BSF11: Memorandum submitted by Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)

 

This short paper sets out CABE's response to the committee's follow up to the enquiry on Sustainable Schools and Building Schools for the Future. Before addressing the specific questions, we set out CABE's role and experience in relation to school design.

 

1. CABE was set up by the first Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 1999 with the mission to promote high quality architecture and design within the built environment in England. CABE's vision is of a country that by 2010 will lead Europe in understanding and harnessing the ability of great buildings and spaces to transform neighbourhoods, to generate social value and to sustain economic growth.

 

2. CABE is now jointly funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The sponsorship arrangements are with the DCMS.

3. CABE's enabling programme provides hands-on expert advice to public sector bodies that are procuring new buildings or masterplans, giving strategic advice on how to help get better value from their projects through better design. The advice covers issues such as project vision, client resources, briefing and competitive selection of design and developer teams.

 

4. CABE has been, or is currently involved, in supporting 58 local authorities involved in the Building Schools for the Future programme up to wave 5, with a further 12 wave 6 authorities scheduled to start. We are in discussions with DCSF and PfS to define the best way to assist in future waves.

5. CABE is assessing designs for BSF schools from selected authorities in Waves 1-3 at its Schools Design Panel, and had assessed 89 proposed designs for 35 schools by May 2008. The panel will assess all proposed designs from Wave 4.

 

6. This involvement builds on our work with previous school building programmes, before BSF. Our network of advisers ('enablers') has provided client-side support to 27 PFI 'clusters' between 2000 and 2003. These clusters will eventually build 110 secondary schools, the majority of which are yet to open.

 

 

What we know

 

1. In 2006, CABE completed a comprehensive audit of recently completed (pre-BSF) secondary schools. The audit reviewed 52 completed schools, including PFI schools and those procured through other routes, including City Academies. These were assessed against a standard set of design criteria. The results of the audit, in combination with the results from the Schools Design Panel give CABE a good insight into the rate of progress in schools building.

 

2. Since 2007, CABE has had a direct involvement in the process through assessment of proposed designs, and involvement in the procurement and delivery of new school buildings through its enabling service. CABE has derived significant insight into what works and what doesn't, and has a unique insight into the quality coming through the BSF procurement process.

 

3. While the quality of learning environments and design of proposals add most value to the actual function of school buildings, there can be a lack of emphasis on design quality at the expense of time and budget pressures. There is also a lack of transparency in procurement and formal mechanisms for sharing knowledge, which raises the risk of hampering future ability to learn from current experiences. In addition, there is currently little thought about how to ensure quality in schemes produced after Local Education Partnerships have been formed. This is concerning since these will make up around 80% of the eventual programme.

 

4. A wide spectrum of quality has been evident in the design proposals seen to date, although some schemes have been extremely promising. There are often difficulties in translating reformed methods of teaching and learning into design proposals. While these require flexible buildings and layouts, some approaches can actively inhibit such flexibility. Approaches to achieving sustainable school buildings also often fail to address fundamental issues of site planning and orientation of buildings, instead concentrating on a 'tick box' feature driven approach.

 

5. To adapt to future changes in technology, it is important that school buildings are flexible and adaptable, and not over reliant on mechanical ventilation or other high energy servicing strategies. Similarly, moves towards wireless technology mean that schools risk procuring expensive white elephants should they invest too heavily in hardwired equipment. CABE advises that DCSF should consider how to avoid purchasing up front ICT equipment and software which will become quickly outdated. Instead equipment could be leased from, and maintained by, private sector partners.

 

6. While we welcome the proposals announced in April for waves 7-15 of BSF, it is vital not to lose sight of the fundamental ingredients in procuring excellent and well designed schools. It is important that local authority clients, and schools, are given proper support to manage a complex procedure and translate new teaching and learning methods into visions, briefs and eventual designs. While we welcome linking local regeneration funding with BSF and authorities working in partnership, we would caution that there are practical difficulties involved.

 

7. The fundamental concern for CABE, is that schools procured through BSF should have an excellent standard of design. Public money should not be spent on schools which fall below the standard expected. We believe that the best way to achieve this would be to institute a threshold or benchmark for design quality in BSF.

 

Specific topics raised by the Committee

 

The rate of progress being made bringing projects to the construction stage

 

1. While we accept the imperative of the project timetable, CABE still considers that the paramount concern should be the eventual quality of schools.

 

2. Due to the lengthy nature of such construction projects, it is too early to record any significant difference in the rate of progress since the last committee enquiry in September 2006.

 

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

 

1. We are not currently aware of any formal structure existing to disseminate learning from early waves to authorities in later ones. However the CABE Schools Design Panel in itself represents a form of dissemination of learning, since panel members work in the field of schools design on BSF projects and use their knowledge and experiences in offering advice.

 

2. CABE has long advocated that a formal structure be set up to share best practice in procurement and post occupancy evaluation. In 2006, we noted "It is important that a mechanism is established for systematic learning from early projects to ensure the continuous improvement of those in later waves. This applies to both the buildings themselves and the processes used to realise them"[1]

 

3. Although, with only one new build BSF school currently open, it would be too early to learn a great deal from post occupancy reviews of buildings at present; we feel setting up the structure to share this information would be a step forward. In 2006 we recommended that such reviews should be carried out for every school including an analysis of "user satisfaction, DQI for schools, a quality assessment and a cost analysis"[2]. To that we would also add the measurement of energy use against expected levels. This information could be shared anonymously with PfS and CABE, who could produce and disseminate a summary of lessons learnt at the conclusion of each wave of the BSF programme. Certainly there is scope to learn more from good school buildings procured under other programmes in recent years.

 

4. One area where dissemination could be making a real impact already, is by sharing the experiences of early wave authorities of the procurement process. Unfortunately, this is not routinely the case, and CABE can only think of one example where a previous project is involved in mentoring a current one. Given the skills learnt during the process, not least by head teachers, it is imperative this knowledge is shared. PfS or 4Ps could hold a database of information and contacts for newer authorities to draw on.

 

How is the procurement process working?

 

1. Since there is more than one procurement route in BSF, with some authorities looking for alternatives to the preferred route of Local Education Partnerships, this is not as straightforward as it might be.

 

2. This is perhaps further complicated by the incorporation of the Academies programme into BSF. In CABE's experience of the Schools Design Panel there have been a larger number of well designed Academy schools than those procured through conventional BSF routes. We believe that factors including the differing relationship between the Local Authority client and the architect may be part of the reason for this.

 

3. One area which is concerning is a lack of emphasis on how to ensure design quality in school projects once the Local Education Partnership is formed. This represents around 80% of the eventual programme, and yet contains fewer aids or safeguards. Retaining Client Design Advisors to advise clients on design after the LEP has been formed might help in this regard. The public sector still needs to resource the assurance of design quality properly with a dedicated project manager who can liaise between the schools and the LEP.

 

 

What is the rate of progress on reducing schools' carbon emissions and on achieving zero carbon new buildings?

 

1. While some schemes demonstrate an admirable approach to sustainability and reducing carbon emissions, many proposals do not signal that sustainability has been the key driver for the project. Too often proposals are based around 'sustainable' features, such as bio mass boilers. Such an approach will often be flawed since it only addresses the supply of energy, rather than managing demand for energy or energy efficiency.

 

2. CABE's maintains the view that whether or not a school will be sustainable will largely depend on strategic decisions made early on in the process. These will include where the school is placed, the orientation of the buildings, and the landscape design of school grounds. The orientation of buildings, and site planning, can reduce the need for artificial lighting, air conditioning and other energy intensive features. Renewable energy sources and other such features can then be added where appropriate. Unfortunately, all too often, schools do not address basic fundamentals of sustainable design and instead opt for add-ons of dubious value to justify their sustainability credentials.

 

3. In terms of achieving zero carbon buildings, we would note that since the requirement to build zero carbon buildings does not kick in until 2016, the majority of the schools estate will have already been rebuilt or remodelled by that date on current timetables.

 

4. Regarding BREEAM ratings, the committee should be aware that the assessment includes issues which local authorities must address at the early stages, otherwise it will be very difficult for the contractors to achieve 'excellent'. Some issues, such as infrastructure around the school, will be subject to funding provided by the local authority. Examples of points to be considered in stages A-C by the local authority include the following:

Not more than 75% of the footprint being located on already developed land;

The potential for brown field site development;

Site investigation (for contaminants, soil quality and historic value);

Appointment of an ecologist for site assessment of bio diversity;

The development of a travel plan at feasibility stage;

Transport links to the site - bus stops need to be within 400 metres and have 30 minute frequency of service  between 7.30am and 10.00am, and 3.00pm and 5.00pm;

Good cycle paths to local transport nodes in the carriageway leading to the facility;

Ease and safety of entrance and access for cyclists and pedestrians (many children's centres on school sites are served by circuitous since they are located at the rear);

Whole life costing. A holistic strategic model needs to be carried out at the feasibility or concept stage.

 

5. It may be worth considering a BREEAM assessor being appointed by the local authority at an early stage, rather than by the contractor at bidding stage. Alternatively, guidance documents on this could also be issued to the local authorities by DCSF.

 

6. In terms of energy efficiency the BREEAM assessment stops short of requesting actual energy consumption figures to ascertain the improvement against expectation. It is important to conduct post occupancy reviews to test this, and ensure that this information is shared with PfS and authorities in the programme.

 

7. Moves towards combining schools to make bigger schools will mean more children travelling to school over further distances. Since travel is very energy intensive this should be considered when schools are to be combined.

 

8. Sustainability should not stop at the school gates. The idea of the school as a community hub needs to be developed and married within the PFI contract to fully allow the community to use the facility. Sustainability is dependant upon the sensible sharing of resources. Schools are very expensive investments and represent incredible resources for the local community in terms of health, education and leisure.

 

 

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

 

1. If personalisation and other educational strategies are to be successful they must be 'design tested', to ensure they are practical. However Local Authorities also need to be given the requisite help and support in incorporating personalisation, project based learning, and other educational reforms into their visions. Designing for new modes of learning can be difficult, and it is important that Local Authorities struggling with this are given proper support.

 

2. Project briefs often incorporate the need for personalised learning, but CABE's experience at the Schools Design Panel is that this is rarely translated well into the eventual design. What is required are robust and adaptable buildings, however this is not always evident in designs. Some proposals use layouts for rooms and spaces which preclude the sort of flexibility needed to create workable 'break out' learning spaces for instance.

 

3. There is a sense that some bidders' schemes offer rather simplistic gestures to providing a place for transformational education (such as by creating flexibility via partitions between rooms) rather than creating a building that is truly varied in the spaces it provides and inherently flexible in its form and structure.

 

4. It is also apparent that in many authorities, head teachers play a very strong role in influencing the design of their school, stemming from their welcomed passion to transform education, improve attainment and contribute to the design process. However, the range of approaches and pace of change in secondary education, and in relation to the physical environments needed to support learning, means that translating a particular head teacher's approach to management, the pastoral system or pedagogy into a very specific, highly tailored building can build in certain problems. Given that school buildings are normally operational for decades after the head teacher involved in commissioning it has left there is a potential to store up a number of problems for the future.

 

Developments in the procurement and design of ICT for schools

 

1. Due to the limited shelf life of much ICT equipment, if possible such technology should be procured and renewed as part of the contract with the private sector bidder, removing that responsibility from the local authority. For example, one hospital unit CABE is aware of leases expensive equipment as part of the PFI contract rather than allowing the cost to be borne by the public sector. This puts the onus on the equipment providers to keep it up to date and well maintained. DCSF should consider how to avoid purchasing upfront any ICT equipment and software which will become quickly outdated. This is of particular concern considering 10% of the overall BSF budget is currently allocated to ICT.

 

2. Rapid changes in technology also create questions around hardwiring equipment into schools. Further moves towards wireless technology, or wi-fi, could leave schools with useless and redundant cabling procured at great expense. In order to avoid unnecessary cost, and to keep buildings flexible and adaptable in the future, hardwiring should be kept to a minimum.

 

3. There is a risk in designing for ICT as we use it now, and this could limit the life of school buildings, and the schools ability to change the use of rooms or spaces. Robust and adaptable buildings, in terms of spaces and potential for expansion or extension, will allow schools to cope with changing teaching methods, including use of new technology over time.

 

4. On going access to servicing such as wiring, lighting and air-conditioning needs to be carefully considered once schools procure larger amounts of ICT. Office spaces are generally refurbished once every 5-15 years for necessary up-grading due to technology requirements, and changes to the working environment. If schools are to also procure high levels of ICT, it may be necessary to perform refurbishments in similar time scales and methods to office environments.

 

5. High ICT loads will lead to high heat, light and energy consumption loads. In turn these will mean high servicing loads, and schools with large amounts of ICT equipment will be more expensive to run in terms of servicing costs. Should future technology requirements change, and high levels of equipment and hard wiring are no longer necessary, it is vital that school buildings are able to easily adapt to these changed requirements. As such, schools should be designed with a passive low energy strategy, natural ventilation and daylight as the basis for operation rather than being dependant on a high level of servicing such as air-con just to function.

 

What has been the effect of the Government's announcement in April about the 'acceleration' and 'streamlining' of BSF and its implications for the delivery of the project as a whole?

 

1. While CABE broadly welcomes the proposals for BSF Waves 7-15, our view is that it is vital not to lose sight of the essential ingredients of procuring excellent and well designed schools. Foremost among these are need for thorough and proper planning of projects, and the necessary skills among the client team for the task of a complex procurement procedure. In addition it is also important that authorities receive adequate support to ensure the right steps are taken in this vital preparation stage, especially where experience of procuring such projects may be lacking. An example of this is educational transformation, which can be difficult to factor into project briefs and plans. Specialised support for authorities from educationalists provided in a similar manner to CABE's Enabling service might help in this regard.

 

2. Such experience is invaluable, which is why CABE gives a cautious welcome to the proposals allowing authorities to work on individual projects earlier than currently planned. We continue to believe, however, that more could be made of knowledge sharing between authorities in the process. This would enable those with less experience of procuring schools in BSF, to learn from those who have already been through the process. One area where advances could be made is implementing mandatory post occupancy evaluations of buildings procured in BSF, with this knowledge shared through PfS and CABE.

 

3. We have concerns over the practicalities of the proposals on authorities working together in joint Local Education Partnerships (LEPs), since our experience of such arrangements has revealed a number of difficulties. Through its enabling service CABE has seen examples of neighbouring authorities working together. In the cases where this has worked one authority has needed to take the lead, which can lead to tension between authorities. Similarly, while co-location of services could result in benefits, problems could arise in joining these funding streams. On the Sure Start programme, where 40% of schemes were on school sites, CABE's Enabling service experienced a marked resistance from primary schools to having buildings funded from other streams. Many schools feared it would result with them being left with the maintenance costs of the new buildings.

 

4. While we continue to welcome making the most of local regeneration funding and BSF, we would caution that if there are fewer checks and balances, such as the CABE Schools Design Panel, on later projects, it may be easy for contractors to recoup losses through value engineering on the wider regeneration projects. The design quality of such projects should be subject to scrutiny to help prevent this eventuality.

 

5. The fundamental concern for CABE, is that schools procured through BSF should have an excellent standard of design. Public money should not be spent on schools which fall below the standard expected. We believe that the best way to achieve this would be to institute a threshold or benchmark for design quality in the programme, underneath which no project would be allowed to progress. This could be assessed in a similar manner to the reviews undertaken by CABE's advisory Schools Design Panel.

 

 

 

July 2008



[1] Assessing Secondary School Design Quality, CABE, 2006, p70

[2] Ibid p72