Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500-519)



  Q500  Chairman: Come on, that is the standard. Come on.

  Mr Mayfield: No, the standards that are given.

  Chairman: That is central direction. Douglas would hate that. You are going to say, "Within these parameters, you should work". Douglas is saying, why do you not let the local community and head get on with building—?

  Q501  Mr Carswell: I assume that there will be a national curriculum in 15 years' time.

  Mr Terry: I would not see it as a problem in letting heads in their communities actually go forward on these programmes, but they have to have the basic understanding in order to make those kind of decisions.

  Q502  Chairman: No, no. Stan, you have to spell out what you mean by basic understanding. What Stewart is saying is a basic understanding and what Martin is saying is a basic understanding is very different, is it not? I take it that Alan would disagree with that too. He would want a different standard, whether he wants BREEAM or a super BREEAM, I do not know, but clearly from your evidence you submitted to the Committee you do want guiding. You do not want people not having sustainability knowledge at the local level.

  Dr Davies: Best practice sustainability knowledge should be mandated into standards and may I make reference to the Government's Sustainable Procurement Taskforce which provides some very valuable insight that is directly relevant to BSF programme in terms of both specification but also particularly capability building.

  Q503  Chairman: That relates to standards being about recycled material you could put in, etc, does it not?

  Dr Davies: As just one example, yes.[2]

  Q504 Chairman: Martin, I jumped on you unfairly then. You are a sharp operator, are you not? You are Arup, you are big. I know that your work is co-op which is always rather nice to remember but you go in there and you could have a naive head teacher who has never built a school. You can get away with anything, can you not?

  Mr Mayfield: We have moral obligations not to get away with anything! No, we win commissions because of our credentials and our abilities to produce more sustainable buildings. The problems we have is the datum which is out there. When we say to somebody, "Sustainability actually means this", it is so far removed from what today's expectations are in terms of how it looks, how it operates and how long it is going to take to build and everything else that it just gets thrown out. It is nowhere near the agenda. We are driving in that direction but we do not have a framework within which to say, "That works. That is what is required and that is the right standard". The standards that are set are too easy to achieve and do not reflect sustainable development.

  Mr Yates: Part of the reason why I think they are very easy to throw out is because the client, in terms of the school, the LA and so on, do not feel that they understand the issues. In terms of needing additional guidance, I agree absolutely in terms of, we need guidance for those stakeholders in the process in order that they can ask the right questions and they can avoid having the wool pulled over their eyes. I also agree that I do not think the industry needs a lot more guidance in terms of how to meet the objective of more sustainable schools. What they need are clear performance standards and I absolutely agree that those need to be set at national level initially but with some degree of flexibility at a local level on some of the issues.

  Q505  Mr Carswell: It is an interesting answer but I am perplexed because you said that it has to be national standards. Why? Why can the local authorities in the town halls of Essex and Cornwall and London not decide these things?

  Mr Yates: For a start, they do not have the expertise, but potentially they could have some knowledge. A lot of the issues are issues at a national level in terms of overall carbon emissions and in terms of materials procurement. It is not even a national issue, it is a European issue or indeed a global issue. So, allowing the decision making process to go right down to the very local level does not seem to make much sense in those areas. I think where I would agree that local priorities have to take over is when you start getting into issues, particularly issues of social sustainability in terms of the links of a school with the community, the whole extended school agenda. I think that sustainability is a very broad agenda.

  Q506  Mr Carswell: It begins to sound to me as if sustainability is a modern justification for more central government.

  Mr Yates: I think it is simple, clear performance standards coming from the centre and then you allow local interpretation of that in terms of how those standards will be met, but you have to make sure that everyone involved in the process fully understands what those mean and part of the problem at the moment seems to me that the educational side does not understand. Your head teacher is not going to understand and we should not be expecting those sorts of people to understand, the detailed technical balances that have to be taken account of. You are weighing up options. There is not a simple black and white solution to any of this which is why BREEAM as a method is set up in the way it is.

  Chairman: We have to move on because we have limited time. We would now like to look at the BSF process in detail.

  Q507  Stephen Williams: Following on from what Douglas was saying about involvement right down at the grass roots level, if I may begin with Dr Davies from the Sustainable Development Commission. You have recommended that various stakeholders should be involved in the design process of the school, which obviously would include the head teacher. What sort of other people should be involved at design process level?

  Dr Davies: If you take the head teacher and the leadership team who of course bring their community input as well because they are clearly major stakeholders for the school, then it is important that there is the right technical consistency and I think that the idea of having advisers and a supporting team for schools going through this process is key and then there has to be the Las and other stakeholders that are concerned about the alignment with Government policy through the Department, the DfES.

  Q508  Stephen Williams: Is the head teacher the principal spokesperson for everyone involved at the professional level in the school or would you expect the designers and the architects to talk to the cook about the kitchens or the children about the playground and the corridors?

  Dr Davies: My experience in business as well as in the area of sustainability is that engagement brings great ideas from all sorts of unexpected places. I wholeheartedly recommend that engagement processes are set up that allow that to happen. Coming back to this issue of 13 to 18 weeks to get these decisions made and not all the information being available at the front of that period of time, engagement is largely squeezed out of the BSF process.

  Q509  Stephen Williams: As there is not enough time, do you think your recommendation in practice does not actually take place to the level you recommend?

  Dr Davies: Yes, absolutely.

  Q510  Stephen Williams: If you look at primary schools that probably litter all of our constituencies, certainly I have looked at primary schools in South Wales and they look remarkably similar to primary schools in Bristol that were put up in Victorian and Edwardian times, so there was a national model, if you like, of designs of primary schools in that period. Do we really need different schools to flourish in different ways in different parts of the country given that a level playing field in topography in 800 to 1,200 pupils? Can we not have a standard secondary school or do they all need to look different?

  Mr Mayfield: There are climatic differences across the country and those are going to change over the next 20-30 years. There are different solutions for different areas but there are overriding issues that do not change such as the relationship with the sun. All school buildings should have a relationship with the sun path, so you should be able to look at a school and know which way is south from the way that the school looks. So, there are some issues that are the same but there are regional climatic differences.

  Q511  Chairman: It rains everywhere in Britain!

  Mr Mayfield: Absolutely.

  Q512  Chairman: That is not going to change, is it? Your guys in your profession build flat roofs all over Yorkshire and Lancashire and probably in Scotland. They have leaked ever since. The Victorian schools did not have flat roofs and they do not leak and some of them are pretty darn sustainable today, are they not?

  Mr Mayfield: Well designed flat roofs can be a benefit.

  Q513  Chairman: Could you show us one? We would love to see one.

  Mr Mayfield: Yes, I can show you some schools with well designed flat roofs because, if the water sits on it, when the water evaporates, it takes heat away from the school.

  Q514  Chairman: Martin, you are being a bit... No, you are not being disingenuous! Martin, you are suggesting that there is somewhere in the world that you know about the sustainable school. It is not in England, so we cannot see it easily, but could you point us to where this has developed in order that we could look at one?

  Mr Mayfield: I do not think that you can point to a sustainable school. I think that you can point to different schools that are responding to different climatic issues and, taken together, there are a set of principles.

  Q515  Chairman: If we locked you in a room for all the weekend, could you come up with a sustainable design that we could replicate all over Britain? That is what Stephen is asking.

  Mr Mayfield: Yes. However, 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. So, yes, you could design a building that fits into that but not on its own. Well, you could but it would not be repeatable in a formal manner.

  Q516  Chairman: Would you measure the Victorian school? I went to a 1904 Edwardian school the other day and it seemed to be pretty sustainable to me. It was made of local brick; it had local tiles on the roof; it did not have any air conditioning; the children seemed to be reasonably well served in it; they did not have much of a playground which was the only downside. Are we in danger of trendy, fashionable buildings replacing buildings that are pretty sustainable anyway in terms of their carbon footprint?

  Mr Mayfield: I think that there is a lot to be learned from the past. I do not think that we need to start afresh, but those buildings are really poorly insulated, so the geometries of them are good and some of the materials are sustainable but there are things that need to be done to change that. I said before that a sustainable school will look radically different and it will. It will still look like a school but it will look radically different to the schools we have today.

  Q517  Stephen Williams: I turn to Mr Yates and talk about BREEAM. What does BREEAM actually tell us about a school because, as I understand it, there were nine factors but a school might not have to meet all of them? If a school meets with BREEAM criteria, what can we actually expect of it?

  Mr Yates: What BREEAM is trying to do is to provide an overall measure of environmental sustainability. It is not a full sustainability method; it is concentrated on the environmental aspects. It does that by evaluating performance against a wide range of issues in those issue categories that you have talked about and it brings all of that together into a single score, or a single rating, so that there is a clear message in terms of the overall impact of this building on the environment. What it does not do is to set specific standards against each individual area. There is an element of tradability in there which allows for taking account of the local context, it allows for the local priorities, the sort of local decision-making that was talked about earlier, flexibility in terms of design solutions, and so on, but it is really trying to provide this overall measure of environmental impact and it does that through a weighting system which takes account of the relative importance of each of the diverse issues that it looks at.

  Q518  Stephen Williams: Given this weighting system, suppose a school has been built on a brownfield site but the materials that were used to build it were not terribly good and it wasted a lot of water and it was badly insulated, could it still meet the criteria on average?

  Mr Yates: It will get some ticks in boxes in terms of its site selection but it will perform very badly in those other areas, and, because of the way the scoring system works, there is a lot more emphasis placed on what you might consider to be the key environmental impact, particularly in terms of CO2, which is 25% of the overall score. So, it uses the weighting scoring system to place emphasis on the key areas.

  Q519  Stephen Williams: The expectation is that schools should aim for a "very good" BREEAM assessment or even an "excellent". Are there grades below that? Is there an adequate one or a good one?

  Mr Yates: There is a "pass", a "good", a "very good" and an "excellent".

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