BSF06: Memorandum submitted by Learning through Landscapes

 

1 Summary

 

i. LTL has demonstrated that school grounds can contribute to the transformation of young people's experience of education that BSF seeks to achieve

ii. There is a lack of new build schools that demonstrate good practice in school grounds

iii. Nine out of the ten authorities visited in an LTL survey did not include grounds in their educational vision or seek to ensure their BSF investment delivered outdoor spaces that would inspire learning

iv. Most surveyed authorities had considered the importance of their grounds for sport and social spaces, but only 10% had considered their grounds to be potential learning environments

v. The design assessment approach does not tackle the inadequacies of new school designs in relation to learning, social activity and play in the school grounds

vi. Local authorities felt that PfS guidance and processes do not make explicit reference to external spaces unless it is in relation to sport and PE. They thus felt that investment in outdoor spaces was not a priority

vii. Generally neither schools not local authorities were proactively engaging with transformative educational opportunities in the grounds (63% of the school estate), both were waiting for the subject to be raised elsewhere and nothing was moved forward

viii. Landscape architects are not brought into the procurement process in time for them to ensure that the new schools can make a real asset of their grounds. In addition there was little knowledge of the specialist support and expertise of schools grounds organisations such as Learning through Landscapes

 

 

 

2 Background to Learning through Landscapes

 

Learning through Landscapes helps schools and early years settings make the most of their outdoor spaces for play and learning.

What we do

We believe all children have the right to enjoy and benefit from well designed, managed and used school grounds. LTL undertakes research, gives advice, encourages action and supports all those who care about making the most of these vital spaces.

 

Where possible we encourage young people to have a say in the way their grounds are used and improved. As a result they learn to create and look after something valuable; their self-esteem grows and their behaviour improves, along with their potential to learn and achieve.

 

We work with and through central and local government, with other charities and businesses, and run a number of programmes for school communities and early years settings throughout the UK.

Why do we do it

Young people who do not have access to decent school grounds get a poor start in life. Many children have few opportunities to learn and play outdoors. Good school grounds encourage healthy exercise, creative play, making friends, learning through doing and getting in touch with the natural world. Without the work of LTL, many children could miss out on a chance to be healthy and happy in their formative years and to gather the experiences they need to be healthy and successful adults.

 

Our surveys of schools who have improved their grounds demonstrate the benefits:

 

 65% reported an improved attitude to learning

 73% said behaviour had improved

 64% reported reduced bullying

 84% reported improved social interaction

 85% said that healthy active play had increased.

 

School grounds can play a significant role in the delivery of Every Child Matters. ECM sets out five outcomes for the delivery of services to children: be healthy, safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well being. LTL has demonstrated that school grounds provide safe stimulating environments where children and young people can learn, explore, play and grow. They can help to raise achievements and self esteem, improve behaviour and health, and help children and young people to develop a wide range of skills.

Who do we do it for and with

Our ultimate beneficiaries are young people, though we usually work through and with those adults involved in using and developing school grounds.

 

 

3 LTL's Involvement in Building Schools for the Future

 

Since being established in 1990, LTL has worked directly with over 10,000 schools, raised over 20 million for grounds improvement, contributed substantially to school grounds research and to new legislation and good practice. During this time we have developed tools and techniques that support sustainable, participative and holistic design and use.

 

Based on this experience LTL has developed a considerable track record in supporting the integration of school grounds into the design and development of new schools through BSF and similar programmes:

 

1 LTL contributed the specific DQI's for Schools that set out the role of school grounds in serving the full curriculum needs of pupils. These are instrumental in setting design standards as required by DCSF and PfS. CABE design criteria also require new designs to make 'an asset of the outdoor spaces'.

2 LTL was commissioned by the DfES to write the Exemplar Design Guide for School Grounds as part of the Building Schools for the Future suite of publications. This was launched in October 2006 and has generated a great deal of interest from local authorities.

3 LTL is a member of the Schools Design Advisory Council and the Primary Capital Programme Advisory Group. These aim to help shape school design, for the capital investment programmes that have a direct impact on the learning and development of children and young people. As a team member of the Faraday Project, LTL worked with designers, educationalists and schools to develop innovative approaches to science learning in the outdoor classroom.

4 LTL is a contributer to the NCSL training for school leaders taking part in the BSF process.

 

In 2007/8 LTL was commissioned by the DCSF and CABE to carry out an investigation into the role of school grounds within the capital programme. The work was in several parts:

1 A search for examples of good practice in new build schools

2 A survey of the position of school grounds within the strategies and implementation plans of a sample of BSF authorities (Wave 1 - Wave 5)

3 Observation of the Schools Design Assessment Panel

4 Analysis of the guidance document issued to authorities by Partnership for Schools

 

The findings of this survey suggest that the 'education transformation process' made possible by Building Schools for the Future is often neglecting or overriding the opportunities to develop the school grounds:

1 There is a lack of new build schools that demonstrate good practice

2 Nine out of the ten authorities surveyed did not include grounds in their educational vision or seek to ensure their BSF investment delivered outdoor spaces that would inspire learning and development.

3 The design assessment approach did not tackle the inadequacies of new school designs in relation to learning, social activity and play in the school grounds

4 The PfS guidance and processes were not seen to make explicit reference to external spaces

 

A summary of these findings and draft recommendations are included at Annex 1.

 

This submission draws on LTL's track record and findings in our recent survey in response to the issues raised by the committee.

 

 

 

4 How the experience of those in the early waves is being disseminated

a) Our survey identified that nine out of the ten authorities surveyed did not include grounds in their educational vision or seek to ensure their BSF investment delivered outdoor spaces that would inspire learning and development.

b) Our survey looked at BSF authorities in Waves 1 to 5, but authorities in the later waves were unaware of the problems around the grounds that were emerging from the wave one projects.

c) There is a lack of new build schools that demonstrate good practice

 

 

5 How the visioning process is being developed.

a) Initial findings from the survey show that in relation to grounds the issues considered during the visioning stage were site security and sport. Car parking was also mentioned as a concern. Nine out of ten authorities didn't consider learning outdoors at the visioning stage, experience suggests that if this is not built in from the very outset it will be neglected at later stages.

b) Where possible schools should be invited to develop their strategic vision as early as possible so as to ensure their evolving vision influences, and is influenced by, the wider authority's vision. This will secure clarity about what BSF can and will achieve for their school, but will need resources and support.

 

6 How the procurement process is working

a) Landscape architects have a valuable role in ensuring that the whole site, grounds as well as buildings, make the most of what is available. There should be a commitment to involve Landscape Architects from the start and throughout the process.

b) One (out of ten) authorities surveyed had proposed to write a brief defining the expectations of a Landscape Architect. There was no guidance available to them to do this. A clear brief for the Landscape Architect should be a requirement of the procurement process.

c) Use of specialist school grounds organisations such as Learning through Landscapes should be integral to the procurement process.

 

 

7 How personalisation and other educational strategies are guiding the design of new schools.

a) There have been a number of developments in government policy that justify positive investment in school grounds, including the Manifesto for Learning Outside the Classroom, launched November 2006; the Sustainable Schools Strategy, and Action Plan for the DfES launched March 2007, Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives, launched January 2008; the Draft Play Strategy currently under consultation, and numerous developments in the curriculum including the Personalisation Agenda, Secondary Curriculum Review, 14-19 Education and Skills Programme and the forthcoming diplomas.

 

b) The whole school site, buildings and grounds are important vehicles to ensure these policy developments contribute to the educational, health and social development of children. For example, the Manifesto for Learning Outside the Classroom states that school grounds are, 'rich multi-faceted learning resources on the doorstep. They offer excellent opportunities for both formal and informal learning and play.' It has been estimated that over 80% of learning outside the classroom takes place in the school grounds. Within the Sustainable Schools Framework, grounds can support all 8 gateways - food and energy, as well as health and transport - as a vehicle for delivering the curriculum, supporting a sustainable campus and as a bridge to the local community. The obesity strategy focuses on actions to help schools foster healthy lifestyles at school including food, sport and healthy activity, and grounds play a key role ranging from the promotion of food growing to the provision of outdoor play and social space. The Fair Play consultation on the Play Strategy emphasises the importance outdoor play in schools for all age groups.

 

c) Despite these drivers, LTL's findings were:

1 Learning outside the classroom - over 80% of learning outside the classroom takes place in the school grounds, yet nine out of ten authorities surveyed had no plans to integrate this into their vision or implementation of BSF. This is a wasted opportunity, especially as school grounds are on the doorstep and LOTC can take place every day. Learning outside the classroom was not mentioned by any surveyed schools.

2 Sustainable schools - schools and authorities surveyed had a very limited understanding of the breadth of opportunities that grounds can support within the sustainable schools framework. There was no evidence it is being integrated into BSF. Sustainable Schools was only mentioned by one school in our research cohort.

3 14 - 19 agenda and diploma. A couple of the BSF Authorities in the survey demonstrated some awareness that this could be delivered in school grounds. However the Wave 1 authorities had not included plans for implementation even where their building programmes were very advanced.

4 Safe routes to schools / green travel plans - the project found some evidence that these are being integrated eg bike racks, funding to improve road safety in the immediate environment of the school.

 

d) BSF aims to transform young people's experience of education; maximising the value of the school grounds is a key element of this transformation. Young people are intensely curious and should be given the opportunity to engage with the world around them, learning and activity in the school grounds are ideal vehicles for this more experiential approach.

 

e) Local authorities identified significant barriers (real or perceived) to considering the external landscape:

1 lack of positive vision about what exterior spaces can achieve

2 not required by the Strategy for Change and PfS guidelines

3 affordability and competing priorities

4 the speed of the process doesn't allow time for non priority issues (ie landscape)

5 landscape would not be respected by secondary students

6 there are no obvious curriculum requirements

7 teachers do not understand what is possible from both buildings and grounds

8 the landscape would be not valued by the school as a whole, with consequences for maintenance

 

f) Underlying these barriers is a message that investing in the school grounds for learning is not a priority. LTL understands this is not the intention behind BSF, and proposes that the DCSF makes explicit statements about the value of investment in school grounds to ensure future waves are encouraged to take a positive approach.

 

 

8 ICT

a) In discussions with BSF authorities in the survey one or two in the later waves mentioned a role for ICT beyond the building itself. However this was in general terms and there was no evidence that key issues such as access to power supplies outdoors, visibility of screens, security of children when using the equipment, are being considered.

 

 

9 Acceleration of process

a) The speed of the process was frequently raised as an obstacle to positive investment in school grounds. If the process is accelerated it must not be used as an excuse to spend even less time on integrating the grounds into educational transformation

b) The current process already raises issues for schools who would wish to involve their wider communities, this takes time and shouldn't be compromised by an acceleration of the process

 


Key Findings from the BSF Survey Annex 1

 

LTL was commissioned by DCSF to work with CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), on the role of school grounds in the Building Schools for the Future investment programme.

 

The work was in four parts:

 

 Developing 10 exemplar case studies of secondary schools (in England, Scotland or Europe) that demonstrate a 'whole campus approach' ie not concentrating on buildings and treating the grounds as a backdrop, but approaching the whole site to create accessible and useful learning environments across the whole campus - indoors and outdoors. LTL developed a set of criteria against which case studies could be assessed, and launched a nationwide search to ensure we located the best potential examples of good practice.

 Interviewing 10 local authorities that are going through the Building Schools for the Future process. The aim of the 'diagnostic' interviews was establish the level of focus on the outside spaces at each stage of the BSF process, from visioning and strategic planning, through to selecting the contractor to build the new schools.

 Analysing the documentation and processes that Local Authorities and Schools follow when implementing BSF. This included looking at the guidance and requirements and making recommendations about how expectations could be raised and the external environment could be made more of an explicit priority

 Observing CABE's new Schools Design Assessment Panel. This expert group was set up by CABE in June 2007 to raise the standard of design within BSF. The panel reviews bidders' proposals for local authorities' sample schools during the competitive stage of BSF, to assess design quality and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each scheme. The assessment reports that CABE then issues help local authorities evaluate design quality, and ultimately inform decisions by the local authority planning committee

 

Summary of key points

 

Case Studies

 

 LTL sought nominations of good practice in new build secondary schools from across the UK and northern Europe, very few (14) were put forward

 The criteria for selection were comprehensive, however, no single school was able to demonstrate an all round example of good practice

 The lack of an all round exemplar may have been a factor of new build schools where the community has not had a chance to properly inhabit and develop their grounds

 We found interesting examples of 'play' for teenagers, particularly at the Danish schools visited, but also at one non-maintained London school.

 The nearest to good practice was the Everest Community College near Basingstoke, though the school had not started to make use of their outside spaces for learning

 

Diagnostic Interviews

 We found a lack of positive vision and negligible aspirations for the contribution of grounds to the transformation of education that BSF aims to achieve.

 Most had considered the importance of their grounds for sports and social spaces, but only one authority (out of a possible ten) had considered their grounds to be potential learning environments.

 All said the interviews introduced them to ideas about the role of school grounds that had not previously been part of their consideration, and expressed an interest in taking things further in the future.

 One out of the ten authorities was beginning to think about performance indicators and a brief for landscape architects.

 All authorities highlighted the lack of specific requirements in the BSF documentation and processes. On the whole neither local authorities nor schools were proactively engaging with transformative educational opportunities in the grounds (63% of the school estate). As a result, both were waiting for the subject to be raised elsewhere, and nothing was moved forward.

Barriers to considering the external landscape were cited as:

 lack of positive vision about what exterior spaces can achieve

 not required by the Strategy for Change and PfS guidelines

 affordability and competing priorities

 the speed of the process doesn't allow time for non priority issues (ie landscape)

 landscape would not be respected by secondary students

 there is no obvious curriculum requirements

 teachers do not understand what is possible from both buildings and grounds

the landscape would be not valued by the school as a whole, with consequences for maintenance

 

BSF Documentation and processes

 Grounds and landscape were implicit within the documentation required of local authorities and schools, but the language of the documentation referred to buildings and failed to mention grounds

 KPI's related largely to buildings, there was an absence of KPI's that could be delivered by good outside spaces (eg health/exercise/obesity, community engagement, extended schools)

 Partnership for Schools (PfS, the agency responsible for the delivery of BSF) has expressed a willingness to work with LTL on making external spaces more explicit in the documentation, and for LTL to train their regional education teams

 

Schools Design Assessment Panel

 All panel members are architects, there has been a proposal to recruit landscape architects to the panel, but this has not yet taken place.

 Panel members expressed understanding of the importance of outside spaces, but didn't demonstrate that this 'understanding' influenced the ranking they gave the sample schemes being reviewed - schemes with very poor grounds weren't given an overall 'poor' ranking.

 Panel members had a detailed appreciation of the effectiveness of the building and internal spaces, but didn't express the same level of understanding of the effectiveness of outside spaces

 The lack of details for the outside spaces made it impossible to judge whether the design made an asset of the grounds.

 

 

Draft Recommendations

 

Only one out the 10 local authorities we visited during the diagnostic pilots consider their grounds to be potential learning environments. This needs to change. Our recommendations below promote both a 'top down' and 'bottom up' approach.

 

The recommendations cover the key organisations, DCSF, PfS, CABE & LTL, and our target audiences, namely Head teachers, LA BSF teams and bidders.

 

To influence: Head teachers & BSF teams

1. Training for Head Teachers and school leadership teams to

1 raise aspiration through an informed understanding of what outside spaces offer

2 give them some using the outdoors to engaging students

2. Training CABE Enablers. LTL has contributed to three seminars for Enablers in the past year, and would like to develop some tailor made training.

3. Case studies will be available on the CABE website

4. Exemplar demonstration projects for 'seeing is believing tours' for authorities and schools.

5. CABE Space/LTL enabling as part of BSF, including presentation developed by CABE & LTL

6. Training for CDA's and Design Champions

7. Publication 10 key design features for excellent school grounds / 10 key points for Learning led Design

8. Develop the Everest school case study - documenting how the school currently uses its grounds, cpd training with staff and monitoring outcomes.

9. SFC 2 section on change management CPD for teachers to include both internal and external accommodation.

10. The whole campus approach should be embedded into new teacher training and cpd.

 

To influence: LA BSF teams

11. All standard documentation should refer to the whole school estate not just the buildings, resources should be applied intelligently to the whole school not just a part of it.

12. It should be clear how schools can be involved in the ongoing maintenance of the grounds and give the external works long term flexibility through the PFI / FM contract with the preferred bidder.

13. The funding model put forward in the OBC appendices should be examined to determine the extent of funding actually available to create school grounds outlined in BB98.

14. BB98 should be revised to embrace the whole site and not just the buildings - links between the external and internal should be encouraged.

15. Facilitation for BSF Teams and school leadership teams to encourage them to work together on pedagogy and design and become 'one client'

16. budgets to be reserved for post occupancy development and maintenance

 

To influence: Consortia

17. KPIs, Output Specs and BB98 to reflect the opportunities for learning throughout the school estate.

18. School Design Panel criteria refined to define what makes good grounds.

19. School Design Panel to include a landscape architect and educational adviser

20. requirement that Landscape Architects are part of the team throughout

 

July 2008