BSF07: Memorandum submitted by British Council for School Environments



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


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 others needs. The members range from global leaders in construction, engineering and design to primary and secondary schools.


1.1. The organisation has most recently:


Hosted study tours to schools in Denmark, Sweden, Stoke, Kent, Leeds and Hampshire

Delivered Training courses

Hosted expert groups on acoustics/ventilation and sustainability

Published materials on teaching and learning and extended schools, Sustainability and learning technologies

Given written and oral evidence to Select Committee on 'Building Schools for the Future and sustainable schools'

Launched BCSE Industry awards

Hosted National School Environments Week 2007 and 2008





2.1. The BCSE and its members continue to celebrate investment in our schools' infrastructure.


2.2. We continue to welcome time spent on looking at the procurement process and key issues as a meaningful way of ensuring that this money is spent wisely. We are also heartened that Partnerships for Schools is working with organisations like the BCSE to hear experience from the frontline.


2.3. Although the targets for Building Schools for the Future (BSF) procured schools have been re-drawn; we are able to see BSF- funded schools in many parts of the country. It is important to note that BSF one school pathfinder projects are able to be designed and built avoiding much of the formal BSF procurement process itself.


2.4. Many private and public sector partners have now been part of the BSF procurement process and are able to share experiences.


2.5. Comments continue to focus on the procurement process of BSF - the 'how', whilst the challenges of the 'what' - transformed schools, are a priority for others. There is widespread agreement that suggestions made to change the procurement process are a step in the right direction. Yet, much work still remains to create a process that truly plays to the strengths of all those involved and does not become merely an end in itself.


2.6. We demand innovation and transformation of our schools as a society without releasing the resources to ensure proper change management within our schools and communities.


2.7. The involvement of teachers and young people often remains a worthy aspiration that is not under-written or made explicit in the procurement process. The meaningful involvement of users remains patchy and could benefit from clear guidelines. The Design Quality Indicators are not in themselves a participation strategy.


2.8. A better informed client and the real ownership of educational transformation by teachers and learners will ensure value for money and the time for proper connections to be made with a wider sustainability agenda, children's services agenda or a community regeneration strategy.


2.9. It is of profound and worrying significance that there is no Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) tied to this investment. We need to be able to give proper user feedback and energy data to those designing, building, engineering and supplying our schools.


2.10. Post Occupancy Evaluation also acts to enshrine the positive aspects of this spending within public policy and Government more widely.


2.11. The BCSE acknowledges the crucial nature of this investment, the vital importance of how it is spent and the ability of all those involved to learn on a national level.


2.12. The BCSE would like to see further national 'test - bed' pathfinder sites in BSF to include such issues as the carbon neutral school, alternative procurement methods and the Future School - exploring new ways of teaching and learning.


2.13. Great schools do not happen by accident.


3.0 The procurement process - We welcome the changes that have already taken place in the BSF process but there still remain concern over the costs, timescales and the lack of involvement of teachers and learners. Often discussion about transformation in education is driven by the procurement process itself rather than what it is you're trying to procure.



3.1. Members of the BCSE continue to raise a number of questions:


i. Does the present process help or hinder the transformation we want?


ii. Is the present process a creative straitjacket that can only ever produce new 'old' schools and is it more 'nanny procurement' which lowers confidence and plays to a risk averse mindset?


iii. Is the present BSF procurement process really the best or only way to help Local Authorities find a partnership that will endure?


iv. Does the process allow enough meaningful time between designer and client?


v. Does it really help integrate those other agendas of extended schools or Every Child Matters?


vi. Key reviews of UK construction from Latham to Egan to 'Modernising Construction' shared key approaches and benchmarks of good practice in procurement and partnering.


vii. Does the present BSF procurement process play to the real strengths of our

design and construction industries?


viii. Does the success of the BSF - funded one school pathfinders indicate a new way forward in procuring BSF?




"...goes well when the school leaders are allowed to be active partners so that they can learn about design and simple things like the importance of colour and fixtures and the balance between function and form."


"How can we help schools to articulate their educational vision and truly understand what potential design had to deliver that vision when they have such limited time and resource to explore and research."


"Architects have the skills and desires to deliver against the transformational agenda being sought. However 12-17 weeks in a competitive bidding process stifles this ambition."


"Not enough time to engage and truly understand (client) requirements."


"This competition doesn't save money; it costs loads and stifles proper engagement."


"Why is the bidding process so expensive and long?"



Participants at Building Better School Summit, London, June 2008













4.0. Design quality - We welcome the positive signs of several initiatives to raise design quality. We are concerned that there does not seem to be clear ownership of the delivery of educational transformation.


4.1. We need to look again at the mandatory Design Quality Indicator (DQI). Is it focused enough on teaching and learning spaces? Is it easily understood in its present form?


4.2. We need to ensure the on-going integrity of effective design in our schools. Consideration should be given to ensuring that design quality and how it relates to creating teaching and learning spaces is given adequate weighting in BSF bids.


4.3. This investment is about transforming educational experiences through quality build and design. The Government should publish a teaching and learning principles 'kit of parts' - as we have seen in the State of Victoria, Australia.


4.4. Good design must serve the needs of our teachers and learners.


5.0. Building Bulletins - We need a new design guide for our schools - freed of contradictions and including up to the minute advice on community use for instance. Bolting on agenda after agenda is not the way to build coherence.


5.1. Government advice needs to be clear and relevant to modern needs. There is real confusion in the school community about the Building Bulletins which on the one hand encourage creative thinking and on the other are seen to set prescriptive ways of thinking.


5.2. Do these guidance bulletins in their present form hinder or help work on the ground?



6.0. Participation of Teachers and Learners - There is a lack of explicit time in the process for proper meaningful stakeholder engagement. We have a patchwork of approaches without an imaginative minimum threshold. The National Audit Office highlights the benefits for business of meeting user needs.


6.1. Building participation of pupils, staff and communities into the heart of the build and design process will help ensure fit for purpose schools and that transformation is shared.


6.2. Proper meaningful stakeholder engagement makes sense for business and for education. We need a mechanism for the participation of teachers and learners that feeds aspirations.


6.3. Young people need a sense of ownership over their lives and communities.


6.4. We need to prevent schools having to talk to multiple bid teams.


6.5. Minimum standards of participation could be a useful guide to clients and suppliers.



7.0. Post Occupancy Evaluation


7.1. There is no schools post occupancy evaluation to clarify what we are doing right or wrong in this massive investment. We have a weak 'learning loop' within this investment which precludes us from knowing what works and what doesn't.


7.2. We need to introduce post occupancy evaluation across all schools investment.




"Who in Government is collecting the research on what is working on completed projects."


"We need to learn more from early projects - what mistakes must we ensure are not repeated?


"Do we know what really improves learning? Are we using this to inform building design?"


"We need proper customer feedback."


"What about some Post Occupancy Evaluation available for all."



Participants at Building Better Schools Summit, London, June 2008







July 2008