BSF04: Joint memorandum submitted by Teacher Support Network and British Council for Schools Environments (BCSE)

 

Executive summary

 

Teacher Support Network and the British Council for School Environments believe that there is an urgent need to improve school facilities. Our joint survey last year revealed a number of widespread problems in existing school buildings.

There is a strong link between school facilities and pupil performance. For example, school facilities, teacher wellbeing and pupil performance all interrelate.

In a roundtable meeting with key stakeholders held last month, a number of key client and supply side problems were identified that must be addressed if Building Schools for the Future is to be a success.

We believe that further reduction of the sample schemes and more time for the design stage will help to ensure that architects are not overburdened.

We also believe that the remaining stages of the Building Schools for the Future programme will be a greater success if teachers are given support to free up time for active involvement in the process, in part by the establishment of a network of local advisers who can act as a bridge between schools, architects, building companies, local authorities and national government.

 

About Teacher Support Network

 

1. Teacher Support Network provide practical, emotional and financial support to teachers throughout the UK. Our team of qualified coaches, advisers and counsellors run a free confidential support service on the phone and online, which is available to any training, serving or retired teacher at any time, 365 days of the year. Previously known as the Teachers' Benevolent Fund, we also provide financial support to teachers in need. The last decade in our 131 year history has seen our reach expand five-fold; now serving teachers almost 100,000 times a year.

 

2. In addition to these responsive services, we also carry out a plethora of proactive work to improve the health and wellbeing of teachers. Analysis of our service usage gives us a clear indication of the problems that teachers currently face. We will then run appropriate surveys and campaigns to investigate a problem further, raise awareness and alleviate problems troubling teachers. We have also established a sister social enterprise company - Worklife Support - which runs the National Wellbeing Programme; designed to improve the wellbeing of the whole school community.

 

About BCSE

 

3. The British Council for School Environments is a membership organisation made up of schools, local authorities, construction companies, architects and all those involved in and concerned about designing excellent learning environments.

 

4. This new organisation is a forum for the exchange of good practice, research, dialogue and advocacy, supporting organisations from across the private and public sectors to understand each other's needs. The members range from global leaders in construction and design to primary and secondary schools.

 

The need for better school buildings

 

5. There is an urgent need to improve school facilities in the interests of pupils, school staff and the wider school community. In a joint survey on school environments that we conducted last year, just 12% of the teachers who responded said that their school building provided an effective learning environment. Out of the 530 respondents, 87% believed that school environments influence pupil behaviour and 60% also said that their school didn't have an adjustable environment to support curriculum delivery. Common causes of complaint were poor temperature control, inadequate facilities for PPA, and outdated layout and equipment. Our full report on the survey is enclosed for your information.

 

6. The survey results clearly show a strong link - directly and indirectly via teachers - between school facilities and pupil performance. Firstly, poor facilities such as inadequate temperature control make it harder for pupils to concentrate and learn; damaging pupil performance directly. Secondly, poor facilities are also restricting teachers. Restricted teaching means that pupils get a poorer education; leading to poorer pupil performance.

 

7. We are also sure that these effects are impacting on teacher wellbeing. For example, we believe that poor acoustics make it difficult for teachers to communicate with their pupils; hindering their efforts to teach and harming their confidence in their own ability. This would be another worrying impact of bad school buildings. Research conducted last year by Birkbeck College and Worklife Support provided clear evidence of the link between teacher wellbeing and pupil performance. A report on this research is also enclosed for your information.

 

8. All of these findings suggest that the majority of school facilities need to be improved urgently. In this respect, we welcome the Government's efforts to speed up the Building Schools for the Future programme. However, we also have a number of concerns about the programme, both from the client and supply sides.

 

9. These concerns were discussed at a roundtable meeting on Building Schools for the Future, which Teacher Support Network and BCSE hosted in June 2008. Key stakeholders, including teaching unions, architects, and the DCSF, were all in attendance. The attendees identified a number of problems with the Building Schools for the Future programme that need to be addressed if the planned acceleration and streamlining is to be a success.

 

 

 

Problems on the supply side; architects and sources of financial or community support

 

10. Architects involved in Building Schools for the Future said that the demands during the procurement process were too great. One said that they felt "bruised by the process"; saying that at one point, they even had to design seven schools in just 14 weeks.

 

11. As a result, they said that this time pressure was having a negative impact on the quality of school designs. They wanted to take time to explain all the possibilities of new buildings to teachers, but felt rushed into producing quicker, less ambitious designs.

 

12. Architects also felt that their designs lacked input from teachers and the wider school community. In their experience, better engagement in the design process would lead to better buildings, but teachers generally had little time to develop and share their design ideas. In consultation, teachers often seemed to think about how to improve their existing building, rather than develop a vision of their ideal school building. One contributor said: "unless you get quality engagement, you'll never get a quality end product."

 

13. Architects also added that the aims of the Building Schools for the Future programme were potentially unrealistic, given the information and funds available. They felt that they were expected to design school buildings that could successfully support learning for the next 25 years, but the information needed to do this was not (and could not realistically be) available. They pointed out that it was impossible to guarantee that a new building would accommodate the many possible demographic and technological changes in such a long period. Likewise, one contributor said that it was not possible to design a climate control system to fully accommodate possible climate change within current budgets.

 

14. Finally, a public body representative from the creative industries added that many schools in the Building Schools for the Future programme were failing to use other available resources to make their new building as beneficial as possible to their communities. The body had tried to establish stakeholder groups for school communities, but teachers did not have time to attend. As a result, schools missed out on opportunities for extra funding and their building plans were not co-ordinated with other work in the area; harming the school and the community as a whole.

 

Problems on the client side; teachers, pupils and the overall school community

 

15. The roundtable forum showed that teachers have too little time and resources to input effectively into the Building Schools for the Future procurement process. Representatives from trade unions and other teaching organisations said that the everyday pressures on teachers are great, and that teachers do not receive the extra support necessary to cater for the demands of creating and moving to a new building. Reflecting the earlier point, architects commented that Headteachers were clearly very busy and did not seem to be able to devote the necessary time to the design process. Lack of engagement or enthusiasm by Headteachers would inevitably influence the quality of, and opportunities for contributions by other teachers and the rest of the school community. All of this helped to explain why contributions from teachers could be narrow and lacking in vision. Likewise, time pressure helped to explain why teachers had not extended consultation to the local community and capitalised on public body and other local initiatives.

 

16. Architects also said that it was understandable that teachers were not offering a design vision for the school, because they had very little or no experience of similar projects. The experiences of other teachers involved in the programme were not being disseminated, meaning that the new buildings were not reaping any best practice benefits.

 

17. Mirroring their own complaint about the expectations of the Building Schools for the Future programme, architects added that teachers were under unfair pressure to make long-term decisions without long-term information. Even short-term demographic and technological forecasts (e.g. plans to make new kinds of ICT equipment available to schools) were not available for consideration. We would imagine that it is even harder to make such forecasts in a period of such change for schools, which will include the raising of the participation age for education and training to 18 and the introduction of 14-19 Diplomas.

 

18. As a result of the three above client-side pressures, architects said that new school buildings were at risk of lacking a sense of ownership and pride. They argued that, without true involvement in the design process by teachers, pupils and the neighbouring community, people would not feel attached to a building that should be a source of pride in any area. They also observed that teachers were invariably asking for 'flexibility' as a result of the above-mentioned time and information constraints, meaning that the end product would lack personalisation, identity and purpose.

 

19. Finally, attendees said that there was a danger that, as a result of the above client-side factors, schools in need of new buildings may choose not to apply to be a sample scheme on the Building Schools for the Future programme. They could feel that the programme would be too much of a burden to the school in the short term, or they may simply not have time to put their case forward for funding.

 

Recommendations

 

20. The aforementioned problems with the Building Schools for the Future programme must be addressed if the planned acceleration and streamlining is to be a success. We would like to see far greater interaction between architects and teachers throughout the process, from project scoping to the official school opening.

 

21. Steps must be taken to ensure that architects are not overburdened. The procurement process must give greater consideration to the aggregate workload and costs of bidders and be wary of the negative impact that this can have on the end product. Further reduction of the sample schemes and more time for the design stage are two options to consider.

 

22. It is clear that teachers are lacking the time and information necessary to make the most of the opportunity provided by the Building Schools for the Future programme. It is right that teachers are involved in the process, but they must be given the resources needed to make the best contribution possible. There should be a network of local advisers, similar to and working with the Extended schools support service, who can act as a bridge between schools, architects, building companies, local authorities and national government. Teachers should also be given support to free up time for active involvement in the process. These recommendations could play a key role in ensuring that the remaining stages of the Building Schools for the Future programme are a success.

 

July 2008