. (Paragraph 53)

10.  The development for all BSF projects of 'good clients' who are knowledgeable about the process should be a key aim for authorities, Partnerships for Schools and the DCSF. (Paragraph 54)

11.  The clearest message of all, therefore, from both BSF and the Academies programme is to take the time to get it right at the beginning and to maintain dialogue the users of the building. To give authorities and schools the time to think about what they want to do and the way that they want to do it is the best way to ensure that what emerges at the end is an excellent learning environment, rather than a striking building which does not meet the needs of its users as well as it should. (Paragraph 58)

PFI and capital funding

12.  While we take the point that it is the viability of the project in the first instance that is the main risk factor, it seems to us that there are risks associated with PFI as a funding method. (Paragraph 67)

13.  We ask the DCSF to make a clear public statement on how many PFI schools have closed prematurely, what the overall cost to the public purse has been and how it monitors schools in danger. (Paragraph 68)

14.  We ask for confirmation that local authorities are required to set out in their BSF plans the full revenue costs of the project and details of how they plan to meet them over the full term of the contract. (Paragraph 69)

15.  The Government needs to set out more clearly than it has done so far its assessment of the sustainability of the levels of revenue commitments across local authorities in general; how DCSF and Partnerships for Schools make judgements about how well authorities have planned to ensure that schools will be sustainable given projected future numbers of pupils; and the lessons that it has learned from those PFI funded schools which have been forced to close. (Paragraph 71)

Primary schools

16.   The challenges facing the primary capital programme could be addressed more effectively if the DFES could ensure that:

  • all involved in delivering the primary programme have a clear view of how it interacts with BSF;
  • explicit national goals are set out to assist those at local level who are making hard choices, including clear guidance on what DCSF means by personalised learning in the primary context;
  • as with the BSF programme there must be real clarity about how and to what extent this £7 billion programme is to contribute to transforming education. (Paragraph 78)

Further Education

17.  In order to provide properly integrated secondary education in any given area, the funding systems in place should be designed to encourage working in partnership. The DCSF should examine the way BSF, further education and primary capital projects are funded to ensure that partnership working designed to increase the range of learning opportunities available to students is rewarded and that there is as great a degree of flexibility as possible to help local authorities, schools and colleges to maximise the benefit for children and young people in their areas. (Paragraph 83)

18.  These examples show how complicated it can be to achieve integrated provision from different sectors, but they also illustrate that the only way to ensure that there is effective educational provision in an area is through the co-operative efforts of those working locally. With the division of DfES into Children, Schools and Families and Innovation, Universities and Skills this level of co-operative effort will be equally important at the national level. (Paragraph 86)

19.  We ask the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to set out its policy on the appropriateness of PFI as a means of financing the redevelopment of colleges. (Paragraph 95)

20.  We applaud the commitment shown by the LSC in stating these principles that need to be met and providing funding to offset any additional cost (although not all sustainable features incur extra costs). This checklist would be useful for anyone seeking to build sustainable educational buildings, not just Further Education colleges. (Paragraph 98)

Educational transformation

21.  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? (Paragraph 100)

22.  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. (Paragraph 103)

Local decisions versus Government policy

23.  Given the amount of expenditure which is being authorised, it is right that the DCSF 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. (Paragraph 107)

24.  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. (Paragraph 108)

25.  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. (Paragraph 111)

26.  If the Government is serious about wanting BSF to provide educational transformation, it ought to be encouraging local authorities to be more innovative. (Paragraph 114)

Developing the use of ICT

27.  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. (Paragraph 118)

28.  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. (Paragraph 118)

29.  Guidance on making the most of ICT and examples of good practice should be issued by the DCSF. (Paragraph 120)

Future proofing

30.  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. (Paragraph 124)

31.  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. (Paragraph 125)


32.  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. (Paragraph 130)

Accountability framework

33.  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. (Paragraph 132)


34.  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. 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. (Paragraph 140)

The costs of reducing schools' carbon footprint

35.  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. (Paragraph 150)

36.  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. (Paragraph 151)

37.  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. (Paragraph 152)

Sustainable procurement

38.  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 . (Paragraph 158)

Is BSF the best way to spend £45 billion on education?

39.  We are not arguing that BSF is a waste of money or that it should not proceed. Indeed it represents an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that all of the physical spaces which pupils occupy effectively support their learning. What we are saying is that, given the scale of the project and the amount of money proposed to be spent, there is a danger that everyone involved will concentrate on getting through to the end and that the question of whether the project's scope and aims remain appropriate will not be asked. (Paragraph 171)

40.  We ask the DCSF in its reply to give us a considered response to the issues we raise here so that we can be assured that it does have a process of regularly reviewing the question of whether this is best way in which to spend £45 billion on education. (Paragraph 171)

The Management of the BSF project

41.  The BSF project provides a good test as to whether the DCSF has taken on board all of the lessons of the Capability Review, and at present it appears that it has not. More effective strategic planning, a more clearly defined view of the role of local authorities and less micro-management would undoubtedly help the authorities who are developing their plans for BSF. (Paragraph 175)

42.  We believe that, within a clear basic framework, local authorities should be given more freedom to shape their local school system as they consider appropriate. (Paragraph 176)

43.  One thing which could make life much more straightforward would be to establish one gateway for an authority's discussions with central Government about its BSF project. (Paragraph 177)

How will we know if BSF has been a success?

44.  We believe that there should be a set of clear objectives by which to judge how well the project is progressing. We ask the DCSF to define what it considers to be the key indicators that will demonstrate the success or otherwise of BSF in its response to this report. Given that new Public Service Agreement targets will be set this autumn for the new Comprehensive Spending Review, we also recommend that progress on BSF ought to be one of the areas which the Department should have as one of its high level targets. (Paragraph 179)

45.  Schools and authorities should be supported and encouraged by the DCSF, and by Ministers in particular, to explore new approaches which may help to improve attainment overall and particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who typically have low levels of engagement with the school system (Paragraph 181)

46.  The policy initiative that all new schools designed from now on must be carbon neutral is welcome, but it is now important that the policy is effectively delivered. We would welcome further information on how the carbon emissions of school buildings are going to be measured, and we urge a consistent approach for all schools. (Paragraph 185)

Scrutiny of Building Schools for the Future

47.  The Government's increased capital expenditure on schools is welcome; the task now is to ensure that is spent as effectively as possible. (Paragraph 186)

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