Memorandum submitted by Caroline Morland, Edunova Ltd.

Why schools should collaborate through BSF?

Through Building Schools for the Future, we are currently being presented with an opportunity to rebuild and invest in appropriate buildings, furniture, equipment and technologies that has not occurred since the philanthropic investment of the Victorian. The intent is to rebuild, remodel or refurbish the entire schools estate, surpassing the post war and 1970s investments. There is a general consensus that the investment in new schools of the 1950s and 1970s has not proved to be high quality design from either an aesthetic, build quality or functional design perspective.

So how do we ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the recent past? And how do we create facilities that inspire young people and communities, are comfortable and effective learning and teaching environments and are of sufficient quality and robustness to leave a lasting legacy to future generations. At the core of the current approach to investment and design is a collaboration between school based practitioners and architects and designers. The belief being that it is the creative partnership between educational professionals and technically expert designers (both of buildings and ICT solutions) that will lead to high quality learning environments in all senses of the word.

This approach, as described generically, would be hard to argue with. However having worked on a number of Building Schools for the Future projects both as a advisor to schools and Authorities and as a advisor to the private sector consortiums, the practice of this approach on the ground seems to have some flaws.

In some cases an undue amount of influence is given to an individual or small number of vocal educational practitioners, with strong, sometimes valid, but frequently very specific views on the organisation and delivery of education. As such the designs for the future school lock this particular view of educational delivery into the infrastructure for the long term future of the environment, imposing a very constrained legacy on subsequent leaders, teachers and learners inheriting this facility.

In other cases, where influence is dispersed to large numbers of stakeholders, the resources required to participate in the visioning, specification of requirement and procurement of a partner can be prodigious. Time involved in consultation, workshops and meetings takes away time and attention from the day to day job of running a school and is therefore distracting time from school leadership, management and improvement. Schools involved in Building Schools for the Future investment programmes are frequently in challenging urban contexts. Where there is good performance it is hard won and often fragile, and many schools are struggling against poor performance. These are schools least able to divert time to non urgent activities. Anecdotal evidence from one of the BSF schemes indicates that a single school as dedicated over 3000 person hours to the BSF visioning, design and procurement processes

 

The unintended consequence - where investment can lead to reduced performance

Major school reorganisations while they involve significant investment in both infrastructure and consultation, generally lead to reduced performance during the process and recovery to prior performance levels can take a number of years to achieve.

Staff turnover tends to increase during a process of capital build. This turnover can strike at all staffing levels including leadership. While many heads survive the design and construction process, they frequently feel burned out by the process and move on soon after.

 

To engage or not engage? That is the question

If balanced and broad based consultation leads to a drain on resources, and if limited targeted consultation leads to a narrow and skewed views should the BSF programme promote engagement at all. Would it not be better to develop a range of "expert" professionals who through research, controlled innovation and targeted review and evaluation develop deep expertise in the discipline of school design. After all we don't expect motorists to participate in the design of their cars, we don't ask shoppers to design their shopping centres or pilots and passengers to design airports so why do we consult with teachers, student and community around the design of their schools?

2 good reasons for engaging practitioners and learners in the design of a new school.

As yet there does not appear to be a sufficient body of design professionals who are expert in the design of school environments. There are few, if any, exemplar schools in existence that solve for all the desires and requirements of 21st century learning environments. We do have examples of excellent sustainability aspects within schemes, we have examples of excellent specialist facilities (sports, science, performance areas), we even have examples of schools with excellent community and extended school facilities. Internationally we have examples of environments that promote independent learning, environments that reflect different learning styles and student preferences. However we do not have a single example where all these elements come together in a single flexible, adaptable, functional, affordable and beautiful solution. We are still in the process of innovating and creating new and better design solutions. Therefore the combined skills of designers, practitioners and learners are still needed to solve the problem. Engagement and participation in some sense is unavoidable, research needs to be applied research involving those who will learn and teach with the facilities.

Transformation of educational outcomes requires a transformation of behaviours and attitudes, which will require a change in processes and classroom practices, which is likely to change structures, scheduling and organisation within schools. The "new" infrastructure needs to respond to the "new" ways of working and learning. The design process has the potential to instigate and support these process and behaviour changes.

The process of envisioning a new school allows people to explore new ideas, identify and debate new ways of working and learning, to identify the potential benefits of these changes and the required steps and efforts to make the change happen. It is this thinking and planning process that is the first step in realise both school wide and personal changes in behaviours and activities. It is the process of design, induction and occupation of new facilities, as much as the facilities themselves, that has the capacity to deliver changes in performance and outcomes.

So if engagement is essential if we are ever going to come close to designing the exemplar schools for the future, and if participation in the design process has the potential to deliver system wide benefits in terms of changing people's attitudes, behaviours and practices, the question becomes...........

How do we engage people effectively and affordably in the process of design, without distracting from the day to day leadership, management and operation of a school?

One solution is to provide additional resources to support the system through the transformation phases. Back fill for teaching staff, school leaders and LA officers engaged in the design and BSF processes. However central Government funding has not been forthcoming to subsidise the efforts required to plan, develop and manage the delivery of the capital programme. Local Authorities are required to divert funds from other activities, schools are asked to absorb within their existing resources the time required to participate (or LAs provide some additional cover funding to help manage these activities).

Depending on your degree of cynicism and perception of national policy this can be viewed in a number of ways:

The Government wish to stimulate the community, voluntary and private sectors to take ownership of defining their vision for future school and to engage in the debate

Central Government want to stimulate "joined up thinking" at a local Authority level, in effective forcing LAs to manage BSF within other strategic programmes for educational and community transformation

Encouraging collaboration at a school level in order to reduce the resource burden on any one school

To encourage a debate at local level regarding the trade off of capital investment verse spending on intangible training and change support activities

Some additional resources are being provided in kind, in the form of free access to advisory support from central procurement agencies such as P4S and 4Ps and some support from DfES capital project units, CABE and other Voluntary Sector organisations. Although in many cases this support can be interpreted as evaluation and assessment rather then advice and guidance.

An alternative or addative approach is to minimise the burden of the consultation process by delegating responsibility to a centralised decision making group, acting on behalf of schools and communities. This group would be made up of a small number of individuals with appropriate expertise and knowledge of Children's Services, local and community needs and technical design.

The benefits of this approach are that it: minimises the time burden on operational functions of schools and LEA; draws on informed and experienced individuals with a balanced and representative understanding of the processes and local need; and it engages deep technical skills.

The risks or disadvantages of this approach are the lack of broad based involvement, this can causes fear and mistrust in stakeholders; reduce the feeling of shared accountability among the operational leaders and managers; and significant local differences and needs may be missed.

This strategy is being used both successfully and unsuccessfully across a number of BSF programmes. It is most likely to work where there is an established culture of collaborative practice and delegated responsibility among a group of schools; where the process is supported by good communications processes; and where a broader base of stakeholders can engage and provide input on an ad hoc basis around elements they feel strongly about.

The third type of approach would be to "chose an off the shelf" design. BSF authorities could adopt an exemplar solutions based on prior schemes and proven designs. In reality this approach will involve adapting standard designs, and or having a constrained choice of "components" from which to build a design. The "first" attempt to promote this approach through the DfES Exemplar Designs appears to have taken a slightly different route. The Exemplars are generally considered to be informative examples of certain leading edge educational and or technical design principles, while not being replicable in terms of lifting the whole design solution. There appears to be significant resistance to the "standardised" approach from both the architectural and the educational community.

The benefits of this approach are the cost efficiency of "reusing" standard designs; the proven nature of the technical solution; and the robustness of the functional performance. The risks are that the "standard" solution does not meet all needs and the process doesn't engage or involve the stakeholders. I would suggest the optimum route in this vein is analogous to the "mass customisation" movement in manufacturing - where component design and production are standardised but assembly and configuration are highly customised i.e. schools can chose from a limited menu of science clusters. This approach has more benefits on new build schemes rather than remodelling projects.

Ultimately if we believe that participation is essential for ensuring functional and motivational design of school and community facilities, then we need to develop processes that draw on the benefits of all of the approaches described above. We need to engage wide participation by stakeholders. But the activity needs to be focused and valuable, giving tangible examples of design solutions and practical scenarios that will feed debate and allow rapid decision making within realistic financial and technical constraints.

For the system to invest adequate time and resources into giving students, staff, community and the diverse range of service practitioners involved in the Every Child Matters and Community Regeneration agendas a genuine voice in the Building Schools (and Communities) for the Future the process needs to "kill more than 1 bird with the same stone". Engaging in the visioning, requirements, design and execution processes must also contribute to the school improvement and transformation agenda - specification of the requirements for buildings and ICT become the bi-product of a wider process of people, process and organisation change. The participation process becomes a collective approach to Imagineering the future of how our communities and community services will work. Schools are a component of this Community future but this investment needs to impact in the widest possible agenda.

Some Tips to Manage the Resource Requirement

Freeing up Capacity within the existing system needs an informed and disciplined approach. Authorities and schools need to find the time from somewhere to engage in workshops, discussion and design sessions. Informed decision making with respect to how and where "spare" time can be created needs data on how time is currently deployed and where efficiencies can be made. This data on how staff deploy time can then be analysed staff can compare differences between departments and between schools and share ideas on how to be more efficient. Examples of where time can be saved might include shared planning and preparation of common curriculum resources within departments and or between schools; use of automatic electronic marking for elements of assessment; use of digital resources to support cover provision within libraries and learning recourse centres. Strategies for releasing time must be identified and implemented BEFORE the BSF process is initiated

The Voluntary Sector is active in the Design and Community Engagement areas. Organisations such as School Works, CABE Education, the Design Council and RIBA are all making tools and resources available to schools and Authorities for free. Many of these tools can be embedded into curriculum related activities - therefore contributing to rather than distracting from the learning and teaching agenda.

Some innovative Private Sector organisations are promoting the use of collaboration to make processes more efficient - For example Blue Amber are organising shared market testing days. Rather than individual Local Authorities organising presentations to potential bidders for their BSF schemes; 4 or more Authorities share a single event and bidders circulate between Authorities giving feedback on the Visions and structure of the package or requirements.

 

 

We do not currently seem to have a consensus as to the key ingredients and successful actualisation of a School for the Future. I therefore believe we need to continue to engage a range of voices in the design process in order to develop an appropriate solution. Design of schools should start with the questions "What do we want our communities to be?", "What do we want our children and young people to be?" "How do we want to promote and provide support services within our communities?". The answers from the educational profession generally focus on "young people and communities should have hope, high aspirations and self belief", "communities should be tolerant, curious and supportive", "young people should be skilled in communications and collaboration skills", "communities should be entrepreneurial, hard working and resilient". Generally parents, communities, employers and public agencies all agree. Where we need to invest the effort is rethinking how the activities and services needed to deliver these come together to create this future and last of all what are the facilities that we need to support this vision.

October 2006