Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600-612)



  Q600  Chairman: Oh, is it? Caroline, what is your view on this?

  Ms Morland: Just a couple of points. I think there are some practical budget issues, particularly around life cycle costing. When the capital budget is controlled by one group and some of the operating costs over the next 25 years are controlled by another group on design and build, the school will pay the insurance premium or the local authority will, and it will come out of a different pot. There are some logistical, financial and practical problems and if you do not make the same people responsible it is quite difficult to make good decision-making around whole life costs.

  Q601  Chairman: Is it not Chris's team's job in any area where there is a Building Schools for the Future project to balance the current capital costs with the long term?

  Ms Morland: Yes, but he will also be constrained by where he gets the money given to him and his capacity to borrow against future savings in order to top up the capital fund even if he knows on paper that it is that.

  Q602  Chairman: If you had had the local authority behind you, Jim, would you have gone for a sprinkler system?

  Mr Burke: We were advised at the time that it was not a requirement and, to be honest, when our school was being costed it was at a time when it looked as though the Academies' budget was getting out of control. I think the advice was that it would have cost an extra 5% on capital cost, or something like that, for a sprinkler system, so it was deemed that we would not have one.

  Ms Morland: To be honest, there is conflicting information coming out from the insurance sector as well about how much they value it and do not value it. It does depend on the overall fire engineering of the building how much difference a sprinkler system makes.

  Chairman: Perhaps we should get an insurance guru to tell us about that. Fiona?

  Q603  Fiona Mactaggart: I was going to ask you, Jim, a question which connects to this, which is you used to run schools, and Cardinal Heenan was the one before the present one; what is the difference in cost of running the building at your present school and the previous schools that you have run?

  Mr Burke: The modelling that was carried out prior to construction indicated that energy costs would make us one of the most efficient secondary schools in the country. We are monitoring that very closely. In fact, Reading University are monitoring energy use costs. The first year of energy use has not been as efficient as the modelling would have indicated, but people tell me that that is normal. The architects reckon that it will take three years before the building settles down so that we can really see excellent energy savings, but certainly the detailed modelling which was carried out would indicate that within two years from now we will be extremely energy efficient.

  Q604  Fiona Mactaggart: But you have not seen it in lower checks yet?

  Mr Burke: Interestingly, the local authority came round two weeks ago and they are comparing us with PFI schools. Our square metreage is 7,800 square metres and we were being compared with schools with 3,000 square metreage and we were using less gas, for example, than they were, so already we have seen some benefits.

  Q605  Chairman: We saw a school down in the West Country that really is energising its students to be involved in the sustainability agenda. They have got an energy group and the head there said once this independent group of students got together—and they have 22 different groups ranging from recycling, a link partnership with an African school in a village in The Congo and so on—all these groups did not really cost anything because, by and large, the energy group itself by turning off lights and being energy conscious saves an enormous amount of money. Do you energise your students?

  Mr Burke: Absolutely. We have eco councils in each year group and we have a school eco council and they are the driving force behind a lot of the energy savings and the waste management. They are involved in a lot of the decision-making and that is how students, as you say, we are trying to prepare consumers of the future, and this has been one mechanism which we have already found to be very beneficial.

  Q606  Chairman: Has anybody from Knowsley been talking to you about their very ambitious programme?

  Mr Burke: Yes, the BSF team from Knowsley have visited us. We have had a few BSF teams.

  Q607  Chairman: They seem to be doing a standard model, are they not, a one-size-fits-all model. Is that right?

  Mr Burke: I am not sure, I could not say.

  Q608  Chairman: We are intending visiting Knowsley.

  Ms Morland: I think they are but, to be honest, Knowsley have got a track record over the last 10 years of consulting heavily at a collective level with all their schools so their standardisation is part of an overall harmonious and collaborative strategy and they are building on that, they have not kept on that for BSF.

  Q609  Chairman: Is there a Lego kind of approach to it?

  Ms Morland: I think there is a lot further we can go in terms of commonalty. As you say, should a school in inner city Liverpool generically be any different from a school in inner city Manchester? I think we do have to recognise that there are different curriculum models and pedagogic styles and there is a policy around diversity and choice, so I think that will drive differences in architecture, but I think it will be around four, five, maybe half a dozen models and you can standardise around that sort of suite. It is never going to be identical but I think we can go a lot further in that direction.

  Q610  Chairman: We are coming to the end of this session and I have one last question, and that is even if you get the BSF, you are all experienced professionals in the sector, outside of Building Schools for the Future or the Academies, is the Government doing enough to raise in school and in local education authorities the question of environmental sustainability?

  Mr Archer: I think that it could figure more largely on the agenda being put forward through Building Schools for the Future and through Partnerships for Schools. I do not think it has figured as strongly in the guidance and the national conferences and so on which you might have expected.

  Mr Burke: It could do more, there is no doubt about it, but it has started. Sustainable Schools is now a major initiative. There is a longitudinal study on sustainability in schools.

  Ms Morland: One thing that I would say that I would view as very positive is almost all the local authorities that we are coming across are very big on economic sustainability for their towns and regions. They are really leading and pushing that agenda and it is coming back through into the supply chain that they are looking for local employment, local sourcing. They want the retention of the BSF funding in their cities and regions and they want that to be a multiplier effect, so they are very much looking at the learning agenda and the employment agenda and BSF is a big pump prime for that, and I would sponsor that and advocate that as a good idea.

  Q611  Chairman: It is linked to their regeneration agenda.

  Ms Morland: Big time.

  Q612  Chairman: If you were going to give this Committee something that you wanted to be in our report, and if we missed it out it would be not such a good report, what should we have in that is close to your heart?

  Mr Burke: Having been through the process where I have had time to work with the architects to understand the whole issue of sustainability, I would have said time for heads and colleagues who are involved in the BSF project to really get their heads around sustainability and the implications of it.

  Mr Archer: I would build on that and say can you also reflect the tension between the expectation and the excitement generated in communities for BSF with the need for that planning cycle. You heard earlier on that these things are having to happen very quickly, therefore there is not time and I do recognise that that is a problem for us. Equally, if the whole timeframe for BSF is so protracted, that excitement and that community engagement withers because they do not believe it is ever going to happen, so we have got to balance speed with that sort of planning.

  Ms Morland: I think it is echoing my last point, it is putting the context of Sustainable Communities into this, that schools are engines for skills and cultural and economic growth for communities. It is not all about energy, it is not all about resources; it is about people as well and it has got to have that balance.

  Chairman: That is a very good note on which to end. Caroline, Chris, Jim, thank you very much for your attendance, it has been most useful. We will swing by your school if you are not careful!

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Prepared 9 August 2007