Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 553-559)



  Q553 Chairman: Could I welcome Jim Burke, Chris Archer and Caroline Morland to our deliberations. I saw Jim and Chris. Caroline, were you listening to that last session?

  Ms Morland: Yes.

  Q554  Chairman: I hope you found it interesting. We certainly found it a very good session. We are squeezed for time but we are going to get started. You listened to that. Were they talking about the world that you inhabit? Did it strike a chord with your experience?

  Mr Burke: Certainly. I am the principal of a new Academy which was built very much with sustainable development in mind. It is a joint faith Academy serving a very disadvantaged area of Liverpool. We moved into our new building in September 2005, although it was not actually completed until March 2006 so we had a phase of contractors on site. Nevertheless, our Academy has many environmental features which were alluded to, so we have been re-harvesting rainwater, using solar power, we used recycled materials for part of the furniture infrastructure, concrete mass structure (which obviously has thermal mass benefits), photovoltaic cells, et cetera, so we feel very privileged that we have got a lot of these sustainable features. Where I sympathise with head teachers in the BSF process, though, is that I had 12 months of helping at the planning stage, so I was able to work with architects, understand what the building was going to be about, the features that it had. I had that opportunity also to start planning the curriculum so that sustainability could be integrated into the curriculum. My colleagues in BSF have to manage their schools on a day-to-day basis at the same time as trying to prepare for their new school, trying to take on board all the issues of sustainability and crash courses in a day. I had 12 months, effectively, and so when people ask, "Can you skill up heads very quickly?", I think that is going to be immensely difficult in terms of everything else that a head teacher is supposed to do. The other aspect is that we are very much a greenhouse in the sense we have been closely monitored, and, to be fair to the DfES, they have already produced case studies on sustainable schools, and I know that because we feature in a booklet which they recently produced. What they are starting to do is produce a body of evidence to look at what schools should have if they are to be truly sustainable.

  Q555  Chairman: Why are you so good on sustainability?

  Mr Burke: Because at the outset our school's speciality was always going to be science/sustainability, and so when the architects were engaged that was their brief: "You have got to build a sustainable school."

  Q556  Chairman: How did you make yourself a good client? Why are you so good? The Independent says you are Britain's greenest school. Have you been a secret environmental warrior all these years?

  Mr Burke: Aux contraire, I was obviously very interested in the environment and sustainability, but again I worked very closely with the architect and the builder. Just post design stage the architect was engaged because he had environmental sustainability credentials, but I was able to engage with him at a very early stage, and indeed my senior management team were able to engage with the architects at an early stage, so we were part of that process. We came in looking at what would the impacts of sustainability be on our students, on our curriculum, on engaging the community, but effectively the architects themselves were the people who were there as the experts, and really there was a steep learning curve for us which they helped us with considerably.

  Q557  Chairman: Chris, if you were advising, what sort of back-up would you give in Nottingham if you had got a new school, a new wave? Are you in the first wave?

  Mr Archer: No, we are in wave two.

  Q558  Chairman: You listened to the last lot of evidence and you have now listened to Jim. Where are you in all this?

  Mr Archer: I think the first thing to say is I learnt a great deal from the first set of evidence, so I will make that quite clear from the outset. Secondly, from the point of view of the position in which we find ourselves in wave two, our first reference scheme schools and their head teachers and management teams and their student body—we have not heard too much about the involvement of students in that whole process—are actively engaged in planning what their school will look like when construction begins, we hope, in January 2008. We are talking about a much better lead-in time than the lead-in times that you have heard about thus far. I think it is also true to say that we have put our emphasis at this stage on thinking about what will the educational experience look like, what is education looking like as we cast our eyes forward, what sort of experience do we want those young people to have and what can they tell us about the experience they are having now to help us get it better for the future? The sustainability and environmental issues are on the agenda, but they are a little bit further behind, and it seems to me, having listened, that one of the crucial things that I have heard this morning is that BREEAM, for example, is not good enough. We are in the process of thinking, providing we are heading for that BREEAM "excellent" standard, then we are going to do what is necessary. If that is not the case, we need to know quickly, because we do have a will to do that but we can only do it with the best kind of advice.

  Q559  Chairman: Have you gone to look at schools like Jim's to learn lessons?

  Mr Archer: We have not specifically looked at Jim's school and we have not sought out schools on environmental sustainability yet, although I think that we are minded to look at those issues already. We have some primary schools in Nottingham that already have some significant environmentally friendly features, so we have got that on the agenda but it has not been a primary focus as yet.

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