BSF17: Memorandum submitted by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC)

The Education and Skills Committee's report 'Sustainable Schools: are we building schools for the future?' aimed to assist in maximising the effect of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme on improving the quality and sustainability of the environments for learning in this country. The Children, Schools and Families Committee is now seeking written evidence on progress in the Building Schools for the Future project and initiatives to make schools more sustainable.

The SDC is the Government's independent advisory body on sustainable development, reporting to the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales. Through advocacy, advice and appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the core of Government policy. The 2005 UK Government Sustainable Development Strategy, Securing the Future, also charges the SDC with the role of 'watchdog' for sustainable development.

Since the Education and Skills Committee's report 'Sustainable Schools: are we building schools for the future?' the SDC believes that there have been some positive developments within the Department for Children Schools and Families relating to schools capital and the BSF programme on carbon emissions, but there is still a need for significant progress on wider sustainability.

The SDC agrees with the Committee's recommendation that DCSF and Partnerships for Schools should develop as a priority a knowledge management and learning strategy to support authorities, schools, contractors, suppliers and others involved in BSF to share best practice and learning as the programme develops - however the Department is still not systematically gathering evidence of the sustainability performance (specifically the actual carbon performance) of recently completed schools. Learning lessons from the early waves of BSF is vital to pushing up standards through the programme. The SDC recommends that DCSF commits to reviewing the actual sustainability performance of completed schools in the first waves of BSF in order to inform future waves.


The Committee asked the DCSF to set out its plans for improved ICT procurement within BSF. In our recent work on carbon emissions from the school estate, we found that emissions from electricity consumption in schools are on a strong upward trend, partly driven by the increase in use of ICT in schools. The SDC recommends that DCSF ensures that BSF drives procurement of efficient, low carbon ICT solutions which serve to reduce energy consumption in schools, not increase it.


The Committee's report notes the importance of the 'visioning' phase. The SDC agrees with this and is concerned that the BSF procurement process does not require local authorities to develop the strategy for change in line with the 'eight doorways' of the DCSF's National Framework for Sustainable Schools, despite evidence given to the contrary[1]. The SDC believes that a vision should be developed at the start of each BSF procurement wave based on the sustainable development outcomes that schools and their communities are aiming to achieve. SDC recommends that the BSF guidance is adapted further to make a more explicit and central link between BSF and sustainable development, linked to the requirement for local authorities to develop Sustainable Community Strategies under the new local government performance framework.


The SDC believes that the Primary Capital Programme must learn lessons from the BSF programme and aim to meet or exceed the sustainability outcomes of BSF. However the Department appears to have less control over the Primary Capital Programme due to a more 'arms-length' management of the procurement programme. The SDC recommends that the Department clarifies the sustainability outcomes it aims to achieve, and reviews how it will deliver sustainable schools through this programme.


The SDC is concerned that the Children's Centres capital programme is not meeting the sustainability outcomes required by a major government-funded capital investment programme. Although Children's Centre funding comes entirely from DCSF, we understand that the Common Minimum Standards[2] (CMS) which should apply, have not been applied, and the requirement to meet BREEAM 'excellent' or equivalent has not been delivered to date. Phase 3 of the Children's Centre programme is about to start, to deliver the final 600 centres of a total target of 3,500 centres by 2010. It does not seem that the programme will be altered for Phase 3 to raise sustainability standards, as DCSF has a strategically detached role from the delivery process. The SDC recommends that DCSF urgently reviews the sustainability standards achieved so far in the Children's Centres programme and the standards to be achieved through Phase 3 with the aim of meeting or exceeding the standards delivered through BSF.


The Committee asked the DCSF and Partnerships for Schools to report how the recommendations of the Sustainable Procurement Task Force are being implemented in BSF. The SDC is concerned that schools are still not being procured on a true whole life value basis within the BSF programme, and believe that the procurement process does not incentivise fully sustainable schools. The value of the benefits of sustainable schools should be assessed and accounted for within the BSF programme (eg safe walking and cycling routes, green and natural spaces for play and relaxation, community learning). The SDC recommends that the procurement process should be modified to incentivise high sustainability performance - fully aligned with the Government's Sustainable Schools Strategy.


The Committee noted that the Government must address the issue of schools' carbon emissions. Since the publication of the Committee's report, the SDC has been working intensively with the DCSF to raise the Department's awareness of the emissions footprint from the schools estate, explore the changes required to reduce the carbon footprint by 60% and 80% by 2050, and recommend actions and policy interventions for the DCSF and others to implement or influence in order to deliver these emissions reductions. We found that emissions can be reduced by 80% by 2050 through a comprehensive package of policies and interventions tackling emissions from buildings energy use, travel and transport, procurement and waste. Our advice was presented to the Department in March 2008, and a summary of this will be published on our website[3] in July 2008. We recommended that the Department develop a strategy to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 with strong early action to halve emissions by 2020, with specific implications for the Department's capital programmes[4]. The Department has committed to develop a strategy and is currently reviewing the feasibility of our recommendations[5].


The Committee recommended that there should be a post-occupancy review of every school within the programme. The SDC's research has found that the mechanisms to deliver and assure sustainability within the BSF programme are not sufficient, and recommend that BREEAM for Schools is updated to set minimum performance criteria for key sustainability elements, and to include a thorough Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) review for each completed school.


The SDC broadly welcomes the DCSF proposals[6] to better link BSF investment to regeneration and new communities and the potential of this proposal to bring wider benefits to communities from the investment in school assets. We recommend that DCSF and Partnerships for Schools work closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government and its new Homes and Communities Agency to implement this proposal. We believe this will enhance the potential to proactively develop community energy networks within the BSF programme as an innovative method of carbon reduction in schools (and the wider community). We also believe the DCSF and DfT should jointly ensure that new schools are provided with excellent quality cycle and walking routes and are situated in places which minimise the need for vehicle usage.


The SDC is very encouraged by the Department's ambition to deliver zero carbon schools from 2016 and is a member of the Zero Carbon Schools Task Force. The SDC's work on the carbon footprint of the schools estate underlines the importance of radically reducing emissions from new schools within the timescale of the BSF programme, but also of setting stringent standards for carbon emissions of refurbished schools too, and welcomes the extension of the Task Force's remit to advise on carbon standards for refurbished schools.



July 2008


[1] Sally Brooks response to Q716 in oral evidence session 6 December 2006. Ev 198 Education and Skills Committee: Evidence

[2] CMS have been in force since January 2006, and are managed by OGC. They were agreed by ministers, including DCSF ministers, at the time. OGC describe the CMS as for departments to "cascade down to others who they fund"


[4] Recommendations to DCSF include: zero carbon new schools by 2016, establish higher carbon performance standards for schools refurbished in capital programmes, new extensive programme of renewable energy retrofit to school buildings, more efficient ICT equipment, consider school location and provision of safe routes to school to maximise walking and cycling, and provision of facilities on school grounds to enable walking and cycling.


[6] DCSF, 2008, The management of Building Schools for the Future waves 7 to 15. Consultation.