Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)



  Q480  Chairman: Should we slow the whole process down so that we get it right?

  Dr Davies: I would suggest that there needs to be some really smart and intensive thinking but I do not think this would result in necessarily slower delivery of improved schools, given some very fast and deep thinking at this upfront stage.

  Mr Yates: And making sure that you pull together and think through the linkages between different initiatives/different pushes that are being made. Due to the speed of the programme and because of the pressures on the construction industry and so on, there is a strong move towards what is known as modern methods of construction, a very broad range of construction techniques, but there is very little experience of how those actually perform in use. A significant number of those are relatively light weight construction techniques and that raises questions over the adaptability of those buildings into the future. For example, the issue of needing air conditioning. If you have a building which is very light weight, then it will not be able to absorb higher temperatures to the same degree and you are much more likely perhaps to need a building system in there which is an energy using system that will air condition that environment, so air conditioning and therefore higher carbon emissions as a result. It is thinking through the balance between all these different messages that the construction industry has been given.

  Dr Davies: I want to make it very clear that this is not one of the situations where the step into sustainability is being done with the supplying industry kicking and screaming. In fact, quite the opposite. I spend quite a lot of time as the Sustainable Development Commissioner talking to the construction industry. It is the other way round. There is frustration that there is not the clear prioritisation of sustainability because the industry knows how to deliver it and because of its own CSR wants to actually be seen to deliver sustainable schools.

  Chairman: Thank you for those initial answers. Let us move on and broaden the questioning but still talking about sustainability.

  Q481  Paul Holmes: Is this not all very alarming? In some of the earlier evidence sessions we have had, we have heard that a lot of the new wave of schools are not very good as educational places to work in and learn in and now we are hearing from you that also they are not actually very sustainable either, even that they are going to be less sustainable than what they are replacing. The Government have launched a sustainable schools strategy this year and they have said that care for the environment will be second nature to all the pupils in the new school building programme, yet the evidence seems to be quite the opposite. The Sustainable Development Commission has said that the Government have not thought it through, they do not know whether the new schools estate will mean higher or lower carbon emissions or what the impact will be on water demand, waste production and traffic. This is very worrying. It is more than worrying, it is a disaster, is it not?

  Dr Davies: It is a clear opportunity to do a lot better and it really does start with that mapping of the policy through to delivery in setting a vision of what is going to be the contribution of this programme to carbon reduction. Schools are 15% of the public sector's carbon footprint. There is a tremendous opportunity in this programme to demonstrate through leadership how that can be reduced through good construction.

  Q482  Paul Holmes: What would be the key features in a list of five, shall we say, of what should be a sustainable school? What are the most important things?

  Dr Davies: Before I come on to the bricks and mortar, what we are looking for is something with the minimum environmental footprint but the maximum environmental "mind print", as I call it. There is a tremendous opportunity here to affect the way that children who will soon be adults and who will soon be consumers think about the world. I had the opportunity yesterday to visit Beaumont Primary School in Hadleigh, Suffolk where a lot of the inherent structure has been got right: there is the natural lighting and there is the natural ventilation. Yes, there is a windmill but there is a living green roof, solar panels, rainwater collection and so on. That has a tremendous educational impact on the kids and it is integrated in their curriculum. That is all absolutely fabulous and there are a few such beacons of good practice. In terms of what the features should be—and we have mentioned some of them already—there should be as much natural lighting and natural ventilation as possible, probably something around high thermal mass so that we are proofed against climate change tipping us into air conditioning and its high carbon footprint. I think that another very important one is on site electricity generation, whether that is windmill, solar or whether it is biomass or indeed whether it is even quite old-fashioned technology in terms of gas powered combined heat and power where there is a tremendous carbon saving from generating electricity locally in a school. That would be my list but I am sure that my colleagues here would have another list.

  Mr Mayfield: There is a standard for space utilisation in schools, BB98, which defines what all the size and spaces are and that sets quite a rigid framework for school designs. So, you get a school with X size for X number of pupils. If that could be turned over or reconsidered, there is the opportunity to lengthen the educational day and reduce the size of the school by 10 or 15%. If you can reduce the size of the school and spend the money that you were going to spend on that extra bit of school, you are making the building that is left perform better and I think that is something that is worth serious consideration. Ban air conditioning is an easy one. Develop the schools so that they do not use power in its neutral state. So, when they need heating, a bit of heating in the winter and possibly a bit of cooling in the summer if it is absolutely unavoidable but not to default to heavily engineered solutions. There are a number of solutions that can work. The buildings that look sustainable will be radically different architecturally and in operation to the schools we have seen today. You cannot design that school in a manner and tweak it because there is such a fundamental difference between where we are and where we need to be. I think that there has to be an acceptance that these things will look and operate massively differently. On the windmill side, I agree with the educational side of wind turbines but a 1.5 kilowatt wind turbine is a seventh as effective as a 1 megawatt wind turbine. You spend seven times as much money doing that to get the same carbon reduction. There is an educational benefit to it but the fundamental difference we need is a low carbon infrastructure to support low carbon buildings. The buildings cannot do it on their own.

  Mr Terry: The real issue here is that we are building schools in which future generations are going to be educated and all those schools are at the heart of their communities. If you build a school which conforms with sustainability principles and the curriculum is designed to emphasise those kind of approaches, then children learn by kind of osmosis and they spread that message out in the community. It is difficult to change hearts and minds in the community and amongst businesses as well but the best way to do it is to deliver it through the educational experience that these children are having. Kids are great at picking up when you `don't walk the talk'. If you are building a building and telling them about sustainability, they know that you are not operating in that way. The majority of schools do not think about their waste output; it all goes into the same bins. What is the point of trying to teach source separation to kids in a school throughout a lesson programme and then they watch the school throwing everything out into one bin? The lights stay on. Where I live near Aylesbury, I came back from the cinema last weekend via the brand new Aylesbury College which is being built and, at 11.30 at night, every single light in the building was on. It was like a beacon from the community—here we are! We are empty but all the lights are on! I do not understand why they do not operate on those kinds of principles. The LSE has said that colleges should operate within sustainability principles. Here is a brand new building which seems to be saying, "Up yours. We are going to do it the way we want to do it".

  Q483  Paul Holmes: On the renewable energy side taking into account the strictures about cost and everything, I have taught a number of pupils in different schools, both old ones and brand new ones, where they are very disappointed that they are having all these lessons and hearing all this from the Government and it is not in their school. We visited one of the Academies in Southwark that has won the design award as the best one and the kids there were saying, "We have no solar panels, turbine windmills or whatever" and there is no way that you can monitor what the end use of the school is. They were quite despondent and that was a brand new state-of-the-art designed winning school.

  Dr Davies: Quite possibly, the ICT department needed a power station of its own to run it! Another feature of what people look for in "sexy", new educational buildings is the big arrays of PCs but there is an energy efficiency impact in the way they are set up. There is a right way to do it and there is a wrong way to do it and I am not sure the specification is right.

  Q484  Paul Holmes: What is the reason why that tends not to be there? Is it the cost factor because the architect argued, "We had to strip it out because of the cost" or is it the lack of regional guidance?

  Dr Davies: We have touched on this earlier. I think it is about the priority. If you want to build sustainable schools, that has to be the priority and you then have to work out how you optimise the financing of that to suit it. At the moment, we are working to a very old-fashioned financial model for the amount of money per square meter of school that has not taken account of the new urgency about building sustainable schools.

  Q485  Paul Holmes: On an issue such as the use of grey water and recycled water, what percentage of all these new schools that have been built at enormous expense to deliver this sustainability use grey or recycled water?

  Mr Mayfield: Grey water recycling is quite expensive but rain water reclamation is used reasonably often because it can be shown to pay for itself reasonably quickly. Of all the bolt-ons, it is the one that survives longest through the value engineering process.

  Q486  Paul Holmes: Out of, say, 50 new schools, how many have rain water?

  Mr Mayfield: Eight or 10 would be a guess.

  Q487  Paul Holmes: So, less than 20%?

  Mr Mayfield: Yes.

  Q488  Paul Holmes: Which again is not very good. My final question, which is certainly not a building feature, is that one of the things the Government said is that, as part of sustainable schools, we should encourage alternative transport, walking and cycling to school. On the other hand, they are encouraging schools to recruit their children from miles away and parents co-opt into schools that are miles away. Is that not totally contradictory from the point of view of what we are talking about?

  Mr Terry: From my point of view, if you have a local authority and it has to rationalise its educational provision when it is going to build a new school, it may need to close down several schools around and move it to a different site. The problem is that you are going to have to transport children to and from that site. Where I used to be in a rural community, you had to have public transport or private transport to get kids there, but that still meant that many, many parents travelled 10 or 12 miles to get their kids to school. You have to think very carefully about where you are going to locate the school at the front end. If you are going down the road of saying, "We want to have local schools so that kids can cycle and walk to school", then you have to put that as one of your priorities.

  Q489  Paul Holmes: And that is not in any of the criteria?

  Mr Terry: I do not think so, no.

  Q490  Mr Marsden: Stewart, I wonder if I can come to you first. The evidence which you have given to the Select Committee was very strong and forceful regarding your concerns about the Government not having looked at the issue of high and low carbon emissions and you have said that this is extremely worrying. What level of engagement have you had with DfES in terms and I literally mean at what level? Have you been engaged on a regular basis with officials who are doing BSF? Has Alan Johnson or Jim Knight or Andrew Adonis had you in for a greater chat at any stage? The message we seem to be getting is that you and your colleagues and the other people here are putting out lots of good ideas but meanwhile the great Titanic, the DfES, is proceeding smoothly down a separate path and not really taking them on board. Is that a fair assessment or not?

  Dr Davies: I would like to take it in parts before I assess it as fair or not. I think that the doors are open and that there is constructive discussion going on. In fact, we have a secondee from the Sustainable Development Commission full time in DfES as part of our capacity building role. I certainly would not position it as being "barricades and rock throwing" at all. It is not at that status. Clearly, it is not being influential enough in the ultimate priorities.

  Q491  Mr Marsden: You basically need to have certainly senior civil servants if not ministers prepared to sit down with you, even if it is only for half-an-hour, and talk through some of the inherent problems in what you are saying.

  Dr Davies: Yes.[1]

  Mr Marsden: That is useful to know. I want to move on now to the issue of environmental sustainability as a whole. I went to two of my schools in Blackpool the other week, both of them in a different context: one is looking at a complete rebuild and one is looking at partial rebuild. Both the heads there said the same thing to me—"It is really exciting but it is really worrying because we do not know what we are going to want to put in our classrooms in 10 or 15 years' time. One of them was old enough, as I am, to remember language laboratories. Language laboratories were the great thing of the future at one stage and we had all these old-fashioned tape machines and, within a few years, they were completely redundant because of technological change. There are similar issues in terms, I would suggest, of banks of computers, portable as opposed to fixed etc, etc. What is going in at the moment as part of BSF? Never mind the environmental sustainability at the moment, what is going in at the moment to make sure that the spaces that are created in classrooms under BSF will be fit for purpose given the school technologies and the possibilities of five, 10 or even 15 years hence?

  Q492  Chairman: We must have shorter questions. I am trying to get in as many sustainability questions.

  Mr Mayfield: I have been doing some work and having some discussions with the major IT providers. BSF is a big deal for them; they are putting a lot of effort into it. The overriding view is that future ICT requirements will actually have a lesser impact on the building than historic ICT requirements. So, there is not too much concern. There is a great deal of debate over whether or not schools should have raised access floors throughout and the costs associated with that and there are other practical issues associated with it. In ICT terms, there is not a general concern and I would agree with that. We will see ICT start to disappear into the education process as the tools become smaller and easier and lower powered.

  Q493  Mr Marsden: Has that been factored into the tenders and you and colleagues are now agreeing with the DfES and individual schools?

  Mr Mayfield: The fact that it is of lower impact means that it does not necessarily have a cost. That is a kind of long-term view. There is a driver to increase the number of PCs per pupil which is increasing power demands and is increasing heat loads, so there is a potential that, over the next 10 years, you will see a problem arising as there is more and more IT in schools, more and more air conditioning and so on and so forth before technology actually starts to drive that down again.

  Q494  Mr Marsden: Is there anything that we can do to close that gap?

  Mr Mayfield: Yes, building levels of climate change and ICT resilience into the BSF space because, if you overlay climate change and ICT heat gains, you will find that some of the things that are being built today will not be fit for purpose.

  Dr Davies: I would like to make a brief comment on that. The improvements in energy efficiency in the buildings that have been a result of BREEAM coming in have actually been outweighed in carbon terms by the increase in electricity going into ICT. So, we have actually gone backwards.

  Mr Terry: And you have the issue of extended school days now as well. You have schools open from 8.00 in the morning until 10.00 at night 50 weeks of the year and there is going to be increasing community use on those kinds of facilities. You are going to have those facilities absorbing more energy continually from that point of view.

  Q495  Mr Marsden: Can I ask a question and perhaps, Alan, you would like to pick up on this. I am quite old fashioned about the way in which I look at these things and in one of the previous sessions I was a little concerned that no one at any point specifically mentioned materials, old-fashioned materials, in terms of sustainability. In your requirements under BREEAM, they do not talk about materials, do they?

  Mr Yates: Yes, they do. There is a whole section in BREEAM that looks at the issue of materials for key building elements on a life cycle basis, so it looks at the embodied impacts, that is a range of environmental impacts, of construction materials as they go into the building but then also as they are maintained throughout the building's life. This covers inherent impacts of materials and the impacts of responsible sourcing.

  Q496  Mr Marsden: You have eight different—

  Mr Yates: It is one of the eight categories.

  Q497  Chairman: We are going to come on to BREEAM in a minute.

  Mr Yates: It is one of the categories.

  Q498  Mr Marsden: Can I ask a question finally about an issue about which we have already heard, the time gap. You are saying that your impression is that everything is powering ahead and that is one of the reasons why some of these issues cannot be taken into account by DfES and by schools, but I am led to understand that there are a number of authorities where BSF is already behind for a significant period of time. First of all, why is that, if they are powering ahead in the way that has been described and does that offer some opportunity for reflection?

  Mr Mayfield: Some are behind but the marketplace only gets to look at them once they come to the marketplace and the period of time that the market is then given to respond is not changing, be it 13, 16 or 17 weeks. It is how long they have to take the requirements of the council and come up with a response. So, even though they are drifting, that period of time is not changing.

  Q499  Mr Carswell: I heard you talk about contracts with the DfES and schools, but I wondered if you have ever thought—and this is perhaps a question more for Mr Terry—that maybe there is either too much or too little central guidance on this whole sustainability agenda. Do you sometimes think that there needs to be more guidance or do you sometimes think that actually maybe it should be left to the schools and maybe they could work out what really is sustainable in the context of their communities? Do you ever sometimes wonder why we national politicians are discussing building materials in local schools? Why do we have a national commission on this? That is food for thought.

  Mr Terry: My feeling is that we do not have a leadership group in the education profession who understand the principles behind this, so they need educating very rapidly. They are generally bright people and they can pick it up very quickly and they can ask the right kind of questions. If you have a client base which is not knowledgeable, it will be led by the professionals who will talk them into what they think would be a good solution. You have to be courageous as a head teacher in terms of asking the right kind of questions. Appearing stupid is not normally a head teacher's role. This is an important issue and I know that the national college are now about to move forward on this agenda, but there is nothing inherent in the way in which we train our teachers, for example, through the leadership programmes that exist at the present moment. There is an optional unit in Leading from the Middle, which is a training programme through the national college; there is one unit in the NPQH but it is an optional unit; there is nothing else that exists at the present moment. They are running hard to try and solve the problem. I think that you have to educate the client to be able to ask the right kind of questions and to actually have the kind of visioning view as to what they want from their schools. I think the issue you raised earlier on about what kind of schools we are going to have comes back to what we want in terms of the curriculum we are going to have in 15 years. That is a bit of an imponderable. So, it is delivering an envelope that actually fits what we might want to do. I think that you have to give people the opportunity to visualise where they would like to be and the kind of education process that they would like. Are we going to have boxes in 15 or 25 years' time? How are kids going to learn? Will they be in a classroom of 30 or are there going to be individualised learning programmes? Leadership teams in schools need to be able to thrash those kind of issues out and they need to be able to demand—perhaps that is the wrong word—by saying, "What we want from our new school for the future is this and you, the designer, and you, the company, can come up with the ideas that fulfil our dream".

  Dr Davies: I think that there is a balance to be struck. The head teacher is exactly the right person for making the decision with the leadership team locally about trade-offs and optimising the local situation. However, we should not be reinventing the wheel at that time. There is a huge inefficiency in a process where there are, in a sense, too many options, and I think that a degree of standardisation working on some clear goals from DfES about what sustainable schools look like would produce a best practice, that would then present a more focused set of options to local leadership.

  Mr Mayfield: I do not think that we need any more guidance. What we do need is the correct setting of standards to what is sustainable and what is not. I think that there is enough paper around written about it.

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