Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560-579)

MR CHRIS ARCHER, MR JIM BURKE AND MS CAROLINE MORLAND

1 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q560  Chairman: Caroline, we are looking at the sustainable school holistically and Chris has just mentioned what goes on in a school. We have been concentrating to date a lot on the building, the fabric, the sustainability, and so on, the energy, the carbon footprint. Do you know anything about schools later in the 21st century? People have been saying to this Committee, "It is not going to be 30 students in a room with a teacher with white boards or computers, it is going to be something different". Is it?

  Ms Morland: I think it has the potential to be something different. I think it will stay comparatively the same if we are not investing, as you say, in some of this expert dialogue about how we move from where we currently are to some of those potential features, because one of the tensions in the system is everybody has their day job, so, they are out there, they are delivering, they are working with young people, they do not have the time to go away and think about how they are going to deploy their ICT to re-engineer the process of learning, how they are going to change the group organisation, the curriculum and the timetable in advance of them locking themselves into an infrastructure. It is that process and building capacity within the system to release the debating time and the exploring time for all the practitioners and the students and, critically, the parents, stakeholders who have views and opinions about this, in a debate about how it could be different. It is interesting. Just picking up on some of the earlier evidence, it is that debate between conflicting priorities. I have spent a lot of time working with schools and stakeholders trying to develop recommendations or specifications. Their key priority is always going to be learning and outcomes, and that is what they think about, and they tend to then prioritise things like equipment, furniture, area. So the bigger the better, then we have got some flexibility to reorganise and do different things above and beyond sustainability, because that is who they are, they are practitioners—that is their deliverable, their outcome and their experience. So, unless we have got a balancing voice sitting alongside them championing sustainability in a positive and collaborative way, because I think everybody's heart is in the right place, they want a sustainable school, but if we are then throwing more money at the problem, that money will get spent on bigger schools, it will not necessarily get spent on more sustainable schools.

  Q561  Chairman: So you are suggesting there should be a sustainability champion locally?

  Ms Morland: I think so. I am a big advocate. Again, trying to solve the problem of how we find the time for this consultation and how we find the time to get expert clients is that we need a smaller team of representatives who can become the experts on behalf of a group of schools or a cluster of schools. There has got to be constant communication back down, but I think, going back to the point about is BSF the biggest programme, in one sense it is one of the biggest programmes, in another sense it is one of the most fragmented and smallest programmes because the actual individual procurement decisions are actually quite small and, therefore, are not getting the impact and the savings.

  Chairman: Thank you for that.

  Q562  Jeff Ennis: I guess most of my questions will be focused on trying to tease out from Chris a bit more information about the Nottingham model. It appears to me, Chris, you have got quite a high percentage of new Academies coming on stream. I am wondering why you decided on having three Academies in Nottingham, and who were the sponsors of the three Academies as well?

  Mr Archer: The short answer is we will have four, at least that is what we aim to have, because we already had an existing Academy, Djanogly City Academy. The short answer probably is that the opportunity of that much major investment into the city was seen as locally too good an opportunity for future generations to miss. I think underlying that there is a series of other issues. Clearly, we had a good relationship with Djanogly Academy and felt that it was doing a good job, and therefore the opportunity to replicate that was important to us. I think it is also true to say that we have pockets of chronic under-achievement in Nottingham and we are looking at every opportunity we can to raise that achievement and to raise the aspiration that leads to that achievement.

  Q563  Chairman: Graham Allen keeps telling us about that. He is trying to do something about it.

  Mr Archer: I am sure he does, as he tells us when he talks with us. I think that we saw it as the opportunity. The third thing is that we have embraced the notion that we have got to look at every possible opportunity in the diverse nature of secondary education possibilities that are around to us, and Academies are clearly one of them. Alongside that, of course, we want to make sure that we do not leave these as free, independent organisations which do not play a part in the whole, but I am sure you are going to come to that in a moment.

  Q564  Jeff Ennis: I am wondering, because hopefully you are going to have a big BSF programme as well as a new Academy programme, how well will these programmes mesh together? Will it be a seamless service or are there any tensions between the two?

  Mr Archer: It has been absolutely fundamental to us from the outset that the two are as seamless as they can possibly be. What we have tried to develop is a vision for educational provision across the city that sees those Academies strategically placed. We have set out, for example, to create three clusters of secondary schools across the city, but they will now be co-operative clusters. They are already formed into education improvement partnerships. The Academy will be a significant player in each of those education improvement partnerships from the outset; they will co-operate with us over things like 14-19 provision, hard to place pupils, the issues related to SEN. It is fundamental to our planning of those Academies within the whole BSF programme that they are a part of the whole family of schools and not separate from it.

  Q565  Jeff Ennis: How do you engage the communities in such a big rationalisation process? I have been involved in that, because we have got a big BSF programme in Barnsley currently. Will the communities know the difference if they are in an Academy area or in a BSF area?

  Mr Archer: I suppose I hope, in a way, that they do not. What they experience is excellent education in every area of the City of Nottingham, but there will be opportunities for young people who are experiencing their education in Academy to go into other community schools to access part of their 14-19 offering, the vocational element of it perhaps, they might go into other schools as part of their Extended Schools offering, so gifted and talented students might pass from one school to another for different things. In a sense, I hope that what we do not see is a two or three-tier system, because we want excellence for all of our communities. So far, when we have presented to our communities that this is our vision and this is our hope for them, almost overwhelmingly we have had community support for that approach.

  Q566  Jeff Ennis: Do you see there being any difference in the sustainability element that is embedded in the new schools between BSF schools and the Academies? Are they all going to be working to the same high standard?

  Mr Archer: I think the major change over the last six months, of course, has been the move to embed the procurement of the Academies in the Local Education Partnership through the BSF process as opposed to being procured separately. What that means is that as a local authority, and, therefore, into the Local Education Partnership, we will have the opportunity to have a very significant say in the building standards and the sustainability standards that we are expecting to produce. There is still quite a bit of tension yet to work out how that whole system is going to work. Nevertheless, the trade-off will be that we ensure that consistency.

  Q567  Jeff Ennis: One final question, Chairman. It is not really relevant to the sustainability issue, but I notice that you have got five secondary schools and two special schools involved in the BSF programme in Nottingham, according to our brief. Did you consider the possibility of having a joint campus between a secondary school and a special school like the Darlington Education Village-type scenario?

  Mr Archer: We actually have and are developing one. It is not going to be quite the same mode as Darlington, but we have a campus where a brand new special school is going to be created from the closure of two highly successful special schools already, to create a centre of excellence which will sit side by side with our full service extended school, which is to be heavily refurbished, but will also sit on the site of a primary school, also sit on the same campus as the local tartan running track and the sports centre and the proposed new competition-standard swimming pool. So, what we are aiming for is a campus of some magnitude here.

  Q568  Helen Jones: Caroline, do you think that we are perhaps missing a major opportunity here to rethink the way that education is delivered? It was interesting, you said earlier that practitioners find it difficult to do that because of time, but, surely, if you are a major practitioner in education, that ought to be one of your major concerns? Why is that being missed, in your view, if it is, and what can we do about it?

  Ms Morland: I think there are a lot of debates going on in the education community about new models for learning, and so on. I think there is a challenge. I suppose my personal experience is heavily emphasised on the capital programmes, and the prioritising of spending for the capital programmes tends to be in highly deprived areas and in schools that need their attainment and achievement improved. So, you are dealing with stakeholders who are currently managing quite significant operational challenges and, therefore, they have less time.

  Q569  Helen Jones: Or in some cases not managing.

  Ms Morland: Exactly, in some cases not managing. So, we are orienting quite a lot of the BSF funding and thinking to a group of people who are dealing with behaviour, dealing with deprivation, dealing with stabilising a school community so they can start accessing the curriculum and achieving and not necessarily targeting some of the capital programmes to more of our innovative schools who are high performers who may have more space in their leadership and mental time to explore new models of learning.

  Q570  Helen Jones: Does the capital programme not give you a major opportunity to tackle those issues? Why are people missing out on the connection is what I am asking.

  Ms Morland: I think the day-to-day practicality of actually having the time to engage in thinking through the vision. Nottingham and all the BSF authorities are going through processes of pulling head teachers together, communities, stakeholder engagement and debating conversations, but actually getting those head teachers away from their day-to-day reality and having the confidence to believe that there is a new way of working that they can deliver on the ground. We can all talk theory, the Chairman mentioned it at the beginning, but it is that genuine belief that they can deliver that theory and it is not going to destabilise what is happening today. That is a lot of the tension in the system from my experience.

  Q571  Helen Jones: Jim, St Francis of Assisi serves a very deprived community. How much did changing the kind of education that was on offer affect your thinking and how did you link that into making the school sustainable in environmental terms?

  Mr Burke: The school was built on the principle of sustainability. We looked at it: how do we build sustainability into the school? Obviously there are opportunities across the curriculum, and we have engaged in major projects involving subjects like DT, geography, science, art, et cetera, which have engaged the children practically. One practical activity they have engaged in is they have designed, costed and produced garden areas around the school—these are our new Academy intake—which was a fantastic learning experience and directly related to the curriculum, and so sustainability is really at the heart of everything we are trying to do. In terms of teaching and learning, clearly again I had time—we keep coming back to this—to look at what the building was about and how we could or how we should change our teaching and learning activities to ensure that we were taking terrific advantage of the building and, at the same time, raising standards. Whilst we have only been open 12 months, I think that all the effort that the staff and governors have put in has proved beneficial. Our results have improved remarkably after just 12 months, and not only have achievements improved but attendance has improved, people's attitudes have improved and exclusions have reduced, and so I feel that we have taken terrific advantage. In addition to that, we have also attracted terrific community support, because again, in terms of sustainability, our resources are there for the use of the whole community. We are open from seven in the morning, when our first pupils arrive, to 10 in the evening and our communities basically use it from five o'clock onwards. All in all, I think the building of a school in that area has had enormous benefits for the whole community.

  Helen Jones: That leads me on to what I want to ask about the building and design of schools. The schools that we are going to build now have got to deliver, not just the kind of education we want now but they have got to be buildings capable of perhaps delivering a vastly changed education in the future. They are also expected, in many cases, to deliver things for the community around them in terms of community facilities and so on. I wonder if any of you can tell me what you know about any best practice involving the community but also what assessment is made of these buildings to see whether they will be fit for purpose, not just now when they are built but at the end of this century?

  Q572  Chairman: Who is going to take that? Caroline, you have looked at the private and the public sector experience, have you not?

  Ms Morland: Yes, we advise on both of those. Starting at the end, how we are checking that they are future-proof. Certainly on a technical level, there is quite a lot of emphasis throughout the BSF process on this and the architects are being challenged. Some of the things that schools are now asking for in their more expert role is: "Show me how that building looks when we open it in September 2009, show me what it will look like in 2013 and show me what it could look like in 2020."

  Q573  Helen Jones: How do you know if it will be fit for purpose if nobody has thought through the educational implications?

  Ms Morland: We are building in choice, so the solutions that are coming out now are more around the plural world, that the building will be fit for multiple ways of doing things with different configurations and different deployment of technology and internal structures. So, we are not backing one horse. We are not saying we can look into a crystal ball and we know what it is going to be like in 15 years' time for that school. What we are saying is it could be this, it could be that and it could be another and this building will be resilient to certain forms of adaptation to enable it to operate irrespective of which model ends up evolving and developing in that community and in that school. I suppose there is a small suite of scenarios that we are genuinely considering, some respond to the smaller schools, school within a school type concept, some respond to the more personalised, more autonomous learner that Kent and Birmingham may be pushing. There are probably four or five scenarios that we test a technical building against rather than 150, but what we are striving for is that we are not making that determination, we are not forcing a single pathway in terms of the infrastructure, and we are enabling the building to move depending on how the educational emphasis goes.

  Helen Jones: When St Francis's was built, as I understand it, in the original model the Academy's sponsor had quite a strong role. I wonder if I could ask Jim how strong a role the sponsor had in driving the designing and whether Chris could tell us what is happening in Nottingham where the whole thing seems to be more integrated. What is the role of the sponsors in Nottingham compared with the role that they would have had in driving the design of St Francis?

  Q574  Chairman: Jim, you are an early Academy, are you not?

  Mr Burke: Yes, we are one of the first 27, I think. Our sponsors had significant influence in the design of the school. As I say, our sponsors are the Catholic Church and the Church of England, and sustainability in the environment and care of the environment were key features of the building; so when they engaged the architects the brief was, "Build me a school with those principles of sustainability at the heart of any design", and that is why they engaged the firm that they did, because the team of architects employed very much met the criteria laid down by the sponsors.

  Q575  Chairman: Who were the architects?

  Mr Burke: Capita Percy Thomas.

  Q576  Chairman: And the builders?

  Mr Burke: Birse.

  Q577  Helen Jones: What about Nottingham?

  Mr Archer: I think this is an area that gives us some anxiety and it is yet really to be tested. The situation currently is that the sponsors are engaged in the visioning process, they have appointed their project management groups, they have got a project manager appointed by the DfES Academies unit to develop all of that. At the same time we are working really hard to ensure that we have got the infrastructure in place to develop the outline business case for what the building will be and what it will look like. We have already got indications of what the funding envelope is, but we have obviously got to turn that into some kind of outline plan, probably up to RIBA Stage B, to hand on to the LEP when it is formed at the end of next year if we are going meet our target of the buildings being completed by September 2009. What gives me anxiety is ensuring that we do not have discontinuity between what the sponsor wants and believes and has an aspiration for and what we can deliver and what meets our fundamental standards and that sustainability will be part of this.

  Q578  Helen Jones: Who are the sponsors?

  Mr Archer: The sponsors who have been declared for the two Academies that are in that feasibility stage, in one case it is the Edge Organisation, which is a charitable organisation, and you are familiar with them; in the other case it is a combination of a private sponsor, David Samworth, and the University of Nottingham, and they are working in concert.

  Q579  Helen Jones: Finally, we have talked a lot about building new schools with the BSF and a lot of schools are being refurbished as well. How do the sustainability issues feed into the refurbishment of schools—perhaps Caroline can answer this—and are people as aware of them when they do refurbishments as they should be?

  Ms Morland: I have sat on a couple of design teams very recently having this conversation, and I think the reality is that expectations on the client side have not understood the impacts of sustainability in terms of refurbishment. What I am hearing from the design teams (and that is obviously their competence, not mine) is that just to upgrade technically a refurbished school to some of the sustainability standards that we want to achieve will take the lion's share, if not 100%, of the funding envelope and will leave almost nothing for re-equipping or re-modelling the actual areas of the school and how they would work. We have got a client out there who thinks they are going to get a refurbished school that will move them towards new ways of working, and actually what they are going to get is window replacement, structural changes, changes to their heating systems which will make the building more sustainable but, to be honest, they will not, or may not, notice in terms of its impact on the actual operation of how that school can work.


 
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