BSF10: Memorandum submitted by National Association of Head Teachers
The National Association of Head Teachers is pleased to be able to submit evidence to the Select Committee on the progress of Building Schools for the Future. The Association is well placed to do this in that is serves members across the whole spectrum of education and in all phases. Its membership encompasses nursery, early years, primary, secondary, special and further education and the Association is able to speak with the knowledge and experience that comes from such a wide-ranging membership base.
The development of the project is proceeding fairly rapidly though not always with due thought and attention being given to learning from the previous waves. Where these have gone well, schools and their communities are pleased with the new, up-to-date surroundings in which education is able to take place. Where projects have faltered for some reason, school leaders have experienced enormous frustration in trying to solve what should be minor issues. Relative costs are also a major concern in this period of tighter school budgets.
Members have expressed concerns over the whole visioning process. Some authorities lack the relevant experience and expertise to guide this process effectively. This results in fruitless discussions and frustration for all parties involved. To be told to 'imagine a warehouse, then think what you want in it.' as happened in one case, may evoke some interesting replies, not all of them helpful!
It is also true that many contractors continue to see a building - the school community sees it as a school. Getting beyond this difference of views can be difficult. It means that the whole nature of how a school functions can be overlooked and the practicalities of having pupils in the building are not fully appreciated or catered for.
4. Education Strategies
Government strategies for addressing the need to 'narrow the gap' are not necessarily enhanced by the Building Schools for the Future programme, because of the issue raised in the previous paragraph, namely that of understanding the nature of a school. For example, it is the case that a number of schools who have endeavoured to implement Extended Services have had enormous difficulties locating them in the school. Contractors have charged excessive amounts for the school to use the building for 'additional hours'. Teachers have been told they are not to go into the school premises during school holidays (including the summer break) without a member of the contractor's staff to accompany them. This is patently totally unworkable and displays a lack of understanding of the way that school staff work.
The Association has concerns that the changes to the National Curriculum across the Secondary sector are not necessarily catered for in the current BSF schools. This needs to be addressed as a matter of some urgency. However, it cannot be addressed solely by the schools but can only be dealt with by joint working with the authority, schools and contractors. Addressing some of these issues at the point of drawing up the contract for future BSF waves will hopefully resolve some difficulties.
5. Funding and related issues
There is still an apparent shortfall between the funding that is allocated for BSF schools and the final cost to the authority's and schools' budgets. Although some progress has been made in addressing this matter from the more serious problem of the earlier waves, the problem still remains and needs to be resolved once and for all.
Schools are having to face what is acknowledged to be a tighter budget settlement over the current comprehensive spending review period. For BSF schools this leads to more problems as the cost of any repair or maintenance work is generally considerably more that if the work was carried out by a local contractor known to the school. The length of time that repairs take is also a cause for concern.
Understanding the urgency behind a repair request is not a skill demonstrated by many of the contractors involved in BSF. For example, for toilets to be blocked in a school with a special education unit is difficult, for the response to a request for repair to take five days is totally unacceptable. As the BSF programme runs out into Primary, this sort of delay, and the attitude/lack of understanding that it shows, needs to be corrected.
6. Lessons learnt?
The Association has reason to believe that lessons from the earlier waves are not being learnt fully. Contractors are selling on the contracts, leaving schools exposed. Local authorities are losing the staff with experience of BSF and therefore are unable to offer adequate support to schools as they go through this process. They are also coming under pressure, allegedly, to agree to placing academies in the authority to ensure it moves up the wave order. Again this is unacceptable practice.
While the Association appreciates the work that has gone into the BSF programme already underway, it has major concerns that lessons from the early projects are not being used to inform future planning. The building stock has undoubtedly improved because of the BSF programme. However, the issues that it raises bring more problems for schools and their communities for which no-one appears to have ready answers. More worryingly, it may be the case that no-one has the will to find the solutions.