BSF13: Memorandum submitted by National Union of Teachers (NUT)

 

The NUT welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence on the Building Schools for the Future programme and, in particular sustainable school buildings.

 

Prior to 1997, schools were starved of investment and buildings were crumbling. For many years, the NUT highlighted the need for investment in school buildings; leaking roofs, inadequate lavatory facilities, poor security and lack of space for carrying out preparation, planning and assessment activities, all common complaints from teachers.

 

This is supported by one of the key findings of the PwC First Annual Report on BSF published in December 2007:

 

"The report highlighted a number of concerns about the existing school estate. The vast majority of existing schools were found to be old (built before 1976) and were increasingly unsuitable for modern teaching and learning."

By far the greatest problem that needs to be addressed in relation to the School Capital Stock is the presence of asbestos. This is the NUT's clear priority as it is literally a matter of life and death.

 

For these reasons, the NUT welcomed the BSF programme with the Government's initial pledge that all secondary schools in England and Wales would either be rebuilt or refurbished by 2015.

 

 

Question 1: Rate of Progress

 

The Government announced in 2004 that the timescale for the BSF programme would be extended to 2016 and even then many rebuild projects would only be at the planning stage by that date.

 

This 'slippage' in the programme is hugely disappointing to the NUT not least because many reasons for this are down to the inadequate management of the procurement process and, in our view, the reliance upon PFI rather than conventional capital funding routes to deliver the BSF programme.

 

Another factor is the effect of the Academy Programme and Trust Schools. The NUT opposes the link between Building Schools for the Future funding and the Academies programme. Much-needed resources for school buildings provided by BSF have been used to promote the Government's "choice and diversity" agenda and local authorities have been pressured to include Academies to ensure that their "Strategy for Change" proposals were approved for BSF funding.

 

The Union has regularly received reports from its local secretaries of instances of this pressure on local authorities, despite assurances from Government ministers that BSF funding is not allocated on this criterion, for instance in the reply by Schools Minister, Jim Knight to a Parliamentary Question by Ken Purchase, MP, on 15 October 2007:

 

"It is already our policy to fund Building Schools for the Future projects whether or not an academy is included."

 

The Academies programme is a highly controversial political initiative which has been opposed at national level by educationists, trade unions, governors' and parents' organisations. Individual Academy proposals have stimulated vigorous campaigns by local stakeholders. The Academies programme has not been subject to independent evaluation to ascertain whether the outcomes in terms of pupil achievement are significant, sustainable or value for money. Nor has its impact on the coherent provision of education and local democratic accountability been assessed.

 

Under the criteria listed in the recent DCSF consultation on BSF, reference was made to schools performing beneath the 30%"floor target" becoming Academies. This is seen as a strategy for addressing under-achievement, despite the fact that the GCSE results of 26 of the existing 83 Academies currently fall beneath that "floor target".

 

The Government's proposals under the National Challenge strategy have been announced since the BSF consultation. The NUT rejects the purely arbitrary "floor target" referred to above which stigmatises 638 schools as under-achieving. This categorisation takes no account of either contextual value added scores, or of Ofsted's inspection evaluations. These assessments show that 203 of the schools have a CVA value of 1005 or above; that 16 schools were graded "outstanding" by Ofsted; 147 were graded as "good" and 361 were graded as "satisfactory".

 

The NUT, in particular, condemns the proposals in the National Challenge strategy for an expansion of Academies programme by 70 by September 2010 and for an expansion of Trust schools as a school improvement strategy for the reasons outlined in this response.

 

The NUT would urge that the development of the Building Schools for the Future programme should not be used to favour diversity of provision through the promotion of two types of school, Academies and Trust Schools, and that there should be a level playing field in terms of assessing local authorities' proposals for inclusion in the programme on the criteria of educational and building stock need, not "diversity".

 

In the future BSF waves the DCSF, and within it the Academies Unit and the Office of the Schools Commissioner, will need to make it clear in their advice to local authorities that it is not a requirement to include within bids proposals for Academies and/or Foundation Schools with Charitable Trusts. It has been made clear to the NUT by the Schools Adjudicator and the Schools Commissioner that in order to fulfil the 2006 Education and Inspections Act requirements, all that is necessary is to demonstrate diversity in the provision of schools. It is quite possible for a local authority to make a proposal in any secondary reorganisation, for example, which demonstrates that every secondary school can offer a diversity of specialism while maintaining community status. This should be published in the final BSF guidance.

 

Other 'Barriers' to delivering the BSF Programme

 

Other factors hindering progress include the shortage of construction workers, and the difficulties faced by local authorities who are inexperienced in handling such vast capital projects.

 

The First Annual Report on BSF commissioned by the Department and carried out by PwC found that the 'barriers' to the process were more numerous than the 'enablers' and included:

 

workload increases, particularly within SMT at school level;

complexity and bureaucracy with expectations that the initiative required a high level of commercial sophistication that was lacking in some local authorities and which jeopardised their procurement and delivery performance.

 

The Report acknowledges that the Local Education Partnership model (the Government's preferred procurement model for BSF) is still evolving and only acknowledges 'some evidence' of good practice. The disadvantages of the LEP model are cited as less value for money, a lack of transparency and the lessening of the local authority's powers.

 

 

Question 2: How the experience of more early waves is being

disseminated.

 

The NUT shares experience and practice between division secretaries (co-terminous with local authority areas) in the initial waves (1-4) and later 'waves' in the BSF programme.

 

There is little evidence that the procurement body effectively disseminates experience of those authorities in the early waves as evidenced by the First Annual Report:

 

there is scope to improve communication (particularly between local authorities and schools) and reduce complexity of management which is perceived as a barrier.

 

 

Question 3: How the visioning process is being developed

 

 

The NUT has long argued that high quality buildings are a key factor in the promotion of teaching and learning and the changing nature of many teaching practices and approaches. In addition, well designed and maintained schools which are 'fit for purpose' make pupils and teachers feel valued. Pupils feel proud of their environment and are more likely to respect and look after it.

 

The NUT is concerned that the 'visioning process' may be lacking particularly where new-builds are concerned. This, in our view, is because they are financed through PFI rather than conventional capital spending methods.

 

The NUT shares the concerns of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) in this respect. In July 2006, CABE published a report assessing the design quality of 52 secondary schools built across England between 2000 and 2005. The Report highlights the general poor quality of schools procured using PFI. The Report found that, whilst any procurement route can produce a good result, schools procured through PFI tended to be rated poorly. All but one of the ten schools with the lowest scores were procured using FPI.

 

 

Question 4: How the procurement process is working.

 

The local Educational Partnership is the Government's preferred model for procurement body.

 

Local Authority Education Partnerships (LEPs) - NUT Concerns

 

The NUT has serious concerns about the formation of LEPs, in which local authorities only have a 10% share. We believe that this transfer of power to a LEP, 90% of which is made up of unelected organisations, will undermine a local authority's ability to plan strategically, as well as local democratic accountability.

 

Lack of Effective Consultation

 

The NUT firmly believes that the views of local communities, including staff, pupils, governors and parents, should be actively sought and taken account of at the design stage. This would help avoid the sort of avoidable design slip-ups which are so regularly reported in the press. DfES guidance to Wave 2 local authorities, issued in 2004, states that authorities 'need to develop a strategy for engagement and consultation with local stakeholders. The BSF.gov.uk website states that staff 'will have the chance to get involved in the consultation process on the future design of your school'. Despite this advice, NUT local officers regularly report difficulties in obtaining information about contracts and projects. Reasons given for withholding information relate to concerns, real or alleged, about maintaining commercial

confidentiality. This lack of transparency does nothing to promote confidence in the process.

 

PWC in their first report on the BSF programme published in December 2007 identified the 'evolving' nature of LEPs as a 'barrier' rather than as an enabler to the process.

 

The Report acknowledges that the Local Education Partnership model (the Government's preferred procurement model for BSF) is still evolving and only acknowledges 'some evidence' of good practice. The disadvantages of the LEP model are cited as less value for money, a lack of transparency and the lessening of the local authority's powers.

 

 

 

 

Question 5: Progress on School's Carbon Emissions

 

Climate Change Mitigation

 

Without comprehensive monitoring of CO2 emissions from schools it is not possible to assess the overall progress being made on emissions reductions by the schools estate.

 

However, there is anecdotal evidence of excellent progress towards sustainability being made in a minority of individual schools, described in the OFSTED report 'Schools and sustainability. A climate for change?' (May 2008). Much of this appears to be attributable to the commitment and enthusiasm of individual teachers and head teachers.

 

The NUT welcomes also the agreement by the Secretary of State to the NUT's request that guidance should be sent to schools on teaching about climate change given the uncertainties created by the adverse legal judgement on the distribution of Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' to schools.

 

The NUT supports OFSTED's recommendation that the Sustainable Schools programme should be linked more closely to BSF, not least because of the teaching and learning opportunities that arise when schools contemplate changes to their energy and resource use.

 

It is important to note, however, that forms of behaviour change being introduced successfully in schools, such as switching off lights and computers, are only effective in minimising waste and unnecessary energy consumption. For significant reductions in schools' CO2 emissions the focus has to be on changes to building design, energy efficiency improvements and the introduction of renewable energy technology, which can only be achieved through the BSF programme.

 

The NUT welcomes the 111m of additional funding, announced in December 2007, for the installation of carbon reduction and renewable energy technology in more than 200 secondary schools undergoing major refurbishment over the next three years as part of the BSF programme.

 

The Union believes that the introduction of a renewable energy tariff (or feed-in tariff) would complement and enhance this funding by providing a financial incentive to install renewable energy technology which has the additional attraction of providing a source of income from electricity generated surplus to requirements, for example during school holidays.

 

The Union also welcomes the recent announcement of the Zero Carbon Task Force, set up to 'overcome the technical, design and construction challenges' of achieving the Government's long-term goal that all new school buildings should be zero-carbon from 2016 and supports the sentiments of the Secretary of State when he said "I don't have time for critics who will carp that this is impossible. I know that current technology makes zero-carbon schools expensive and challenging to install on many existing school sites. The fact is that we have a clear moral responsibility to future generations to make it happen. We can no longer sit back and wait for the science to catch up with us - it would be a dereliction of duty if we did." (DCSF Press Release 16 June 2008). It is to be hoped that the recommendations from the task force might be implemented sooner than 2016.

 

Climate Change Adaptation

 

The Union is concerned that the focus on emissions reductions, while essential, is overshadowing the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change over coming decades. The BSF programme appears to ignore the need for school buildings to be adapted to provide greater resilience and/or reduced vulnerability to climate change impacts.

 

Defra's 'Adapting to Climate Change' (ACC) programme is presently tasked with developing a robust and comprehensive evidence base about the impacts and consequences of climate change; raising awareness of the need to take action and help others take action; and working across Government at national, regional and local level to make sure the need to adapt to climate change is embedded into Government policies, programmes and systems (presentation by Deputy Director of the ACC Programme at a TUC Climate Change conference, June 2008). The NUT firmly believes that climate change adaptation measures should become embedded into the BSF programme, for the reasons set out below.

 

It is forecast that as a consequence of historical emissions of greenhouse gases, climate change is unavoidable over the next 30 - 40 years. Newly qualified young teachers therefore face, during the course of their professional careers, the UK continuing to get warmer; summers continuing to get hotter and drier; winters continuing to get milder and wetter; extreme weather events becoming more frequent; and sea-levels continuing to rise. The UK Climate Impacts Programme, 2008, indicates that by 2040, the extreme temperatures witnessed in Europe during the summer of 2003, when 30,000 people died, will be considered 'normal'.

 

These near-term impacts of climate change, which are expected to occur regardless of the success or failure of our mitigation attempts, will leave school buildings vulnerable to the impacts of wind, rain, storm, fire and subsidence, and needing new forms of temperature control which focus less on winter heating and more on summer cooling. The UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) argues that design decisions based on historical climate data are likely to be inadequate for this future and the NUT believes that this advice should be heeded and building regulations amended accordingly.

 

According to the ACC programme, "adaptation" can mean a number of things. In the case of high classroom temperatures, for example, adaptation options would include the following:

 

Live with or accept change

(e.g. put up with overheating in schools)

 

Retreat from change - or avoid it

(e.g. stop schools opening in July)

 

Increase resilience or reduce vulnerability

(e.g. build new schools with better ventilation)

 

Protect existing systems to prevent change from having an impact on behaviour

(e.g. install air conditioning in classrooms)

 

UKCIP proposes similar adaption options, including:

 

Temporary - do nothing or install window blinds

 

Managerial - siestas or different school calendar

 

Technical - retrofit engineering solutions

 

Strategic - new build as part of a national programme

 

The NUT is very concerned about the impact of high classroom temperatures on the health, safety and welfare of staff and pupils.

 

In the absence of a specific legal maximum working temperature, Union policy is that 26C should be the absolute maximum temperature in which teachers should be expected to work, other than for very short periods.

 

Without adaptation, schools will be forced to close whenever a threshold external temperature is reached, i.e. a temperature at which extreme discomfort and health hazard occur. For a threshold temperature of 32oC, UKCIP projects that within 5 - 10 years the threshold would be exceeded on 10 days per annum. In later decades this frequency would increase.

Closing schools and altering the school day or school year to accommodate future weather patterns have significant repercussions, especially if carried out in an ad-hoc fashion or without proper debate. The NUT strongly believes that the first response to the impacts of climate change should be through the technological and strategic routes of retrofitting solutions to existing buildings and/or building new schools. Hence the significance of BSF to climate change adaptation and the need to ensure that all refurbishments and new builds fully take into account the predicted impacts of climate change between now and 2050.

 

Climate Change Policy

 

UK climate change policy also looks set to impact on schools. Once the Climate Change Bill becomes law (currently expected to be autumn 2008), the government intends to introduce a mandatory cap-and-trade scheme for the UK - the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) - as a means of achieving its CO2 emissions reduction target of at least 60% by 2050. The CRC will apply to large non-energy intensive public and business sector organisations (meaning those with electricity use of 6,000MWh per year).

 

Defra's initial proposal for the treatment of schools was a voluntary one, with Local Authorities (LA) taking responsibility for school emissions in those specific cases where the LA paid the energy bill for that school. During consultation, a large number of stakeholders expressed support for a mandatory approach with all state schools being included under the Local Authority portfolio, i.e. the LA would be the participating CRC organisation and would be responsible for school emissions under CRC regardless of whether they were the counterparty to the electricity supply contract or not. [ref required].

 

The following reasons have been offered as supporting a mandatory approach to include state schools:

 

In the main LAs do not pay the energy bill for schools and as such the voluntary approach is likely to lead to a variable and patchy coverage of schools across the UK;

 

CRC, as an instrument, is well suited to targeting schools as part of the LA estate since LAs exercise a significant degree of influence over the schools for which they are responsible and it would also encourage LAs to provide energy management support for schools;

 

The scheme is designed to tackle energy use emissions of organisations with many small emissions sources by placing obligations essentially on the 'corporate centre' (which is in a position to direct or influence the conduct of those subsidiary bodies for which it is responsible) rather than individual emitters. The principle is that the 'corporate centre' is much better placed in terms of expertise and resources to respond to the administrative requirements of a cap and trade scheme, compared with the individual emitters, Local authorities as 'corporate centres' and schools as individual emitters closely follow this model.

 

There are significant opportunities for cost-effective energy efficiency savings in schools.

 

At the time of writing, the government has said only that it has rejected the voluntary approach for schools. This leaves open the possibility of either a mandatory approach, or the exemption of schools from the CRC.

 

The NUT is concerned that under this LA portfolio model there is a risk that Academies will not be included, as they are not the responsibility of Local Authorities. The mandatory inclusion of maintained schools in a carbon trading scheme whilst excluding Academies is not a sustainable solution.

 

Local Authorities which succeed in keeping their emissions within or below their allowances would be able to sell surplus credits and disburse the proceeds back to schools for investment in further emissions reductions. However, failure to keep within the carbon budget would force the LA to purchase additional credits, potentially at the expense of other school expenditure. It is essential therefore that the BSF programme be aligned with the CRC in such a way as to enable LAs to make the necessary carbon reductions from the schools estate.

 

If Academies are not part of the LA portfolio (and are not included in the portfolio of some other parent organisation such as the DCSF) then they will face no such financial penalty for failure to reduce their emissions. This could lead to what is known as 'carbon leakage', in the form of schools choosing to opt out of LA control to become an Academy in order to avoid being subject to mandatory emissions reductions. While this might suit the DCSF's current education policy it would be completely counter to the Government's climate change policy.

 

While the NUT is not convinced that carbon trading is an ideal response to the challenges being faced, it would argue that under the Government's CRC proposals, the DCSF must find a way of ensuring that Academies are included in the LA portfolio, or that of some other parent body. The only alternative would be the complete exemption of all schools, which would leave the DCSF target of a 60% reduction by schools merely an aspiration and less likely to be met. It would also only ever be a temporary solution.

 

The NUT believes that the urgency of the situation demands that the Government's ideological stance on reducing the number of LA schools should be reviewed and replaced with a commitment to sustainability.

 

 

 

Question 6: How personalisation and other educational strategies are

guiding the design of new schools

 

The current DCSF guidance for BSF rightly emphasises the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the design of all new schools. Advances in knowledge about teaching and learning, as much as Government policy initiatives such as personalisation, mean that the "classroom" for 30 pupils is no longer the most important feature of school accommodation. One to one tuition, such as that currently being piloted in the "Making Good Progress" trial; small group literacy and numeracy intervention programmes; and team-teaching of larger groups of pupils all need to have appropriate spaces within schools in order to be implemented.

 

It is important therefore that new build schools, in addition to core "traditional" classrooms, also offer a range of smaller and larger rooms which would provide the flexibility needed to be able to personalise the learning experience for pupils.

 

In addition, such a variety of room sizes is also important if schools are to be able to fulfil their broader functions as defined by the Government's Children's Plan, such as acting as a hub for study support activities and a variety of children's services and engaging parents and the wider community in learning activities. Securing appropriate accommodation for such developments is proving a key issue for existing schools, therefore it should be a prominent feature of new build schools.

 

The NUT would caution against prescriptive guidance on school design which was predicated purely on the requirements of current Government initiatives, however, as teaching and learning needs change constantly and therefore the spaces in which that teaching and learning takes place will also probably need to change. The school itself, with independent support, should have the greatest influence over design, as it will consider the issue from an educational view first and foremost, rather than give greater importance to stylistic considerations or the need for the new building to "make a statement", which may an architect's prime consideration.

 

The University of Cambridge Primary Review recently issued an interim report on schools' built environment[1]. Although it is specifically concerned with primary schools, its findings have far wider implications and the NUT would commend the report's analysis to the Committee, in particular the way in which factors such as classroom size, ventilation, lighting and noise levels can both individually and in combination impact on pupils and teachers, including on pupil attainment as measured by National Curriculum test scores. It concluded that "the ways in which school design factors impact on children's behaviour and school ethos is complex, and effects are often indirect or cumulative". It also noted that the school environment can affect different groups in different ways and recommended that further research was needed to support the Government's investment in building new schools.

 

Not only are schools the focus of children and young people's education, the buildings and grounds are also their principal social spaces. This aspect of school design has long been neglected, however. Very few schools, either new build or refurbished, have dedicated spaces for pupils to relax and let off steam or to work independently. New (and many existing) Danish schools, in comparison, incorporate student "chill out zones" and "work stations" as an integral part of school design.

 

In addition, school grounds have been overly neglected in the DCSF guidance on BSF to date, which represents a lost opportunity to maximise their potential usefulness both within the school day and beyond. It also fails to reflect recent initiatives such as the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), Learning Outside the Classroom, Healthy Schools and the National Play Strategy.

 

The EYFS for example, which applies to primary schools and "all through" schools as well as early years settings, is clear that access to outdoor play opportunities is essential for the learning and development of young children. It is not, though, a statutory requirement because of the potential impact of such a requirement on the full range of early years providers. It would seem sensible, therefore, for new build provision which offers the EYFS to take the lead in this area and for the DCSF to insist that adequate outdoor play areas, which children can access independently, are included in all new build design briefs.

 

The DCSF Play Strategy, which is currently out for consultation, says "we want school sites to offer good play opportunities for children in the form of good school playgrounds, playing fields and other facilities to support active and constructive play". It is important that guidance is provided, however, on what constitutes "good" in terms of play. Too often, new or refurbished playgrounds are equipped with metal play equipment on a concrete or tarmac base, which provides few opportunities for children to exercise their creativity in use of the equipment and increases the likelihood of accidents when children fall. Any guidance for schools on the development of school grounds should emphasis the importance of natural materials and landscaping in the design of play areas and more creative alternatives to the "swings, climbing frame and slides" which are traditionally found in such areas.

 

The NUT believes that changes to legislation may be needed if the Government is serious about enabling schools and local communities to make adequate play provision. Municipal playing fields are not as well protected as those owned by schools, despite the fact that many schools use fields owned by local authorities. In addition, a school's field is only protected if it is 0.2 hectares or more in size, while a council-owned pitch has to be at least 0.4 hectares before consultation is required on any potential development.

 

The playing fields of schools which are due to close currently lie outside the protective legislation. Through the Building Schools for the Future and Academies programmes, as well as through general local authority school reorganisation plans due to falling rolls, this means in effect that thousands of school playing fields are vulnerable. A tightening of the planning laws is needed to make it much harder for community and school playing fields to be sold off.

 

In addition, BSF schools and Academies which involve PFI may be limited in the amount of access to recreational facilities they may be able to offer pupils, and the wider community. Academies, for example, are supposed to share facilities with the local community (and other schools) as set out in their Funding Agreements. However, because of VAT regulations (usage must be for relevant charitable purposes for at least 90 per cent of the time), if Academies make their facilities available to local people and charge for this, as the vast majority wish to, they have to pay VAT - so the vast majority choose not to open them up. Similarly with BSF schools funded through PFI, the need to generate revenue for the term of the PFI agreement has led to many managing companies limiting the amount of access the school may have to its facilities beyond the school day, as these are rented out rather than able to be used by the school and its pupils for no cost.

 

The NUT has previously, in its play policy "Time To Play" (2007), recommended that staff, pupils and parents should be involved in and able to influence the design of BSF schools to ensure that there are appropriate outdoor spaces and provision and that classrooms allow for flexibility within the curriculum, such as role play spaces and for large indoor construction or tactile play opportunities. Many NUT members have reported that they were disappointed with the end results of building projects where their views were not included in the final building design.

 

The NUT would also recommend that specific advice on planning for play, both inside and outside school buildings, should be included in the DCSF guidance for Building Schools for the Future. In addition, an audit of facilities for play in schools should be undertaken nationally. The findings of such an audit should be used to inform developments arising from the Building Schools for the Future initiative, to ensure that all schools have sufficient space to develop play areas within the classroom, the school and the school grounds.

 

 

 

 

Question 7: Developments in the procurement and design of ICT for

schools

 

One of the biggest problems with schools built or refurbished under BSF has been the widespread transference of estate management functions to the private sector, including ICT contracts. Where a school finds its long-established working relationships with the local authority thus severed, it can often encounter problems in building a successful relationship with the new provider of such services, at least in part because such organisations rarely have any real experience of managing school buildings.

 

It is advisable to monitor closely the performance of such private providers to ensure that, in particular, health and safety standards are not compromised by a desire to limit financial outlay. Where, for example, final checks are conducted prior to the occupation of a new or refurbished building, confirmation should be sought - and obtained - that such checks are sufficiently robust, and that they are carried out by competent persons.

 

There are widespread concerns about the suitability of construction materials used by contractors involved with BSF projects. ICT suites may be used by several hundred energetic pupils each day and thus demand a level of durability far in excess of that required in domestic or commercial premises. Fixtures and fittings, too, are likely to be subjected to far more robust treatment than might be the case elsewhere. Many head teachers have been astonished, therefore, to find that their school has been charged for repairs or replacements when the expectation was that the materials should have been strong enough to cope with normal school usage. Items damaged through routine 'wear and tear' - or even simply because they have reached the end of their natural life - are often attributed to 'vandalism' by the body responsible for facilities management. It can then take a considerable amount of time and effort to resolve the matter satisfactorily. The irony here is that one of the chief benefits of the involvement of the private sector was supposed to be the freeing-up of time for head teachers to concentrate on teaching and learning - not an increased focus on premises management problems.

Where ICT support and maintenance has been transferred to the private sector on a contract basis as part of a PFI-funded programme, there can be financial repercussions for the School involved. Changes to operational PFI contracts were found to cost a total of 180 million in 2006 in a report by the National Audit Office ('Making Changes in Operational PFI Contracts').

 

A key issue when considering developments in the procurement and design of ICT for schools is that those who may take lead responsibility for its planning with contractors, head teachers, are likely to lack the technical knowledge and understanding required to make informed decisions. In an NUT survey of its head teacher and Leadership Group members in 2004, for example, 11 per cent of school leaders did not feel confident and an additional 22 per cent expressed mixed views on their confidence in using ICT. In addition, 52 per cent had undertaken training which could have boosted their level of awareness of their school's ICT needs whilst 48 per cent had not. This would indicated that independent support, which head teachers could access when dealing with contractors, is essential to ensure that the Government's considerable financial investment is used to support the teaching and learning needs of schools, rather than for the benefit of the contractor.

The NUT believes that the current guidance by the DCSF should be strengthened and that all ICT procured or designed as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme should be subject to basic minimum requirements to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

 

Most importantly, ICT hardware provision should be flexible, in order for schools to maximise its potential as a teaching and learning tool and at the same time offer consistency of technical quality standards, regardless of the contractor(s) being used.

 

As schools move away from using ICT only in designated ICT suites, contractors must reflect recent changes in pedagogical practice and integrate ICT provision in every classroom or space used for teaching and learning, including staff and student work rooms. All classrooms should be designed to be able to accommodate comfortably a white board and digital projector. As schools move away from desktops and exploit the greater potential offered to pupils by laptops, there must be sufficient power sockets to enable laptops to be plugged in to be used as well as to be recharged.

 

This flexibility should also include contractors providing wi-fi systems which can be accessed by the whole school community and beyond, where appropriate. This is especially important for schools in rural areas, where the higher cost and difficulty of securing a reliable high speed broadband connection may be used as a reason for failing to provide this essential educational resource.

 

In addition, contractors should offer schools choice in terms of the ICT hardware purchased, as contractors' focus on value for money and keeping costs to a minimum may be at odds with the educational rationale for requiring different sorts of ICT resources, for example, offering a choice of whiteboards, as those produced by different manufacturers have specific different features or a mix of Apple Macs and PCs, because of the former's association with industry-standard graphics and other creative software packages.

 

As part of the procurement and design process, technical support should be built in as one of schools' basic ICT requirements. Such support must be able to address the educational purposes of ICT usage, not limited solely to practical "computer malfunction" type issues, which is likely to be the type of support supplied by contractors to business and other private sector organisations.

 

A particular feature of PFI-funded school rebuild and refurbishment programmes, including BSF, is the limitations placed by the management company on the use of schools' premises beyond the formal school day. This has particular implications for schools' efforts to tackle the "digital divide" amongst students from disadvantaged backgrounds and also to enhance community access to ICT, as these activities may be seriously curtailed in schools where strict limits are placed by the management company on out of hours facilities usage. The NUT would recommend that the contracts for all such management programmes should give priority to schools' pupil support work, including that undertaken using ICT.

 

 

 

Question 8: How to cater for the 14-19 diplomas and the joint working

that will involve, and the Government's proposal to raise the

participation age for education and training to 18 is being

addressed in BSF proposals?

 

In its 'Strategy for Change', which is the first formal component of the BSF approval process, there is the intention to capture both the local authority's strategy for 11-19 education and the requirements that strategy places upon the BSF programme.

 

In addition, to secure coherent capital investment to support the 14-19 reforms, it formally extends BSF and the 'Strategy for Change' development to include all settings in which young people learn, including Further Education (FE).

 

The recent White Paper, 'Further Education - Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances', remitted local authorities, in line with their strategic leadership role in delivering 14-19 reform, to ensure that their 'Strategy for Change' policy is fully comprehensive in setting out the local facilities to deliver the 14-19 entitlement, including the contribution of FE providers.

 

It is intended that, for the first time, there is a fully integrated capital strategy which will deliver facilities for 14-19 year olds across schools and the FE system.

 

BSF is tied up with the performance of local authorities and schools. BSF investment involves meeting objectives set out in the 'Remit for Change' given by the DfES to local authorities. The content of this remit may contain, "improvements to provision and outcomes as they relate to particular policy areas - e.g. 14-19, school under-performance, inclusions, SEN and extended schools". The criteria on 14-19 provision outlines what local authorities will need to demonstrate in order that the capital funding allocation will support the delivery of 14-19 entitlement. One of these points is:

 

"How the local authority will ensure collaboration between schools, colleges, other learning providers (including apprenticeships and other work-based provision); Connexions and Education Business Partnerships to support the 14-19 entitlement". ('Strategy for Change' - Guidance for Local Authorities in BSF, July 2006)

 

In the 'Strategy for Change' - the Guidance for Local Authorities in BSF Wave 4, July 2006 - there is reference to the new 14-19 Specialised Diplomas. It states that:

 

"By 2013, we expect every young person to be entitled to pursue any one of the 14 lines at an appropriate level for them, wherever they are in the country. We intend that the practical element of the diplomas should be delivered by people with real vocational experience in suitably professional environments. This new national entitlement will include a legal duty on schools to secure access for every young person at the school to all 14 curriculum lines. Delivering this entitlement will require profound change in many aspects of provision. As well as being properly equipped for their own vocational specialisms, schools will need to collaborate with each other, colleges and training providers to deliver the full entitlement to all young people."

 

The NUT has significant questions to ask on how local authority BSF bits will impact on the implementation of the 14-19 Diplomas. This is unclear in the bidding criteria. These questions are set out below.

 

How can schools offering the Diplomas have an influence in a meaningful way on local authority BSF bids?

How will decisions on major adaptations to BSF schools impact on individual Gateway consortia in their long-term commitment to Diploma implementation and delivery?

 

The relationship between BSF bids and Diploma implementation needs to be clarified further.

 

 

Question 9: 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.

 

The DCSF consultation seeks views on a range of proposals for new waves 7 to 15 should be managed and acknowledges that lessons should be learnt from the early waves.

 

A summary of the NUT's response to the department's consultation is set out below:

 

The NUT recognises that as the BSF programme progresses, and areas of significantly greatest social and economic need are addressed, there will inevitably be less difference in need between projects. We do therefore accept that there should be a wider set of criteria for the prioritisation.

 

We agree that educational and social need is used as a tie-breaker is a sensible and fair way to proceed. Before this criteria is applied, however, we would want to be sure that all 'competing' schools benefit from acceptable basic accommodation, which meets legal requirements, in terms of noise insulation, lighting, ventilation, toilet provision and disability access. We accept that if there are two schools which both meet, or don't meet, the above requirements, then educational and social need would be an appropriate tie breaker.

 

Co-ordinated Services

 

The NUT is in favour of extended schools which meet the particular needs of communities. We believe that the best way of joining-up and co-locating services for children, young people and families is for schools to work together to provide, for example, breakfast and after school clubs, whose facilities can be shared between 2 or more schools. This will help avoid a situation where the school with facilities on site becomes more popular with parents, thus depriving a neighbouring school of pupils.

 

New Authorities Entering BSF Programme

 

We would expect that all authorities new to the project will be able to prioritise a small number of schools where the state of the fabric of the buildings require urgent attention.

 

Local authorities themselves are in the best position to judge whether more assistance is needed to bring them to the point where they are ready to deliver. We do have concerns that many local authorities lack experience in managing large scale projects and are at risk of being outmanoeuvered by their more commercially astute private sector counterparts. Anything that can redress this balance would be welcomed by the NUT.

 

The extension of LEPs' remit

 

We are opposed to the use of LEPs because of their inherent private sector bias. We would not, therefore, wish them to be given an expanded role as we do not believe that the needs of school communities would be served by such an expansion. We note, again, that the main concern seems to be to 'make LEPs more attractive commercially'. This will inevitably be at the expense of pupils and staff. If a project is more attractive commercially to a provider, it is likely to be less attractive, in terms of the finished product, to the end user.

 

Barriers to co-ordination of services on school sites

 

Neighbouring schools' admissions can be affected by the location of extended services, for example, breakfast or after school clubs, in one school. Such facilities are understandably popular with parents and can lead to increased demand for places at the 'extended' school, with a knock-on effect on the neighbouring school. For this reason, we prefer that extended services are shared between schools so that more pupils and parents are able to benefit.

 

 

July 2008



[1] Wall, K., Dockrell, J. & Peacey, N., Primary Schools: The Built Environment, University of Cambridge Research Survey 6/1, 2008.