Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)



  Q460 Chairman: I welcome our witnesses today, Martin Mayfield, Stewart Davies, Stan Terry and Alan Yates and say thank you very much for the giving of your time to come before this Committee. I know that we have the power to persuade you to come if that was necessary, but it is always nice when people come on a voluntary basis. This is a very important inquiry for us. As you know as well as we do, £42 billion of our country's money, taxpayers' money, is going to be spent on building schools for the future. We actually want to make them schools we can be proud of and that will be appropriate in their design and everything else for the 21st century and, with the backdrop of the publication of the Stern Report this week, I think all of us have sharpened our interest in all things sustainable. We really want to get as much as we can out of this session. May I thank in particular Martin Mayfield from Arup who I think was dropped into this by two colleagues we met recently. We said, "What you have been telling us is so interesting, would you like to come and give evidence to the Committee?" and they said, "We would not but we have a member of our staff, a colleague, who is much better than we are". So, you were rather dropped into it. We welcome Stewart Davies from the Sustainable Development Commission and thank you very much for your briefing; it was extremely useful. Stan Terry is from HTI (Heads Teachers and Industry Ltd) and Alan Yates from BREEAM. May I begin the questioning by saying to you, Stewart Davies, here we are perched... well, I say "perched" but we have begun. We went to a school in Elsea 10 days ago and we were told that they had suddenly been chosen to be in the programme. They were more or less told, "You have hardly any time at all. You have to start this whole process yesterday". We said, "Everyone tells us that the school should be fully engaged, the students, the staff, the support staff, everyone should be engaged in this process of deciding on design and so on" and they said, "Well, no time". Is that typical or is the slower, more gradual approach more typical?

  Dr Davies: I have certainly heard that same story, that the actual processes of procuring and agreeing the specification for schools somehow ends up in a mad rush where it is not absolutely clear who the ultimate client is between local authority, head teacher, partnership for schools and so on, and that the timescales can seem incredibly rushed. The point I would make in response to your question is that key to getting sustainable schools is to get the right basic structure designed in. This is not really about bolt-on windmills and so on, it is about getting a fundamental construction that is resource efficient. Getting that design process right, having the client interaction right and having the right information and time for that have been less than adequate.

  Q461  Chairman: Why is there this inadequacy? There is a first wave, is there not? We have interviewed some of the first wave schools and their partners. Why is it that we are not giving people enough time? Who is not giving the schools enough time?

  Dr Davies: I am going to run out of detailed knowledge of that but it is certainly coming about through the bidding process that is somehow compressing that time allowed for client and designer interactions.

  Q462  Chairman: Do any of our witnesses this morning know why we have this truncated period of time?

  Mr Terry: The reality is that head teachers would love to have new schools built and therefore they are very keen on the idea of having a new school built and I think, the truncation occurs because it can be circumvented. You can come in with a proposal and people say, "Thank you very much, I would love to have that", but they do not actually spend the time getting the process right at the front end because time equals money and there is a kind of urgency factor that is built in to try and move this agenda forward. Certainly some of the evidence is that, in the initial phase schools, they are not necessarily fit for purpose because they have not actually spent time talking with who the real client is and I think you made the point that who the client being very often clouded. The client should be the school/head teacher and the community which it is part of.

  Q463  Chairman: Dame Ruth Silver, the Principal of Lewisham College, last night said to me that, when she heard that we had been looking at the FE sector, she said, "What our principals in the FE sector need to be taught is to be good clients". I said, "Ruth, 50% of the estate has been renewed already; it is quite late on in the process". Are you telling me that we are too late to save the sustainability and the good design of the first wave?

  Mr Terry: I do not think that it is too late, I think the issue is that, in terms of school leadership teams for example, you have to train those clients. I know that the National College for School Leadership is in the process of developing a programme at this time which is being trialled at the present moment and is going to be run out next summer depending on how it is evaluated, and that is going to be developing things for those leadership teams in schools.

  Q464  Chairman: But no school has yet been built under the programme, has it?

  Mr Terry: No.

  Mr Mayfield: The majority are under contract or at the preferred bidder stage on the wave one projects.

  Q465  Chairman: Martin, would you say that it is too late to make sure that they are of good design and sustainable?

  Mr Mayfield: Yes.

  Q466  Chairman: Yes?

  Mr Mayfield: Because the requirements that the bidders have been asked to fulfil do not reflect a sustainable level of development. They reflect at best very good or possibly excellent BREEAM which is an incremental step in building standards but go nowhere near as far as they need to go to achieve a sustainable level of development.

  Q467  Chairman: Alan, would you agree with that?

  Mr Yates: I would agree with that. The issue really is that it is down to the basic inherent quality of the initial thought process in the design and we need to start getting the inherent nature of the building design sorted earlier on in the procurement process. If you then come in at a later stage, you are tinkering around the edges. I would suggest that there probably is some scope to make some improvements to the first wave but you are not going to achieve very high levels of performance over and above those that are currently in the contract.

  Q468  Chairman: Let us take a real school in a real first wave. Who are the villains here? Are there any villains or is it all poor leadership that is shared amongst contractors, clients, heads and the Government? Who is to blame for this? This is going off half cock, is it not?

  Mr Mayfield: Yes. There is a balance of the methods of incentivisation and the standards which people are holding up as good standards and high standards. There are also elements of contradiction between the relevant building bulletins which are acknowledged within the marketplace but also drive towards solutions which are inherently higher in terms of carbon emissions occasionally and do not drive in a clear—

  Q469  Chairman: Can you explain to me what these building bulletins are.

  Mr Mayfield: 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, there are guidance notes on acoustics, on energy, on IT, on lighting and so on and, whilst there have been some efforts to move these forward and coordinate them... 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.

  Q470  Chairman: How do we make the best of the situation now? How do we learn from these mistakes, this early wrong start? How do we put it right?

  Dr Davies: I would start with being very clear about what the deliverables of the programme are in terms of sustainability because that has yet to be properly researched and mapped out. I think getting a clear link from the Government's stated policy to how much sustainable development improvement this programme is required to achieve is essential.

  Q471  Chairman: The people in the DfES do not know anything about this. They are civil servants, for God's sake! Arup is one of the leading names in engineering and in construction. You are the expert. Your Commission are the experts. You guys are the experts. Civil servants will by and large be led and guided by you. We are going to wait a long time for some expert on sustainability in the department, are we not? After all, they work in a greenhouse! It must be one of the worst buildings in London! Come on, where is the leadership? You are not going to get it from the department, surely.

  Dr Davies: If there were a defined task to do that mapping, I think it could be well led by DfES but with support from experts.

  Q472  Chairman: How do we get that kind of quality of knowledge and leadership in the Department? Who gives it to them? Who physically goes into that building and says, "This is the way. We will all sit around this table and we are going to sort this out"? Who should be at the table?

  Mr Mayfield: I think that there is a need for a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve, which is technically there. I am afraid that I have not written anything for today but I have read the SDC1 and I think that there are some very good statements in here about where we should be going. We should be quite clear about what we are trying to achieve and then that should be held up as BREEAM excellent or as whatever we choose to define it as and then we can work away from that. At the moment, we are working down from where we are. We need to work away from where we need to be, not from where we are. So, there needs to be a clear set of standards developed, which I think is quite easy to do. For the wave one projects which have been built it is too late, but what we must make sure of is that the future schemes developed through the wave one relationships do not suffer the same fate because there is pressure now on a number of projects to deliver the next set of schools and the next set of schools and the next set of schools rather than saying, "Hang on a minute, what are we really trying to achieve here?"

  Q473  Chairman: Alan, if you were advising the Department, what should they do?

  Mr Yates: I think the most important thing is to learn the lessons and to make sure that you have a good feedback mechanism from that first plan.

  Q474  Chairman: We have already built how many Academies? You would have thought, here is a laboratory to try this stuff out. Did no one in the Department actually look at the Academy programme? How many are we up to? I see Philip Green Fashion Academies. I think we are in the mid-thirties and they are up and running, they have been designed and built.

  Mr Yates: Yes.

  Q475  Chairman: Did no one from the Department go round and say, "The most sustainable and the model that we should learn from are these"?

  Mr Yates: I think that there has been some review of what has happened, but I do not think that there has been a coordinated gathering of that feedback from past experience. If we are to ensure that the later phases of the BSF programme achieve the sorts of standards that we perhaps all would like them to achieve, then let us use that and have a really coordinated effort to collect that feedback. We can debate whether the standards are the right standards or not, but the practicality and the experience of actually putting those existing standards into practice provides a sound framework for applying whatever standards are felt to be appropriate. BREEAM can provide this framework. It is very easy to set environmental standards; we could all advise on setting those and we could get some wonderfully high level standards. At the end of the day, like most things in life, this is a matter of priorities and where you set the balance between very high environmental performance standards and the other aspects of sustainability in terms of costs, in terms of social impact and so on. Those all need to be balanced. In terms of what the Government need to do, they need to provide that set of priorities to the programme. The panel here are sustainability experts particularly in terms of the environmental aspects of sustainability, certainly the BREEAM side, but really to input into the process and to advise the Department on setting appropriate standards and achievable standards on the environmental side, there needs to be that sort of political decision in terms of priorities.

  Q476  Chairman: It is a little depressing, is it not? Here we are on course to spend £42 billion of taxpayers' money and you are saying that we are not doing it right.

  Mr Terry: I am not sure that spending £42 billion/£45 billion on new schools necessarily fell within a kind of sustainability envelope initially with the idea of building the new schools; sustainability has come on board in the process. I wonder about a government which is spending that amount of money but not making demands on the construction industry by saying, "You must do this". I look at the study that WRAP 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%. 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. I do not understand why because I am not involved at that level, but I would like to see who made that decision.

  Q477  Chairman: We have Partnership for Schools coming to see us and we might ask them questions about that. Martin, you are the lone industry person here in a sense. Is it partly your fault? Should a company of your quality or Skanska who have given evidence not come before the Committee and say, "Look, this is what we want. Please, build us something"? If they said, "Look, we want this, we don't want any of the recycled stuff", surely it is up to you to have said, "No, no, no. You want sustainability. This is what adds up to sustainability".

  Mr Mayfield: I think that there is a moral dilemma for us because the construction market is driven by the needs that are presented in front of it to build these things as quickly as possible to move forward the agenda and there has not been enough time given to understand what is sustainable. I think that the marketplace is capable of delivering. There are not good examples in the UK; there are good examples globally—Scandinavia is one place to look—but I think that the marketplace is responding to the agenda that is placed in front of it.

  Q478  Chairman: You work all over the world. You helped build this building and this is supposed to be sustainable.

  Mr Mayfield: Yes and it is. Keeping it to BSF, I think that the construction firms, particularly the international ones, can deliver this. However, they are not being presented with the right set of hierarchical needs to enable them to focus on these issues and they are not being given time to do them in the BSF process either because it is far too quick. I have personally been party to schemes where we have tried to do as much as we can within cost and time envelopes and we know that the winning schemes have not done as much but have given a bit more area or a bit more this or a bit more that and it has been pushed by the wayside. The agenda is moving quite quickly which is helping but historically it has not. There are schemes on site now and in design that have no level of climate change resilience and if we even hit the medium/low climate change scenario, those schools will need air conditioning over their design life. So, their carbon emissions will go up over their design life, not down. There has not been clarity of requirements coming out to allow somebody to say, "Actually, that works and that does not".

  Q479  Chairman: How many schools are in the first wave? Does anyone know? I do not think we have had that evidence given, have we?

  Mr Terry: There is evidence that has been talked about here regarding the time envelope, actually doing the research. There is evidence in the States that shows that naturally ventilated buildings improves student performance, so it should be one of the strict criteria that says that is what you build. However, if we are building schools which have to be sealed because of the criteria and therefore have to have air conditioning and part of that is that we are putting a lot of money into ICT but that generates heat in itself and increases the amount of energy use that has been... There needs to be a much clearer image of what we are trying to achieve in terms of sustainability built into the process and I do not think that it exists at the moment.

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