HOUSE OF COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE
SUSTAINABLE SCHOOLS AND BUILDING SCHOOLS FOR THE FUTURE
WEDNESDAY 21 JANUARY 2009
IAN FORDHAM, SUNAND PRASAD, RICHARD SIMMONS and GRAHAM WATTS
TIM BYLES and JIM KNIGHT
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
on Wednesday 21 January 2009
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Chairman)
Mr. Douglas Carswell
Mr. John Heppell
Mrs. Sharon Hodgson
Mr. Andy Slaughter
Mr. Graham Stuart
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ian Fordham, Deputy Chief Executive, British Council for School Environments, Sunand Prasad, President, Royal Institute of British Architects, Dr. Richard Simmons, Chief Executive, Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment, and Graham Watts OBE, Chief Executive, Construction Industry Council, gave evidence.
<Chairman:> Gentlemen, this is an important session. We are slightly delayed due to prior business that the Committee had to settle, so we shall get straight into it. We tend to be reasonably informal in these sessions in terms of names, and although you have to call me the Chairman or Chair, I will call you Sunand, Ian, Richard and Graham. Is that all right? We do not use titles; it makes everything more efficient.
You will know that this Committee takes its responsibility for the Building Schools for the Future programme very seriously. We have had a major inquiry into BSF. When we did that, we said that we would not leave it alone and just think, "There's a report" and let the report gather dust. BSF was initially described as a £45 billion rebuilding and refurbishment of the whole secondary estate in England. It is a massive taxpayers' commitment, so we regularly have these sessions as matters develop. You will remember that, when we did the original inquiry, not one BSF school was open-not even the Bristol schools had been opened-but now a significant number are open and can be visited.
Q<93> <Fiona Mactaggart:> This is a big investment programme. I am interested in the impact that the economic downturn might have had so far on the programme. We know that it has hit the building and construction industries in various ways. I am interested to know whether you believe that it is going to impact on the number of projects in the public sector, or whether it will mean that the number is sustained but the scale or ambition is reduced.
<Graham Watts:> I am Graham Watts, from the Construction Industry Council. Obviously, the sharp rate of decline that the construction industry is experiencing at the moment is really unprecedented. We are expecting output in construction to fall by at least 9% in 2009-the worst fall in almost 30 years-so the economic situation is obviously significant.
First and foremost, we should say that we see the Building Schools for the Future programme as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the learning and educational environment for our children-that is the reason why it is important-but actually at the moment, along with other public sector programmes, it is seen by the industry as a lifeline, to prevent the fall in output from going from 9% to perhaps 14 or 15% over the next two years. So I do not think that there is going to be any shortage of construction companies and designers who will want to be involved in BSF projects; but there are, of course, a number of issues that I think are quite well documented about failure to bring projects to financial close quickly or waste of resources in the bidding process. There are some very well documented cases of construction companies losing up to £5 million in bidding on one project, which will, of course, make them very wary of being involved in other projects.
Q<94> <Fiona Mactaggart:> The obvious problem, as well, is accessing finance to mount all these projects. I was looking at a piece in The Times Educational Supplement on 5 December last year that suggested that an application has been made to the European Investment Bank for funds, because up to five local authorities are struggling to find private cash for BSF projects and are looking for additional funds. Are you aware of BSF projects that are stalling or struggling because of difficulties in finding private investment, and what would you want the Government to do to reassure investors that BSF is a relatively safe place to put money?
<Graham Watts:> First, we obviously welcome the European Investment Bank's agreement in principle to fund five projects near financial close with a £300 million package, but at least another 18 privately financed BSF schemes, worth around £1.3 billion, are due to close this year, and our information is that a number of them are struggling to raise the private capital that they require, because, of course, of the difficulty in liquidity within our banking system. So I think that intervention from the European Investment Bank, or further intervention from the EU or the Government, to try to provide some more direct funding to assist these projects and to change the structure, which, of course, was set up in different times when the credit crisis was not there, is what we are looking for.
<Sunand Prasad:> You asked if we were aware of other projects delayed through funding difficulties. We do not know for sure, but there are delays in the announcement of certain preferred bidders in projects due to funding problems. I think that we have to remember that, in the old days in times of downturn, Government investment was a sure way of either copper-bottoming or kick-starting the economy. In this case, because of the involvement of private finances to such a large degree, that solution is not as readily available as one might think.
The question is really whether we intervene in helping that credit and finance to be there through the Government. Should we perhaps for a time take a more traditional route for funding, because within BSF there are several procurement methods? There is design and build within BSF, and there are certain schools that are not procured entirely through public-private partnerships. I think that there are avenues to be looked at in whether those methods could be mixed more.
Q<95> <Fiona Mactaggart:> I am hearing that you would like more investment from Government. One of the things that struck me is that that is producing a more competitive environment. You have less business outside this field. Is there scope for savings for the public purse?
<Sunand Prasad:> The RIBA's position is that the biggest scope for savings for the public purse right now would be the streamlining of the procurement method to reduce bid costs, which might bring in its wake a more competitive environment, because people will see less at risk. They would be competing not on the amount of risk that they can take, but on the price that they can offer.
Q<96> <Fiona Mactaggart:> But the RIBA has told us that the bidding process is a burden and that good design practices are not necessarily involved because it ties up a lot of skills and that much of the work is then not used. Is that not inevitable in that kind of bidding process? Is it not quite usual? If the reward at the end of the process is work when the rest of the economy is not offering work, is that not a worthwhile investment of your skill and talent?
<Sunand Prasad:> That is why people will continue to turn to that process, even though up to two thirds of the work is not used. Two thirds of the work done is not used, at a cost of over £5 million-the figure typically used to be £5 million or £10 million, but that has since reduced to £7 million because of improvements in the process used by BSF for the bid costs. A substantial amount of the work is simply not being used. That money has to come from somewhere, and ultimately, those bidders who have risked that money will get it back from the public sector in the long term. However, in a downturn, people will be keen to take part. Architects are certainly very attracted to BSF, not only for the work, but for the type of work. We still believe, however, that you still get competition and enthusiasm and that you can reduce waste, time and money.
<Graham Watts:> There is some evidence that PFI contractors are using their own cash to plug some of the funding gaps, but the number of companies in the construction industry that are able to invest millions of pounds of their own money in the bidding process is very small. The industry is characterised in the main by very small firms that rely on the banks to invest in that process, and of course, at the moment that is not happening.
Q<97> <Fiona Mactaggart:> One of the things that I am hearing from you, Sunand-I would not mind if other witnesses commented on it-is a sense that the bidding process is not as efficient as it might be if it were driven by partners who frequently built buildings. My brother is a property developer, and I do not imagine that he has a bidding process that is as complex as that which BSF involves. Inevitably, local education authorities and school partnerships do not include people whose main expertise is in commissioning and building buildings. Is there a failure in the education of your customers in going through that process in a way that gets the best value for money for the taxpayer and out of what the builders and designers can do?
<Sunand Prasad:> I think that that is absolutely right. Client skills are an issue. Interestingly, the best local authorities do very well. There are some high-performing, expert local authorities, but that learning is not transferred to the others. We are beginning to wonder whether there needs to be greater help centrally to local authorities to help them become more expert at procuring. If they were, perhaps some of the leaner, more competitive processes could be introduced. It is true that the current process does at least protect poor-performing local authorities to an extent from putting the public sector greatly at risk. Some help like that would help local authorities to be much more effective clients, who not only get the best designs and best design quality, but actually involve pupils and teachers in the development and are able to see it right through to delivery on time and budget, like the best-performing private sector bodies will.
Q<98> <Chairman:> Ian, your organisation was formed to try to inform and spread good practice across local authorities and bidders. Do you want to respond to Fiona's question?
<Ian Fordham:> Yes, I do. In the evaluation about bidders for schools, which was issued yesterday, it came out strongly that local authority managers are becoming experts in the procurement process, but what is actually driving this programme is educational transformation. Our take, particularly on the procurement process, is that there are alternative ways of looking at BSF procurement that could be improved. Smart BSF, which we were strongly in favour of, is one of those approaches. We are aware of other local authorities going down different procurement routes as well. The issue around skills and knowledge at local authority level is key. It also goes down to the level of clients who are the beneficiaries of this programme. We would be delighted to play a more active role in the professional development of local authority managers as well as teachers to get the right outcome.
In relation to the economic downturn, one of our issues is having real clarity about the Government's position on the public value programme and its review of BSF. Taking the point made by CIC about the industry having the reassurance that money for BSF will continue, that level of commitment is essential at the moment. Knowing what will be the outcome of that public value programme review is essential. We are aware of a National Audit Office report on BSF coming out quite soon as well. That is another way of settling the industry's concerns about procurement and other issues.
<Dr. Simmons:> Good practice is starting to emerge, as you will know from previous appearances. We have now started a process of reviewing designs at the bidding stage to try to help local authorities to decide who will be the best contractor in terms of good design. We have so far seen 54 schools-that means seeing 170 designs, as we are seeing three designs for each school-from 25 local authorities. That is about 1.5% of the total programme so far. We are about to kick in to the compulsory stage of reviewing in wave 4, which is coming to CABE shortly.
Picking up the point just made, one of the key issues is around educational transformation. Plenty of people can procure a building, but the people who can innovate and produce good educational transformation are much scarcer at the moment. In March, CABE is to start a programme of sharing the learning that we are getting from design review at the moment. The process is ambitious, not just an estates programme. We constantly harp on about this, but it is about the young people who are the ultimate customers of the process and how schools can be designed better to enable teachers to work with them to improve educational performance. That is one of the key areas for us where further work and preparation are needed.
We have been talking to Partnerships for Schools, which is very receptive to getting engaged earlier in the process, so that the educational authorities have time to think about their educational vision much more clearly before they start. Making the waves less formal, so seeing more schools from people who are ready to bid, rather than insisting that people come in serried ranks, will be a big help. We are already seeing improvements in preparation. Getting the educational vision is critical to getting the right vision both for the schools and for how they are looked after once they have been built.
Q<99> <Fiona Mactaggart:> I am going to have to pop out shortly and will have to pass this back to the Chair, but I am interested in the point you make about the way in which design issues and learning about educational transformation can be changed. I know this sounds trivial, but it is not. I am a former teacher, and I know how important it is. I was struck that, in a newly built school in my constituency, the lavatories have windows on to the corridors-not the place where you actually pee but the space outside that. It has been quite transformative of bullying in the lavatories. I am struck by such small changes, which can improve the learning environment in ways not necessarily likely to be thought of. Are you confident that there is a strong enough process to share the consequences of such innovations? Not all of them will work, obviously. I have a feeling that the big ones are being shared, but perhaps the little ones are not.
<Dr. Simmons:> Lavatories are where most people start. If you talk to young people in schools about what the issues are, they start with lavatories and then move on to corridors or movement spaces, because, as you say, that is where bullying happens. Then they move on to where they get fed, and then the learning environment. That is absolutely right. I think that a lot is being learned. With things like loos, the question is how far to go before you stop innovating and say, "Right, that's a standard we can set. We don't have to go on spending design time on it, because people have worked out how to make it work well." As the programme develops, we will learn more. Partnerships for Schools plans to introduce something called post-occupancy evaluation or post-occupancy learning. That is where learning on the small issues will really be able to flow through. We are learning a lot at the moment, especially about getting it out there, but we still need to do a lot more.
<Ian Fordham:> I just want to make an observation about transformation and what it actually means. As a former teacher, I know the issues very well. How can we hard-wire it into the system? How can we look at the small innovations that make a massive difference to young people and teachers? We are proposing a much stronger emphasis on applied research and development-the kind that we can put into the hands of the people making decisions about what happens in their schools through the procurement process and afterwards: furniture, lighting, organisation of space. One of our concerns about how we work together effectively as partners is the finding in the evaluation that talks about how the design of new buildings is not having a massive effect on pedagogy and how teachers develop their practice. That is critical. All of us as organisations need to stand up to the mark and show how to make that happen.
<Sunand Prasad:> I strongly support that. The report says: "In the case of open BSF schools, there is no evidence to date suggesting that the design of new buildings, including flexible teaching areas, has significantly contributed to changing pedagogy and practice." That is slightly surprising, because a lot of learning is taking place, but the fact is that we have not yet quite come to grips with how educational transformation and a vision about a new kind of educational practice or practices change the buildings themselves. As we have all said so often, BSF is not actually about building; it is about schools for children and teachers. We have not quite got there in the learning. One of the keys to that will be for schools to spend far more time defining their transformational vision, working directly with designers who can provide it and coming to answers, rather than being thrown immediately into a procurement process that is, as we have all said, very complex. How do we make space for maximum contact between the people who need something or are changing something and the people who can design and construct it?
Q<100> <Mr. Stuart:> I was not clear. Has there been a movement from private finance initiative to design and build, as a result of the investment planning so far?
<Sunand Prasad:> So far, I would say that it is too early.
<Chairman:> Too early to know.
Q<101> <Mr. Stuart:> I understand that it was thought that that was likely to happen, but it was hoped that there might be an increase in design and build and then, when the market changed, a switch back to PFI. However, there is no evidence for that.
<Graham Watts:> No, there is no evidence for that at the moment. Could I return to that central point about experienced clients? It is worth making the point that the guidance and advice coming out from centralised public sector authorities-such as the Public Sector Construction Clients' Forum, the Office of Government Commerce, Partnerships for Schools and so on-is of an extremely good quality. I have been at CIC for 18 years and would say that the quality of the guidance given to procurement officials nowadays is better than it has ever been. Too often, there is a disconnect between that central guidance and the decisions taken locally. It is an age-old problem, but it is one of the issues that we need to address.
Q<102> <Chairman:> Can I just push on a little on the issue that Fiona opened with? Is there a crisis in funding? You know, as well as we do, that there is another major programme for primary education and that there is a very big capital programme in further education, and we all understand that there has been a rush to get big capital projects through to the Learning and Skills Council, because people are worried that the LSC will disappear by 2010. Everyone is getting their bids in now. Is a crisis looming due to the lack of funding and the number of schools and colleges rushing to get their bids in, because they think that the money will run out?
<Graham Watts:> After a slow start, all the evidence until recently was that the programme was picking up. Indeed, the evidence of the early completions is that the full year's programme of schooling carried out afterwards was very good. The crisis is that that promising move and acceleration could come to a full stop if the funding is not there, particularly on the private sector side, to continue the work.
<Chairman:> So that is a crisis.
<Graham Watts:> Yes, potentially, it is.
<Dr. Simmons:> The crisis is in the construction industry. Many firms in construction see schemes such as BSF and LIFT as a way of staying in business. The question is whether the collateral damage to firms from other parts of the sector will be such that it will either weaken their ability to attract investment capital or weaken the skills in the organisation. As you know, a large number of people have already been made redundant from the industry, and the estimate is that 30% of the work force will possibly be gone by 2011. It is a question of whether we can hang on to and improve the skills in the sectors that the Government are still supporting, or whether firms that are having to spread their bets across a wider range than in the past, when losses from BSF could be spread across other programmes, will now be so focused on BSF that losing a BSF scheme will be fatal to the company. That is where the greatest danger lies from our perspective.
<Sunand Prasad:> There is no crisis in BSF. It remains an incredibly exciting and interesting programme, and knowledge is being generated. At this point in our economy, BSF ought to be part of the answer to the crisis, and the real question is whether it is currently configured to be most effective in answering that crisis. Can we bring schemes forward fast enough to have a real impact on the economy? So far the evidence is that we cannot. How can we put measures in place that release the true potential of BSF, not only to transform education, but also to deal with the economy?
Q<103> <Chairman:> But, Sunand, the Government have been saying that they will use the construction industry and public sector construction projects in both health and education to get us through the recession. It would be tragic if a lack of finance stopped that process.
<Sunand Prasad:> It would be tragic if either a lack of finance or an inability to innovate a little more in procurement systems prevented that from happening.
Q<104> <Chairman:> BSF was accepted with cross-party support by everyone in the education sector, because it was the first time that any Government had said, "Look, we want you to have a vision of teaching and learning that is innovative and creative. If you come up with a vision of what you want education in your local authority area to be into the 21st century, you will get money for construction." Does that still hold? Is that still the inspiration from your perspective?
<Sunand Prasad:> I would say that it is. Absolutely. We know from best practice what can be achieved. There are high-performing LEAs with transformational visions that are doing the right thing and achieving great results. However, we are not getting sufficient spread of that across the piece. It is improving, but the questions are whether it is improving fast enough and how can we, side by side with doing things such as loosening fiscal restraints, help centrally local authorities to be better at getting the results that we are all after?
<Dr. Simmons:> There is no doubt from the people who we are meeting through the design review and the various forms in which we share learning that that is at the heart of what people are trying to achieve through the program. It is still seen that way. The issue is about whether all local authorities have the skills to deliver that at the moment of access to the skills. One of the goods things-let us talk about the positive side-is the huge enthusiasm on the part of head teachers, teachers and LEAs to share the learning that is going on at the moment. We are about to add some educationalists to our design review panel, so that we can get some more of that force behind the programme.
Everyone understands the ambition and is keen to share it, but not everybody at the moment has the skills or necessarily the resources when they need them at the front end of the programme. From the work that we are doing, it is clear that, as Sunand said, it is really important to spend more time, before bidding or joining the programme, preparing your vision and thinking it through carefully, while still having a dialogue with designers about how to realise the vision through the buildings. It is very interesting that people are saying that pedagogy has not yet been shown to be improving through the design of schools. We have seen some schools where that is happening, so that definitely needs to be shared more widely. When you see that happening, you start to see the school's performance transforming as well, based on conservations with the heads.
Q<105> <Chairman:> Where is that coming from, Richard? You say that pedagogy is changing, but when we held our original inquiry, we could not find such schools and innovations showing new ways of teaching and learning. It is all very well having that and talking about personalised learning, on which an inquiry has been going on for three years-in some respects it is a bit late for BSF-but if you are designing schools, the ideas for teaching and learning that inform the build of the school must come either from the Department or locally. Where is it coming from, if anywhere at all?
<Dr. Simmons:> By and large-this in not universally true-we are seeing it coming from very imaginative head teachers, chairs and governors working with very imaginative people in the LEAs. They have the opportunity to influence the design outcomes of the schools. There are people who want to innovate in learning. On Friday, I was at a school from the old PFI programme, which, unfortunately, was not a design success. The school's ambition is being inhibited by the fact that the design has not worked, which means that it cannot achieve what it wants. However, its ambition remains, and it is doing the best that it can. As far as we are concerned, it is about getting those clients together with good architects and then sharing what they are doing with other people, so that they can understand the differences.
Q<106> <Chairman:> Graham, hand on heart, do all local authorities still need that vision? Or are some authorities getting away with a traditional but new build? You know what it looks like-corridors with classrooms for 30 kids on either side. Are we building any of those?
<Graham Watts:> Well, I think that they are still happening. Only 42 schools were opened under the BSF programme by the end of December. I think that I am right in saying that only about 1.3% of eligible schools have joined in the wave so far. It is very early days. I think that there are some ideological issues in some local authorities about opting into the BSF programme, because they do not want to outsource elements of the schools operation and those sorts of things. Going back to the original question, I feel that some evidence is already beginning to emerge of improvement in the learning process and in the schools environment through the early schools that have closed. I have seen some figures-
Q<107> <Chairman:> Early schools that have closed?
<Graham Watts:> I am sorry. Early schools that have finished.
<Dr. Simmons:> Closed the contract.
<Graham Watts:> Closed the contract-thank you, Richard. I have seen some data about examination results improving, and the percentage of students feeling safer is up 30%; the percentage of students feeling proud of their schools is up 33%; and vandalism is down 51%. That sort of information is beginning to come out of the process.
Q<108> <Chairman:> There are 42 schools. What I am asking you is, of those 42, how many are visionary and different, and how many are traditional schools of the type that I have just described?
<Graham Watts:> Of the ones that I have seen, which I have to say is not very many of those 42, I think that there is something visionary about all of them, particularly in terms of the design quality within the school.
Q<109> <Chairman:> We all get in a panic to build, so will we not just revert to the attitude of, "Let's just put up a new school, cut corners and forget the vision" ?
<Sunand Prasad:> Yes, if we get into a panic to build. However, there is absolutely no reason why we should get into that panic. As we keep saying, it has been done very well in places. What we must do is to make that the rule. There is not actually anything incredibly surprising about what is needed here; it is just that not everybody is up to speed on that, and we have to help the people who are not quite there to be there. Then they will not panic.
Q<110> <Mr. Stuart:> All of you make money out of this enormous, multi-billion pound programme, and yet the second annual report evaluation of BSF says, "Teachers...were less convinced that the teaching spaces were flexible and adaptable...It is too early to point to a clear link between new or refurbished school buildings and improvements in pupil attainment, although there was a clear message that the buildings alone would not raise attainment, unless accompanied by other changes...Our results mirror the existing literature in not finding a strong correlation between the two"-that is, basically, between these changes and pupil attainment and improvement.
So we have a failing school system that, after a doubling of expenditure, has seen the number of children who are NEETs-not in education, employment or training-at 16, 17 or 18 remain unchanged after 12 years of economic growth; we have a crisis of competitiveness; and we have people effectively abandoned because of a lack of opportunity and a lack of attainment. At the same time, we are pouring billions into a building programme, for which there seems to be no evidence at all that it will tackle the fundamental source of those problems. Can you comment on that as a critique?
<Chairman:> I do not want a seminar on those issues. Could you come back briefly on that, please? Who wants to start?
<Ian Fordham:> I will start. Let us take a step back. What is this all about? It is about great schools. What do we want for our schools, for our education? If you use quite a narrow metric around attainment, clearly things may not necessarily be improving in the way that perhaps somebody wanted them to improve. If you are looking at those broader outcomes that we want to achieve, including higher attainment-obviously, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has put a consultation out about those broader outcomes. If you are measuring it just by that metric, yes, there needs to be improvements.
Going back to the point about how you can hard-wire this into the system, then how you can take teachers on board and say, "What is the link between what you are doing in the classroom and how this new building programme is developing?", is absolutely essential.
I think that an opportunity is provided by the economic downturn, from the point of view of our taking stock and saying, "How do we actually move the system forward, how can we bring about that kind of innovation in the system?" I do not think that BSF is a failure; I do not think that the Primary Capital Programme, or PCP, is a failure. As somebody who is working in the not-for-profit sector, I would challenge the issue around making money from the programme. However, I think that this is what we are all about: from our different perspectives, we are all about achieving great schools.
How can you actually take people on that journey? The Government's ambition is very big and challenging. However, I think that we are all, from our different perspectives, trying to find ways of improving the system and I think that those simple metrics around league tables are a bit of a misnomer. I think that it is about those broader outcomes that we are looking for, which is about engaging the hard-to-reach and those NEETs you mentioned, as well as being about just the crude attainment tables.
<Dr. Simmons:> That analysis, by Mr. Stuart, is a fairly gloomy analysis, I think.
<Chairman:> He is just trying to provoke us all.
<Dr. Simmons:> I thought that that might be the case. What we are seeing coming through the design process now is not conventional school design. In terms of the schemes that are being brought through the system, which have not yet been built, we are not seeing that old-fashioned school that you describe. We are seeing, broadly, five different types of school, which are trying to learn from some of the best, such as Bristol Brunel. There is already some learning getting out there in terms of what is being built. I think that it is too early to judge yet because we have not seen that many new schools built. To say that you can transform education as a result of building 42 schools suggests a dramatic result, and if we achieved that it would be great.
Q<111> <Mr. Stuart:> The killer line from the official report is, "The results as a whole suggest a positive impact of capital on attainment"-hurrah-"but the magnitude is likely to be very small. We also found evidence for considerable diminishing returns to capital investments." Given the crisis in our education, the challenges we face and the urgency of dealing with them, what would make an incoming Government continue pouring billions of pounds into this particular programme?
<Dr. Simmons:> You need to remember where this programme started, which was originally around the quality of the school estate. Schools were leaking, they were not well maintained, so it was about trying to bring some innovation to that. Educational transformation, very sensibly, has been brought in because while you are changing the physical structures and dealing with the estate management issues, the opportunity also needs to be taken to improve learning.
Q<112> <Mr. Stuart:> But is it a false promise? There seems to be no evidence-
<Chairman:> Give them a chance. I am going back to the witnesses, who will respond to your question.
<Sunand Prasad:> As someone who is engaged on a day-to-day level, the picture you have drawn is not one I recognise at all. The excitement in schools before and after construction is truly inspiring when it happens, and it does happen. We need to interrogate that matrix because earlier on Graham read out some others, which seemed to contradict that.
Q<113> <Mr. Stuart:> He gave an anecdotal view of having seen some data that suggested that, whereas I am looking at the formal evaluation, which comes to opposite conclusions and seems to suggest-
<Chairman:> Which none of us have had a chance to read.
<Sunand Prasad:> There are other things in the formal evaluation. I do not recognise that picture and the key point is that it takes a long time for a building to be designed and built-three years minimum, probably more. We must not go on about the old picture. There was an earlier phase of BSF, which has produced the completed schools. BSF and Partnership for Schools have learned a great deal from that early experience and have put in place really good measures. We do not think that they go far enough, but they nevertheless have put in place some very good measures, the results of which are now beginning to come through in the designs that we are seeing, which will be on the ground in probably two or three years' time. The fact is that these are slow-moving programmes and the time to market is quite long, and I would not panic about those kinds of figures. The evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, is that this will work if we do it right.
<Chairman:> We are going to drill down on this.
Q<114> <Paul Holmes:> We have had various comments on design quality and education outcomes and so forth. To return to that issue in more detail, when the first wave of academies opened five or six years ago there was a lot of criticism that some of the new buildings were not very good; others had poured a fortune into a stylistic statement that did not have much to do with education and could even hinder it. When the first few BSF schools were opened and this Committee, in its previous form, did a report about them there was a lot of concern from people like you that the design was not coming up to promise. Now that more have opened-although there are still not many-where are we? In general, is the design meeting expectations?
<Dr. Simmons:> I suppose I should start, because we are actually looking at what is coming through the system at the moment. We are seeing improvements. We are still seeing many schools at the first review. We generally do two reviews and people come back for a third or fourth bite as they have to, but generally we see schemes twice. We are seeing definite improvements between the first review and the second review, so that the number of very poor schools is diminishing.
As you will know, the Government are proposing to produce a minimum design standard, so that schools that are truly poor do not get built at all. What that will comprise will be announced shortly and we are working with Partnerships for Schools. I think that that will make a big difference, certainly in helping people to understand what the benchmark is. Below a certain level, you just should not spend public money on some of what is being proposed and being built. So we are seeing an improvement. As a result of Partnerships for Schools issuing new guidance, we are also seeing much better briefing; architects and contractors are working with better briefs and that is helping the process as well.
At the moment, we are still looking for improvement in three key areas. One is environmental strategies. No school that we have seen has yet achieved excellence in its use of resources, although some are good. We are looking for better civic presence; we see too many schools that still use a fence as their boundary with the neighbourhood, rather than a front door. That is often because of the nature of the site that the architects and the contractors are given. In some cases it may be that the cards are already stacked against the project because of the site. I suppose that I have already talked about the third area: educational transformation. We need more of a learning spread. Those are the kinds of areas that we think we need to see most improvement in at the moment. The story is positive but it could be a lot better. We would still like to see far more good and very good schools coming through.
Q<115> <Paul Holmes:> So, there are no more horror stories like the school that had no playground, no green space. That was a brand new school, which could have been there for 30 or 40 years, but with no green space. There is nothing like that at the moment.
<Dr. Simmons:> We are trying to weed those out, so there should be none in the future. Of course, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment does not see every school; we do not see refurbishments, for example, because generally they do not fit with the model of design review. Once the partnership has been formed, we have to be careful to keep up the pressure on producing good design. Part of the point about the post-occupancy evaluation that we touched on earlier is to make sure that once a partnership has been formed, there are checks to ensure that the high standard set at the outset is continued. Those risks have to be managed as a programme develops.
<Sunand Prasad:> The horror stories should disappear. The CABE design review and minimum standards should take care of that. I am pretty convinced that they will take care of that. What we want to do, however, is to go a bit beyond that. We want to have transformational education-education that is focused on the children and the staff. Our concern is how to achieve that in the best way possible. Looking back at successful projects-not only in BSF but in other programmes, such as the arts lottery-we know that when designers and the people who need the facility get together and work out what they want, and what they want then gets built through as simple a process as possible, you get the best results.
How can we, while protecting the public purse and dealing with the risk-which is what many PPP and design, build, finance and operate models are predicated on-allow there to be the interfaces between designers and users that ensure we get the best possible designs? We are going to come back to the issue of local authority skills-client-side skills-and the procurement process, which at the moment tends to get in the way of that. We need to be imaginative and creative with certain constraints perceived in the European rules, which other European countries do not seem to be so bound by; we seem to interpret them more strictly. We believe that we will be more able to do the sensible thing if we look a little harder at this picture.
Q<116> <Paul Holmes:> One of the early criticisms was that the Government had not provided, say, 10 different standard blueprints and said, "Why don't you work around those?", although other people said, "Oh, no-you do not want to stifle innovation." In some of your earlier comments you seemed to suggest that good practice samples are now emerging. Where are we on that?
<Dr. Simmons:> Shall I start on that again? We certainly oppose the idea of five standard schools built everywhere because we think that that is a failed model. There are certain things that you can set standards for and standardise around, and that means that you can put more of your design time into two key things: the innovation around education environments and so on, and making the school part of, or having it add to, its civic context.
We have seen some interesting schools recently. In one school in Southwark people want to incorporate business units alongside the school so that young people can experience business at first hand and see how businesses operate on site. A lot of the design resource should focus on how you can achieve that kind of thing in the design. But, as the programme is seeking innovation, there are some dangers in saying that everything should be standardised, because that will automatically stifle the ability of teachers, head teachers, the industry and the LEAs to come up with new ways of learning that they want to use to improve standards.
There is a balance to be struck, and at the moment there is a lot of guidance on standards. I suppose that the key thing is how smart you are at using those standards effectively-for example, if there are problems with the limits on how much floor space you can fund, whether you can find ways to make that floor space more adaptable, so that you can use it for personalised learning some of the time and for more general classroom activity at other times. It is in those areas that smart design is important.
Q<117> <Paul Holmes:> CABE has provided enablers-skilled architects-to take a lead and advise other people. Is much use being made of that?
<Dr. Simmons:> Yes, all education authorities that are part of BSF have access to them and are using them. We are talking to BSF about using them much earlier in the process, because client design advisers are also appointed to advise the client once the programme is under way, so we are now looking at whether we can use our enablers much earlier in the process to help the conversation about the educational vision and how it would be applied to briefs-appointing design teams and so on. That will probably be a better use of their time, given that CDAs work with clients through the project.
Q<118> <Paul Holmes:> The design quality indicator is online, and it was suggested that any project costing over £1 million, let alone a whole school, should use it as a yardstick. Is that being done?
<Dr. Simmons:> DQIs are certainly a very helpful informing brief to begin with, but we apply a slightly different process. Graham is the expert on DQIs, but as long as they are used properly, carefully and there is feedback about what we have done, they are a very good way to involve a wide group of people. You have to use several different ways of engaging the client, and the key message we are getting is that where clients-not the LEA, but the people who use the school-are directly engaged in a conversation with the architects and contractor, the results are better. Graham is probably in a better position to comment about DQIs.
<Graham Watts:> The DQI for schools is a very simple tool that should enable all the stakeholders in a school project, including the students and the teaching and ancillary staff, to be involved in a conversation about what they expect to achieve-their aspirations for the design quality of the finished school. That is reviewed at various points in the process. It is very early days in the programme, and the problem is that it is seen more as a contractual necessity-a box to be ticked-rather than a process that is properly facilitated, involves all the stakeholders and is gone through in a considered and co-ordinated way. Where it happens, however, we see evidence that the process is improving the product.
Q<119> <Paul Holmes:> My final question relates to some of your earlier comments. One or two of you talked about companies and architects who are a bit worried about going in for the design process and bid, but not being selected, and therefore losing money. What is unusual about that? I remember years ago, as a councillor, having presentations from three teams of architects and designers who wanted to build the new shopping precinct in Chesterfield; only one could win and two were not going to. Why is BSF any different from the usual process?
<Sunand Prasad:> What is unusual about the situation, when compared with what you describe, is the sheer amount of work involved. We are basically designing whole buildings in considerable detail. We had been doing three and chucking away two of them; now it will be two and we will chuck away one. That is one problem, which is why it is so expensive to bid. It also creates a discontinuity between those early engagements-we all agree that early preparation, getting your brief right and getting a good concept design together are essential. If we had continuity between that and using DQIs to track progress and the built school, that would be ideal. Currently, however, because of procurement rules, we have an interruption, whereby the contractors come in with their own designers and reinvent the wheel to minimise risk and other sorts of supposed aims. We believe that there are other ways of doing that and keeping that continuity. My position, and, in fact RIBA's position, is that that would get over many of the problems that we are describing-if we could have that continuity and if those designs could be novated to be constructed.
<Chairman:> We are going to have to speed up questions and answers because of our slightly late start. Douglas? No? John?
Q<120> <Mr. Heppell:> Personalised learning is often talked about, but people have different views of what it is. What are you doing to ensure that schools can cater more for personalised learning? I presume that there will be more one-to-one tuition. How has that affected the way that you design schools?
<Ian Fordham:> There is mixed press on the meaning of personalised learning. The Committee will be aware of some of the concerns and issues. At a school level, it is transforming the way teachers think, not only about classroom teaching but about how they organise themselves in different spaces and how young people learn outside the curriculum. The work of David Hargreaves on clustering the gateways to personalised learning-"the four deeps" as he calls them-is being embedded substantially in the curriculum.
It goes back to design and pedagogy: how the design of new school buildings integrates into changing thinking about teaching and learning and the different spaces within which that can be done. The evaluation highlights that there is still a gap between design and personalised learning. Engagement with teachers is critical.
To build on the learning we have in that regard, we ran a series of transformational learning master-classes just before Christmas with Ken Fisher, a world expert on pedagogy and space. He has been inspirational in the work on personalised learning and new builds in primary schools. The learning that is taking place and that has been going on at school level on personalised learning-
<Chairman:> Usually in the corridor.
<Ian Fordham:> It is sometimes done in the corridor, but those things are connected. We must consider the dynamic that there is not just classroom teaching, but that learning takes place outside the classroom.
<Chairman:> Does anybody else want to come in on personalised learning?
<Sunand Prasad:> There is much to be learned from the primary sector, where personalised learning-the idea that each child has his or her way of dealing with the world and learning about it-is well established and tracked. The primary sector allows spaces to be flexible tools that teachers can use. That is how we must look at them. The school community, head teachers and teachers must be able to use and manipulate the space around them to suit learning styles. That must come from teachers. The key is adaptable and flexible spaces. That is where the focus is and some good examples are emerging.
Q<121> <Mr. Heppell:> Moving on from that, my colleague from Nottingham, South is always very concerned that most schools are not very environmentally friendly. There is talk of schools being zero-carbon by 2016. My experience is that people talk the talk well. As a quick anecdote, on a visit to Nottingham University I was shown marvellous technological innovations for making an environmental impact. There were many marvellous new inventions. I asked how many were used on the university premises and the answer was none. There were great ideas, but they were not being used. What has been learned from the first wave about making schools sustainable in terms of energy, carbon emissions and so on? How has that changed the design for what is coming?
<Dr. Simmons:> Probably, what we have learned from the first wave is that there is not a lot to learn from the first wave, other than that the more IT equipment you put in a school, the hotter it gets. You can undermine a lot of the good design work if you do not design the building to be flexible enough to accommodate lots of kit. There is lots of jargon around, such as "thin clients", which will reduce the heat output of IT equipment. The first learning point is to think about the school as a whole, including how it will operate and what will be in it.
There are some simple things we can learn from the better schools-to be fair, we can learn from some schools from the first wave. We can also learn from what has happened in mainland Europe in schools in Scandinavia and Germany. It is simple stuff. Before you start putting in all the kit, you should point the building in the right direction so it takes maximum advantage of sunlight. You should also make sure that you use daylight as much as possible, so that you are not spending money using electricity to light the building. You should use natural ventilation where you can and get the air to flow through the building in ways that are really quite traditional. When you are doing that, you should think about how to make sure that the place does not get too hot or cold, as I said. You can then start to look at whether you need to add bits of kit. We have seen quite a few schemes with a windmill, which is actually there for educational purposes.
<Chairman:> We have never seen a windmill that works.
<Dr. Simmons:> That is why they are there for educational purposes. We would like to see every school starting from those basic points. I think our basic points are good architecture, really.
<Sunand Prasad:> Yes, it is amazing to hear the obvious and simple things that we have learned from the first wave. What we have really learned from the first wave is that setting targets for on-site renewables, for example, is not necessarily the best way to encourage low carbon. The best thing to do is to set carbon targets and say that you can achieve them in the way you want. If you want to achieve it through reducing your energy use or rescheduling your use of the building, do it that way, but make sure that you are conscious of what the true energy costs are.
The second thing we have learned is that it costs money to put these measures in place, and when we still have a big problem with the costs of these buildings, those measures get chopped out-even though people start with good intentions. My firm is supposedly expert in sustainable design, but even though we have done a number of schools, they are not all exemplars of sustainable design because the money was not there to do it. Now that the Government have made the money available, we hope that there will be a generation of far higher performance schools coming through. We particularly request that we do not have prescriptive targets that tell you how to do something, but, by all means, set outcomes in terms of carbon energy reductions.
<Dr. Simmons:> Could I add briefly to that? The same issue applies in housing. One Friday, I was at a school on a brand new housing estate where the houses are supposed to achieve certain standards within the red line around each house, and the school is supposed to achieve certain standards in the red line around the school. It would have been much more sensible if sustainability had been looked at across the whole estate including the school. I hope that the Government are moving towards-they need to move towards-the idea of looking at neighbourhoods and larger areas when it comes to energy efficiency and sustainability. That way you can obtain enough investment to get the right kit to make sure that you get sustainable energy.
Q<122> <Chairman:> I hope that you are talking to the Homes and Community Agency.
<Dr. Simmons:> Absolutely.
Q<123> <Mr. Heppell:> That just seems a nice point at which to move on. There is a lot of talk about joint services and things being run in schools from one location-people being able to access health care and education there-and opening up schools to the community generally, so that their facilities can be used. That conflicts a bit with the heightened security that I tend to find in schools-getting into some schools is almost like getting into Fort Knox. How do you design a school to allow local access and at the same time keep a grip on security?
<Sunand Prasad:> If you go to the Jo Richardson School in Barking and Dagenham, you will see how those problems have been solved. Ian is really the person to address the issue of co-location because he has given a lot of thought to it.
<Ian Fordham:> Very briefly, the key issues are at different levels. Locally, particularly with the extended schools agenda, a huge amount of work is going on in terms of integrating services and providing a core of services outside the curriculum. We think that the "Designing Schools for Extended Services" work that was done a couple of years ago needs to be revisited because so much has changed in that time. A further thing is that if the DCSF is committing £200 million to a co-location fund, which talks about integrating services in a local area, a proportion of that needs to be used to look at the issues around design and construction.
<Mr. Heppell:> One last thing-
Q<124> <Chairman:> Before you do that one last thing, John, I went to Almondbury High School in my constituency recently. Yes, there are services, but it is a PFI school, and although the community desperately needs staff working in youth services in the evening, PFI does not allow that. You can pay to go in the gym and do health stuff if you are a paying customer, but young people in that community do not have access because of PFI. Does that generally happen now? Is it the case that every PFI school cannot serve the community because the PFI people do not want expensive security problems at night?
<Ian Fordham:> There are ways around that, Chairman. I must confess an interest: I did a piece on PFI and extended schools last year and we were looking for examples of good practice. There are ways of varying the contracts. Part of the issue is to have a master plan to see how activities for young people can be built into the system in an effective way. Having that integrated approach from a school's perspective means that the contractor can collaborate and look at that space outside school hours. A number of contractors have been quite active in this and have set up community interest companies and so on to manage those facilities outside school hours in a PFI contract.
Q<125> <Mr. Heppell:> The National Deaf Children's Society provides anecdotal evidence that many deaf children who are being taught in mainstream schools find it very difficult because the new schools that are being built have bad acoustical problems. As someone who has a hearing problem, I can understand the difficulty. You can go in one room and you can pick up someone talking quite easily, yet in another room you cannot hear a word. How strong are you on building the acoustics of a building into the design?
<Chairman:> We have all met NDCS on this.
<Sunand Prasad:> There is a strong building bulletin on acoustics in schools which, if followed, would answer those questions. One of the issues is that some of these changing and emerging pedagogies and these flexible spaces are about open plan, so there is a direct conflict between acoustics and a pedagogic move towards more open plan and more flexible learning. Again, there are good examples of where that has been solved, but it is one of those areas that is a real design challenge. How do you balance those two and how do you take care of the needs of people with partial hearing, while allowing open plan? Without going into the details of the cases, it would be difficult to comment, but overall good codes, good practice and building bulletin 93 are available to deal with that, and some of that conflict might arise because of an internal issue about pedagogy.
<Ian Fordham:> The BCSE is grabbing this issue pretty strongly in the next month. We are having an expert session on the guidance in BB93 on acoustics. We are getting these issues out into the open. The current building standards for schools mean that less than 40 per cent. of speech is intelligible for some children with a hearing impairment. The title of the report says it all: "Must Do Better". How can we get that information out into the system very quickly and avoid those obvious issues?
<Chairman:> Sadly, we are running out of time. Let us have a quick one from John to finish and then Andy or anyone else may have a quick one before we change panels.
<Mr. Heppell:> I was just going to say that it often seems to me that the design of the room is right, but people have not taken background noises into account. You will be in a room and it will be fine and then they will switch the air conditioning on and they might as well have turned on a band as far as I am concerned. I have lost all conversation. I suspect that many deaf children are in that position.
Q<126> <Mr. Stuart:> Basically, the major environmental aspects which are brought in by specialists in that are being taken out at the last minute because of the capital cost element. Have any positive changes been made to incentivise their introduction? I have heard from pump manufacturers that at that last minute the category A pump specifications are taken out, which has a transformational effect on the amount of carbon produced by the building over its life cycle. This is an issue not just for those with a hearing problem, but for those with a concentration problem who are the most vulnerable and the most likely to end up as NEETs. I know from being a governor of a school where I had to work for years to get the open plan classrooms closed off again that ensuring that such children could hear is pretty essential too. Can you respond to those two points?
<Sunand Prasad:> On the first point, again when we describe those sustainability measures that were taken out we are looking at a previous regime. You are talking about before the money was made available-up to £500,000 per school-precisely to do this. That is great news.
Q<127> <Mr. Stuart:> So they will all be category A pumps in every school from now? Can I be absolutely confident about that?
<Sunand Prasad:> I wish I could go out and mandate that right now.
<Mr. Stuart:> I wish you could too.
<Sunand Prasad:> Again, let us stick to outcomes. Rather than category A pumps, are we getting energy or carbon reductions? That is what the target for that extra investment is. We should see that coming through and that money being spent. On acoustics, there is always some learning. I do not think that anybody fully understood what the impact of open plan schools would be when the first ones were built.
Q<128> <Mr. Stuart:> That change is 25 years old, and I would have thought that we would have learned, 25 years on, and in a multi-billion pound specified programme, not to have open plan classes in which kids with hearing difficulties, for example, or those who have been alienated from school, cannot hear the teacher if they are more than 3 ft away.
<Sunand Prasad:> That would be bad design, and there may be some examples of it, but I could show you plenty of examples of open plan that actually works.
<Dr. Simmons:> I guess that you are really talking about the whole point of the programme, which is the young people who are going to be learning in the school. Something as basic as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires that you consider the needs of disabled people first. The process needs to do it: it is that simple.
The question then is how you achieve a number of different objectives. Personalised learning has many dimensions, one of which is ensuring that particular needs are met. It needs to be clear in the briefing process that those needs are critical and that they need to be put first. In our experience, the private sector is very good at solving problems if you ask it the right question, so you need to ensure that those questions are right up front in the briefing process.
Q<129> <Chairman:> We do not underestimate the complexity of the matter. I have recently been to some schools where I was absolutely enthused about the new ways of teaching and learning through IT. The BETT exhibition-it is the biggest educational technology exhibition in the world-opened up many new ways of learning that I am enthusiastic about.
I have visited two schools in Warrington that are piloting small computers that children take home, run around the school with and use in open space. The head said to me: "If you are building a school with a computer suite now, you are out of date." What do you think about that?
<Sunand Prasad:> I agree: IT is changing dramatically. There is an idea that IT should be ubiquitous-that, wherever you are, you have access to IT and that it is not fixed to a building and plant and so on. That is the direction for the future. IT will enable different ways of using space.
<Dr. Simmons:> It depends on your educational vision. That type of IT will allow more personalised learning, and it will reduce the heat load on the school, because such devices produce less heat. However, I was at a school that is bidding to be an arts college last week. It has put a suite of Macintosh computers in because it wants to do fairly complex graphics and design work. At the moment, you probably would not risk people running around schools with Macintosh laptops. It depends what you are trying to achieve, and you have got to have a bit of flexibility.
<Chairman:> I was trying to illustrate the complexity and imagining the struggle for a deaf child, which may be different.
That was fantastic. Will you remain in contact, because this matter is of ongoing interest to the Committee? Also, we are minded to go out and have a look at things again. When we go out, we need a cluster, and we are quite happy to go out to someone's constituency to see interesting things there. We would hold a formal session outside so that we can really get through to the people who are using a school, and we might even do it in Harwich. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Tim Byles CBE, Chief Executive, Partnerships for Schools, and Rt hon. Jim Knight MP, Minister for Schools and Learners, Department for Children, Schools and Families, gave evidence.
<Chairman:> I both welcome you and apologise-this is a demonstration of how difficult it is in this room if you have a hearing difficulty. We all know that the acoustics in this building, lovely though it is, are not very good in many of the rooms-and it was built by the finest architects.
<Jim Knight:> Absolutely-it is an excellent use of Portland stone.
<Chairman:> After that commercial, welcome, Minister and Tim Byles. It is good to have you here. Apologies for the slight late running. There was a small crisis in the Committee and we had to discuss something quite important before we got started. Let us get straight into questions unless, Minister, you want to say something to get us started. It is up to you.
<Jim Knight:> Particularly given the time, I am very happy to go straight to questions.
<Chairman:> I am going to ask Andy to open.
Q<130> <Mr. Slaughter:> We have looked at the transcript from the last time we talked about this issue, and we have looked at the annual report, but could you give us a verbal update on where the programme is for BSF schools: how many are open and how many are expected to open?
<Chairman:> Can I warn you that we only got the PricewaterhouseCoopers report at 9.30 this morning, so we have not had a chance to read it.
<Jim Knight:> That is unfortunate. You did not get it yesterday?
<Jim Knight:> Apologies, if that is anything to do with us.
<Chairman:> I just wanted to warn you that we do not have much of that information.
<Jim Knight:> I was delighted yesterday to open the 50th BSF school, Sedgehill School in Lewisham, which was an excellent event. It is a wonderful inspirational school for 1,700 pupils in Lewisham.
In terms of where the programme has got to in its scheduling, obviously we had the slippage in the early years, but particularly since Tim has taken over at Partnerships for Schools, although the slippage that Tim inherited remains-it is difficult to iron out of the system-we have not had any further slippage, and indeed we are slightly ahead of where we thought we would be when we re-profiled the programme, which is a very good thing. That is broadly where we are at the moment, which I am very happy with.
Q<131> <Mr. Slaughter:> So 50 are open; but what about the numbers for this year, next year and beyond that?
<Jim Knight:> Looking to the future, by 2011 we should be opening 200 schools a year.
<Chairman:> Per year?
<Jim Knight:> Per year-that is BSF schools. There will be other schools that will open as well-primary schools, and so on-but this would be secondary BSF schools. We remain as committed as we have always been to the programme. We remain committed to refurbishing and replacing every secondary school in England in 15 waves. By and large that will split as half being rebuilt, and half being refurbs.
Q<132> <Mr. Slaughter:> I am sorry; I missed the total number.
<Jim Knight:> Every secondary school is being refurbished or replaced.
<Tim Byles:> Three and a half thousand schools overall.
Q<133> <Mr. Slaughter:> Just for completeness, on the interim period: you were saying 50 by this spring, 115 in the next financial year, then 165 in 2010-11.
<Tim Byles:> Those figures are still correct, a trajectory rising to 200 in the years following. But we are running slightly ahead of target for this year, having opened our 50th school, as the Minister said, yesterday, against a target for this year of 47.
Q<134> <Mr. Slaughter:> In terms of those which have opened-you say 50 have opened-is that 50 new or 50 new and refurbished?
<Tim Byles:> It is a mixture.
Q<135> <Mr. Slaughter:> What is the lowest level of refurbishment you are talking about?
<Jim Knight:> You might have very limited refurbishment. Obviously, if you have got a pretty new building you are not going to just spend a load of money on it just for the sake of it. It really is dependent on the condition but also upon the school organisation, decisions that the local authority has made, and how the educational transformation that is at the heart of BSF is supposed to work. It may end up being more about IT than buildings in some cases. There is a big spectrum.
<Tim Byles:> The rough split that we work on is 50% of the floor area being new build, 35% substantial refurbishment, and 15% more minor.
Q<136> <Mr. Slaughter:> It is still relatively early days in terms of occupancy. You presumably give it a period of time, but you are going back and doing these post-occupancy reviews. How are they going?
<Tim Byles:> They are going well. We have just had the results back from our first post-occupancy evaluation of Bristol Brunel Academy.
Q<137> <Chairman:> The very first one?
<Tim Byles:> Yes, that is right; you do the evaluation a year after the opening. The results have produced some positive messages. There are one or two areas of detail that some of the users would like to see-one or two whiteboards put in a different place-but generally speaking the scores from users, parents and teachers were very high indeed.
Q<138> <Mr. Slaughter:> So you are saying that there have been 50 opened, but you have only gone back and looked at one to see whether it is working or not.
<Tim Byles:> That is right. You open the school, then a year later you check whether it is delivering what is required.
Q<139> <Mr. Slaughter:> I understand that, but given that, as you say, you now have this accelerated programme, there must be lessons to learn. Do you not think that you should be picking those up?
<Jim Knight:> We are learning lessons all the time. We made some changes last year to reduce the length of time the procurement process takes. There are different stages that we keep reviewing and there are also plenty of people externally who want to review the programme and give us the benefit of their advice, not least the Committee. But obviously, in terms of post-occupancy, we cannot rush that, because if the building has not been open long enough to properly review it there is nothing that we can do about that.
Q<140> <Mr. Slaughter:> I understand that. But there is a potential problem there, isn't there?
<Tim Byles:> Yes. Just to clarify that, there is a technical process that looks at design quality indicators and the technical performance of the building against its original specification. Of course, we have other research, including attitudinal research. The National Foundation for Educational Research did once such piece of research in Bristol Brunel-our first local education partnership-delivered school-during the year, which gave a number of helpful attitudinal indicators in terms of behavioural and aspirational change in that school. We want to use a range of research tools to help us. I was answering your question in a technical sense about post-occupancy evaluation.
Q<141> <Mr. Slaughter:> Let us look at both those areas, then. There are things you certainly need to do, first, in terms of the sustainability of the building. We all know that among the schools we have are Victorian schools that are in fine fettle and schools built 30 years ago that are falling down. We would hope that your schools are going to come into the former category rather than the latter. Let us deal with that point first. How are you going to assess whether some of the quite innovative methods are actually working in terms of producing durable buildings?
<Tim Byles:> There is a whole set of design quality indicators. We are encouraging every school to set out clearly what its-it sounds like jargon-benefits realisation state is: what it is trying to achieve through the school in an educational sense and in a performance sense, in respect of sustainability, for example. Then we measure those things specifically and technically and ask, "Is the building consuming the amount of energy that was expected and are the circulation spaces working well?" We want to add to that process and ensure that the building is operating well as an educational institution by asking, "Is it being effective in helping to raise educational standards, is it allowing circulation and are vandalism and bullying declining?", and so on. That is the kind of thing that we are adding to the technical post-occupancy evaluation to try to give a complete picture.
<Jim Knight:> The other thing that I should like to add is that we do not think about BSF schools completely in isolation. Some 1,100 new schools have been built since 1997. We have some award-winning schools in respect of the construction industry and architectural awards. For example, Westminster academy was short-listed for the Stirling prize. We have some fantastic examples of great schools that we can learn from in the BSF programme as well.
Q<142> <Mr. Slaughter:> My constituency is in the early stages of the programme. Acton High School, a completely rebuilt PFI school, is an excellent example. It is early days, but I hope that you will look at it.
On the attitudinal work that you are talking about-you seemed to stray into that at the end of what you were saying about building design-when will we be able to see some of those conclusions?
<Tim Byles:> We published, two or three months ago, the results of the first attitudinal study by NFER. It is available through our website. It is our practice to try to publish this research as it arrives, because there is a large community of interested people, who are developing proposals, want to share best practice and the lessons that have been learned. We use our website for that as well as a programme of seminars and workshops around the country.
Q<143> <Mr. Slaughter:> What concerns me is that in my constituency, particularly in the inner-city areas, much of what is happening will not be new build on greenfield sites, because there is so little space, but refurbishment. I am talking about things such as the leasing of commercial buildings and extensions. I do not know whether you were here, but the previous panel talked about the need for green space and play space. Those things may well be on the cards. Will your evaluation include all of the different types of projects, and not just the very nice-looking new buildings?
<Tim Byles:> Yes, that is right. We are looking at every school, whether it is a refurbishment scheme or an overall new build. The school that was mentioned in the previous session was not a BSF school. We want to ensure that all of the schools that are delivered through this programme provide adequate access. It may not be on the specific site that the school occupies. Whether they are in an urban or rural setting, there will be adequate-in fact better than adequate-space for recreation, sport and learning.
Q<144> <Mr. Slaughter:> Clearly, you also want local education authorities and partnerships to learn from what is happening in their areas. Are you still going ahead with this interruption to the phasing so that there is a project, or more than one project, going on in each local authority area, or that something can be done in advance? There is a long wait until our expectations are met. If there is a sudden splurge of activity, and they have not got it quite right, they will make all the mistakes at once.
<Tim Byles:> If I may, Chairman, we are trying to deliver the view of the educational strategy, or transformation strategy, across the whole local authority area. The way in which schools are built and competed for tends to be in stages, particularly for larger authorities. Only a few authorities will go for all their schools in a single bite as it were. That gives two advantages. It gives the opportunity to balance the resources of the authority against the challenge of the procurement, and also ensure that lessons are learned as projects are rolled out across the authority itself.
<Jim Knight:> Those authorities are in the latter waves of the BSF. Most of them have access to a one-school pathfinder. That enables them at least to have the experience of procuring and building a secondary school, which is not something that many authorities have great experience of, so they are also learning lessons through that.
Q<145> <Chairman:> That is true up to what wave now?
<Jim Knight:> Sorry, what is true up to what wave?
<Chairman:> The single school-
<Jim Knight:> The one-school pathfinder? There are about 40 of them.
Q<146> <Chairman:> Where are we in waves, Minister?
<Tim Byles:> We are operating in wave 6. The Minister will be announcing waves 7 to 15 at Easter.
Q<147> <Chairman:> Are the waves still important, because other comments you have made in other places suggest that what seemed to be tidy waves-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; going on like that in an orderly fashion-seem to be a more open process? If a local authority is ready, it can jump forward in the queue. Is that what is happening?
<Jim Knight:> We have certainly listened to the Committee to ensure that we get this right. There were examples of very early waves when getting plans around transformation agreed across the authority was extremely frustrating. There are examples where we have put plans on hold while we get things sorted, rather than rushing to procure and investing hundreds of millions of pounds yet not achieving what we all want. Waves are therefore breaking at different times, but that sequencing is still helpful to us because it means that, in terms of my oversight, I can see how long an authority has been in the programme and where it is with regard to getting schools open, and that is ultimately what we want, because we want this generation to benefit, but we must get it right.
Q<148> <Chairman:> But Minister, as you know, we have had a session on this-Tim Byles was here. You know that this Committee, in its first major report, was not too worried overall about a slow start to the project as long as we got it right. However, our witnesses suggested, and seemed to agree, that there was something of a financial crisis that might undermine the whole BSF programme. It was difficult for them to find private sector partners to provide the investment that would allow the programme to go ahead. Is there a crisis from where you sit? Should an intervention be made at the Prime Minister's and Chancellor's level? If money is drying up, the whole programme will halt, will it not?
<Jim Knight:> Let me start, and then Tim will take over with some of the detail, because he has been doing extremely important and useful work in dealing with that. Undoubtedly, the current global financial crisis and our problems in respect of lending have an effect. We built the use of PFI into aspects of Building Schools for the Future alongside conventional design and build funding.
However, it is not the case that the money has dried up. A deal was done last week in Newham, and one was done the previous month. We are expecting another deal in London today; deals are still being done. Tim has been able to secure interest from banks that were not previously interested, but want to come into the scheme. We would like to scale up the level of their interest. He has negotiated, in principle, involvement in Building Schools for the Future by the European Investment Bank to the tune of £300 million. Although the current financial climate means that we must think about how to do the job differently and find alternative sources of funding, that job is being done.
The feedback that we get is that that particular aspect of public sector investment-investment in public sector buildings-is probably the lowest risk of them all. We are probably the last to feel of the difficulty, and the heightened risk attached to it. We are dealing with it, and I am also optimistic that we will be one of the first to come out of it. As is demonstrated by the fact that new lenders want to come in, this is a relatively low risk and people want to get involved.
<Tim Byles:> That is exactly right. We see new institutions wanting to lend to BSF for the first time. As we mentioned last week, Norwich Union is expressing an interest in doing so, and you have heard about the European Investment Bank. Six conventional lenders have reaffirmed their support and interest in investing in BSF since the beginning of January, and some further expressions of interest are coming in this week.
The big difference between where we are now and where we were last year is that the size of debt in which a bank is prepared to engage on a single scheme has decreased to about £20 million to £30 million at a time. If I am looking to fund a £200 million BSF scheme, I need six banks or so, whereas previously I might have needed two. Much more syndication is going on. We need £1.2 billion-worth of senior debt for PFI in BSF in this calendar year, £600 million of it in the first half of the year, but the size of unit that we are looking for in the early part of the year, with one exception, is generally one to two schools, or up to about £50 million a time. That lends itself well to two-bank syndication.
We have yet to sign one of those physically, so we are not out of the woods yet, but the early indications are more positive than we had expected at this stage of the process. Clearly, there is a medium-term issue. The resources that I have described so far are for 25-year money. There is much more funding available in the seven to 10-year range. It is a Government-wide issue that the Treasury and Government are thinking about as a whole. It might be that one of the keys for future PFI funding is to look at how refinancing risk in years seven to 10 of a 25-year project gets managed as a risk balance between the public and private sectors. That needs to be thought through, because more short-term money than longer term money is available.
Q<149> <Chairman:> There is an interesting tension here. A global financial problem is having an impact, but there is also a domestic imperative to get the programmes moving ahead to stimulate the economy. If that were to become a problem, would this go to a higher level and involve the Treasury and the Prime Minister?
<Jim Knight:> It is important for the Committee to understand that Building Schools for the Future is largely unaffected by the Government's fiscal stimulus work because of the lead-in times, with which the Committee is familiar. If we were to try to rush spend through this year and next by bringing projects forward by two or three years, it would be very difficult to get things right, such as the involvement of the school's pupils and stakeholders in the process of designing the new school and getting planning consent. It is much more difficult to get all those things right for large secondary schools than for primaries, for example.
The Department's contribution to the fiscal stimulus and our discussions with the Treasury that culminated in the announcements in the pre-Budget report have largely been about how we bring forward spend in the primary rather than the secondary capital programme, because of the difference in lead-in times. Also, local authorities have more experience of building primary schools. They can get money spent in the local economy much more easily for primaries.
Q<150> <Chairman:> But Minister, you recognise that there is a feeling out there that if schools do not get in quick and get their scheme agreed, they might not get it-that there is a time frame in which it is important to have capital spend to help the economy. To give a parallel, you probably know that the Learning and Skills Council faced an enormous surge in demand for capital funds for major projects for further education. In that case, many people were concerned about not only the financial and economic systems but, of course, the fact that the LSC will cease to be in 2010. They are nervous about the system that will replace it. Overall, if you look at the education estate, including further education, there are some real challenges, are there not?
<Jim Knight:> There are challenges, but, as we heard from Tim, they can be overcome in this sector. He is right to say that we are not yet out of the woods, but the record to date of being able to deal with the situation has been strong. The Government are absolutely steadfast in their commitment to BSF, so schools should not be concerned that they will lose out as long as this Government remain in office. Obviously, they might have some political concerns about others who propose taking £4.5 billion out of the BSF programme to put somewhere else, but that is a different issue.
Q<151> <Chairman:> The initial priority was to deal with the worst schools in the most challenging circumstances. Will that still be the case? I find even in my own area of Kirklees that there are great pressures over funding. Apparently, the imperative is to push for rebuilding and reinvigorating the schools in the leafier suburbs with higher numbers of pupils before the ones in the urban, more deprived areas. That is a real problem. Is it a problem in most cases?
<Jim Knight:> There is a misunderstanding. I do not want to get involved in the issues around the proposals in Kirklees.
Q<152> <Chairman:> I gave that as an example, but I hear from other people that there is some pressure in the financial package in each local authority. It is the schools in the leafy suburbs that are being pushed forward, not the ones in the more challenging areas. I only mention my local authority because I know it well.
<Jim Knight:> Chairman, there is a misunderstanding. Yes, we have put more of an emphasis on deliverability than we did initially in the criteria for the reprioritisation of BSF for waves 7 to 15. I shall be making some announcements about that once I have considered advice. However, educational transformation, and how we deal with those who are most disadvantaged and most need the investment, remain a priority.
Q<153> <Chairman:> A priority, not the top priority?
<Jim Knight:> No, that remains the top priority, but we will also be considering deliverability, because we do not want more of the Stokes and Hulls of this world. They are right at the beginning of the BSF process and still have not built any schools.
<Tim Byles:> The priorities that local authorities have been asked to express for waves 7 to 15 are entirely along the lines of highest priority first to give the opportunity to more authorities to start higher priority projects earlier than they might otherwise have been able to do. Announcements about that are yet to come, but every authority in England has submitted expressions of interest against that model. It is not about leafy and big, but high need and deliverability.
Q<154> <Mrs. Hodgson:> I shall change tack slightly. I am very passionate about the lunchtime experience of children in schools in catering and dining facilities. This is obviously a once-in-a-couple-of-generations chance to rebuild the whole school infrastructure, and I should like to hear how responsive the design would be. Pilots have been announced for universal free school meals and schools are being asked to bid for them. If a school wanted to take advantage of such a pilot, would it be envisaged in the design that it might want to feed and house a whole school at the same time-I am talking particularly about secondary schools? A lot of the schools that I have visited, even like the ones that you have opened that have already been through the BSF, such as the fabulous Oxclose Community School, would have difficulty feeding and housing the whole school at the same time. If a school wanted to take advantage of one of the pilots, would that difficulty be considered in the design?
<Jim Knight:> There are a number of issues. Tim may know some of the technicalities of the specifications that apply to BSF, but it is undoubtedly the case that when we involve pupils in the design decisions for their new schools-with their acting in many ways as the client-through work such as that done by the Sorrell Foundation with "Joinedupdesignforschools", in most cases the spaces that they are mainly concerned about are corridors, toilets and dining halls. They are social spaces, in effect. It means that there is quite a lot of focus on how the dining spaces work within the specifications of the design standard that Tim can talk about.
Separately from Building Schools for the Future, through our targeted capital fund, we have allocated a significant sum-I do not have it at the forefront of my mind, but it might come to me, or I will write to the Committee. We have set aside money for authorities to bid to build kitchens in schools that had their kitchens taken out of use back in the '80s, when it became fashionable to get rid of them. We have now also offered authorities the opportunity to bid for money to build kitchens as teaching spaces so that we can improve the appreciation of preparing food as well as consuming it. We are yet to make announcements about the allocations of those particular bids, but we have made sure, as part of the package on school food, that we have allocated specific money-separate from the BSF money-in respect of school kitchens.
<Tim Byles:> There is a range of options regarding the design. It really depends on how the school wants to operate. I can think of few examples of a single dining space for young people at one point in time. Some larger schools have a schools-within-a-school approach and use different sittings and have different styles of food available at lunchtime to suit the needs of young people. We want to be flexible and to provide the opportunity for every young person to get a good meal at school-in many cases, before, if appropriate, at breakfast clubs and so on-that suits the way in which the school itself wants to manage its business and the preferences of the young people.
<Jim Knight:> An example is Brislington Enterprise College, a BSF school in Bristol. I strongly commend it to the Committee as a community school. It has a fantastic new learning environment. It has schools within a school. It has a central "street" as part of its design and one or two different food outlets along the street as well as a main eating area. That does not necessarily mean that everyone will sit in one place at one sitting, but it deals in many ways with how many of us now go about grabbing our lunch.
Q<155> <Mrs. Hodgson:> How flexible is the procurement process, especially with regard to ICT? Having read through some of the available papers, I think that it used to be more rigid. Another example from my constituency is a Catholic school that was going through a rebuild. Obviously, it had a lot of money, with access to other sources, because it had been in hand for a while. It wanted to access some BSF funding, but found that it was so rigid about the ICT package that it would have had to take that it ended up not accessing the BSF funding, because the ICT spec that the school wanted could not be obtained from the companies through which it would have had to go with the BSF funding. Have we moved on, especially with ICT? It is changing so rapidly. If you have really talented people in schools, which we have, they know exactly what they want. They want to be able to access that, and not be told otherwise.
<Jim Knight:> Let me start on a general point. I shall preface it by saying, unambiguously, that ICT procurement does not mean one size fits all for every school on BSF. In general terms, with this sort of programme, you are always finding a balance between creating procurement that is big enough to generate savings and to be attractive to the market-in which case, you are looking for scale-and dealing with schools' individual requirements. In ICT, there are lots of people who have great belief in their expertise and are absolutely sure that they know what is best. However, according to the evidence that we have seen through early waves and as the programme has developed, those that have gone through the ICT procurement through BSF have had a good standard for what they obtained-there have been some exceptions-and a better standard than if they had done it separately. They have been able to achieve these savings. We have also achieved a consistency of provision across the area, which is extremely helpful as children move between schools. Things like online reporting have been developed, sharpening up the relationship between home and school. If you have some consistency across an authority area, you have consistency with platforms and some of the software used, which helps to generate relationships between home and school, using that technology.
Q<156> <Chairman:> I think you went to the BETT fair last week, did you not?
<Jim Knight:> I opened it-for the third year running.
Q<157> <Chairman:> That means you went. It has become bigger and more dynamic-everything has moved on. This is a very fast-changing area. A number of us went out to look at several of the pilots for some of the IT and handheld systems being used. I found some worries about that. Obviously they are important, if the Government are serious about personalisation. On the other hand, the two that I went into in Warrington were not being evaluated, as I understand, so are the five pilots-in five schools and involving five different suppliers-being evaluated, monitored and assessed or not?
<Jim Knight:> All sorts of activities are going on. This country is the international leader in the use of technology in education. That is why-
Q<158> <Chairman:> Are we checking it is any good?
<Jim Knight:> That was why 65 education Ministers from around the world were in London last week at the learning forum and to visit the BETT fair. We are evaluating things. The Learning2Go project in Wolverhampton and a number of other areas have used handheld devices to fantastic effect-I first saw that three years ago. In Warrington, the proof of concept trials around the use of devices at home as well as in school have been evaluated as part of our work on home access by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency. I can get you the detail on the individual evaluations of some of those things. We are looking very closely at how they are working. As part of our work on personalisation, we have seen the use of not only handheld and other personal devices, but voting buttons in conjunction with interactive white boards, which are being rolled out much more across the country. That is also part of personalisation. I am thinking in respect of our home-access initiative, which starts to roll out in Suffolk and Oldham next month, and of looked-after children and national-
Q<159> <Chairman:> All this should impact on the design of the school. Tim Byles heard my comment on this: when I went to Warrington, I was told that anyone who has a computer suite is out of date.
<Jim Knight:> I heard that question towards the end of the last witness session, to which I heard a good response.
Q<160> <Chairman:> A good response in agreeing on this side. On design, someone said that that you need Apples-Macs.
<Jim Knight:> Some schools want to do some of the CAD-type teaching or very high-spec media work using the Mac platform-when I visit schools, I often see the use of that platform. The power in a handheld device might not be sufficient to do such work, but it is enough for some purposes. I have seen young people animating their science experiments on handheld devices and embedding their learning in a very engaging way-particularly so for some children with special educational needs-and in a way that works brilliantly. At the heart of how you use technology and the design of the building is how you want to do the pedagogy and what sort of courses you want to do. Undoubtedly, you have to think about design. We have heard this morning about the effect of ICT choices on energy use. That is exactly why IT, design and construction are embedded together in BSF.
<Tim Byles:> A key point about the managed service is that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it is tailored to where a school is and what its ambition is-whether it is specialising through Macs or whatever-to move everybody up, not to get everybody down to a single level. Concerns have been expressed by a small number of schools that regard themselves as exemplary in this area about whether it will slow them down. I can say unequivocally that it will not. It is designed to help people extend. Some leading schools that are now engaged with BSF and using the managed service are strong advocates of this approach, because it is helping them to leap forward in ways that they could not before with their own resources. It allows them to share resources, it aids the career development of technicians, who can operate on a wider basis, and it allows them to realise their ICT vision much more quickly and effectively.
<Jim Knight:> May I help Sharon with this: £150 million over three years on school kitchens.
Q<161> <Paul Holmes:> As you say, 10% of the budget of a BSF school goes towards ICT-obviously, it is essential to the school, so a big part of the school budget. However, there is a lot of concern about what is happening. Yesterday, after the PricewaterhouseCoopers report came out, the Association of School and College Leaders gave all sorts of examples of concerns about ICT. For example, it said that the rigidity of ICT managed services places lots of limitations on schools. It has many concerns about the affordability of those ICT managed services through the local education partnerships. It said that a lot of schools were under pressure to make a significant contribution from their revenue budget as a result of the partnerships being imposed on them. In the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, it says the same thing-that the biggest negative, when asking heads in the completed schools, was in response to the local education partnership managing the ICT provision.
<Jim Knight:> I know that this is an issue for heads, who raised it with me when I spoke at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference. Tim met recently with the Association of School and College Leaders to discuss the concerns that it has raised with us and you. One of things that I have discussed with Tim and that we are offering is an alternative procurement model that people can use for ICT. In essence, that says, "These are the outputs that we can deliver through an area-wide managed service. If you want to do it differently, we are happy to look at that as long as you can meet the output specifications." We are not being as rigid as some people think, but we are clear about the outputs that we want regarding the use of IT in schools.
Q<162> <Paul Holmes:> But if 80% of local education partnerships are privately owned and managed, is that where some of the pressure comes from? They will obviously look at their profit margins and profit levels as opposed to what is best for individual schools.
<Jim Knight:> No, I do not think that they are motivated by that.
<Tim Byles:> As the Minister said, the whole project is geared to ensure that the scale of investment allows everyone to raise their game. The larger the investment in ICT across an estate, the more that can be done efficiently and effectively. It also needs to improve year on year-that is one of the key contractual elements of the local education partnership. The early evidence is that each of our LEPs manages to make that continuous improvement in terms of both buildings and servicing the ICT. We provide revenue each year to help support ICT in schools.
Some schools want to go further-they wanted to before they were in the BSF programme, and they want to after. We must balance the resources from what is available, but it is not just about capital coming from the Government in supporting ICT. In some quarters there is some resistance to change because people are more comfortable in managing their resources within an individual school. I want to encourage people to go on a journey and explore what the managed service can deliver, and to look at the experience of others-including leaders in ICT-who are strong advocates of this approach. It is a change in where schools are starting from and that process needs managing and to be understood. There are some misconceptions, and that is why we are currently meeting with people to discuss them.
Q<163> <Paul Holmes:> So, if PricewaterhouseCoopers says that this is the biggest individual concern of the programme and the biggest negative, is that because it misunderstands it?
<Jim Knight:> I would agree that it is the biggest concern that is raised with me. That can mean that there is a problem that needs sorting out, or that there is a communication issue. My belief is that it is the latter and not the former, but we will continue to talk to people. Our record over the lifetime of BSF so far shows that we have been pretty responsive to people's concerns. Many of the criticisms that the programme receives are an effect of the long lead-in time, and are matters that we have already made changes to try and address. We have been listening to what people are saying.
Q<164> <Paul Holmes:> But you cannot be more up to date than yesterday's report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which says that this is a big issue.
<Jim Knight:> As I said, people have raised this issue with me and we are trying to deal with it.
<Tim Byles:> Perhaps I can add something in support of what the Minister has said. A number of the concerns that have been expressed are to do with a system that used to be in place for the procurement and is no longer in place-Jim Knight mentioned the alternative business case approach, for example. There are myths out there suggesting that if someone does not sign up to the managed service they will not get any BSF money. That is just not true. There is a communication challenge, and frankly, some people do not want to hear that a solution through a managed service will be acceptable. We must ensure that there are no misunderstandings.
Q<165> <Mr. Stuart:> I will focus on the report from PricewaterhouseCoopers which, while listening enrapt to the evidence, I managed to flick through this morning. There is no mention of the environment. This is a second annual report. There has been all that fuss in Parliament, quite rightly, about the huge investment and the desire for direct publicly controlled investment to contribute to our carbon reduction targets, but there is not even a mention of that in this report. How is BSF performing on that front?
<Jim Knight:> It is relatively early days, as you have heard. We have one post-occupancy evaluation, at the point of which we should get a lot of information about outcomes in terms of sustainability.
<Tim Byles:> The Government have made their position clear for new schools going forward. We mentioned that last time we were here. There has been a 60% reduction in the use of carbon, moving to zero carbon from 2016, two years ahead of the Government-wide standard on that. There is a carbon taskforce under the chairmanship of Robin Nicholson, which looks at the practicalities of how to get to zero carbon for new schools by 2016. At the moment, all our designs for new build schools meet the 60% challenge at design stage, and we must ensure that that is followed through in the post-occupancy evaluation. The Government have made additional resources available to ensure that the kinds of investment that you referred to earlier, are made appropriately.
Q<166> <Mr. Stuart:> Can you give me the reassurance that previous witnesses could not that there will not be a single, category A, heat-pump?
<Jim Knight:> I noted how concerned you were about the categorisation of heat pumps.
<Mr. Stuart:> They are one of the largest generators of carbon in the life cycle of a building.
<Jim Knight:> I appreciate the importance, but I think that Sunand's response, that if we start to get too obsessed about those sorts of inputs then we lose sight of the outcome that we are after, was right. We should be clear about the outcome; we have put in £110 million over this three-year period in order to resource the projects to be able to reduce their carbon output, so let us measure that.
Q<167> <Mr. Stuart:> That is fine. Moving on, if I may, what is the purpose of Building Schools for the Future?
<Jim Knight:> Ultimately, the purpose is educational transformation. That is at the root of Building Schools for the Future as a programme.
Q<168> <Mr. Stuart:> So it is pupil attainment?
<Jim Knight:> Pupil attainment, and the motivation of pupils and staff being improved in terms of their teaching and learning.
Q<169> <Mr. Stuart:> If motivation of pupils and staff was improved then we would expect that to be reflected in attainment. So the purpose is pupil attainment? Yet in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report it says that our results mirror the existing literature in not finding a strong correlation between capital expenditure and pupil attainment. The results, as a whole, suggest a positive impact, but the magnitude is likely to be very small.
<Jim Knight:> I appreciate that you have not had a chance to read the report thoroughly.
<Mr. Stuart:> I have given it a pretty good go.
<Jim Knight:> Some of the newspapers that reported on it this morning had not had the chance to read it thoroughly. You will find that that section refers to these delegated formula capital grants, rather than Building Schools for the Future. These are much smaller sums that are being allocated to schools, although it is a huge increase on the amount that was allocated 10 years ago. But a lot of that is being spent on buildings rather than on education. It is no surprise to me that that is the finding. I am absolutely confident that we will find a different result when Building Schools for the Future is being measured.
The GCSE results at Bristol Brunel Academy, for example, which was mentioned earlier on, rose by 10%, or even more, last year. Oxclose Community School, to which Sharon referred earlier, is a brand new school whose results soared. I am sure that the effect of the environment is a part of that story. It is not the only part of the story; it still remains the case that the involvement of parents, the leadership of the school and the quality of the teaching are the key determinants of the attainment success of a school.
<Mr. Stuart:> Perhaps-
<Chairman:> Let us get the answers first, because Tim wants to answer.
<Mr. Stuart:> I just want to press the Minister if I may.
<Chairman:> Hold on for a moment.
<Mr. Stuart:> I would rather press the Minister.
<Chairman:> Go back to the Minister. Carry on.
<Mr. Stuart:> That is very good of you.
<Chairman:> I called you especially so that you could be given this chance, so just get on with it.
<Mr. Stuart:> Have you finished, Chairman?
<Chairman:> If you get on with the questioning, then I have finished, but if you do not carry on with the question I will not call you again, so please get on with it.
Q<170> <Mr. Stuart:> That is entirely within your powers, Chairman.
I think that perhaps you have not had the chance to read the report as closely as you might wish to. The report uses the words, "In the case of open BSF schools, there is no evidence to date suggesting that the design of new buildings, including flexible teaching areas". There is evidence in the report that teachers do not think that the teaching areas in BSF schools are flexible.
<Jim Knight:> The key phrase there is "to date". We have had one school with a post-evaluation report. Much of their work in that report is around four schools. That is not statistically significant enough to draw any kind of useful comparison.
Q<171> <Mr. Stuart:> You were happy to give anecdotal evidence from schools just now, pointing the other way, yet you want to dismiss the findings of this report which is there to review this very issue.
<Jim Knight:> The key point to make is that, in respect of their finding around the effect of capital investment on attainment, they are not referring to BSF.
<Chairman:> Would you mind if I called Tim Byles?
<Mr. Stuart:> I would be very happy.
<Tim Byles:> The main thrust of the report is looking at the impact of capital, pure and simple, non-BSF. It makes a couple of references to BSF, but the Minister is right-the whole idea of BSF is that it brings together the various strands that lead to educational transformation. The average increase in GCSE performance in open BSF schools last year was 10%, against a national average of 2.5%. That was drawn from a small sample and it is early days, but there is a clear illustration of the impact a combined approach can have.
As I mentioned the last time I appeared before the Committee, the leading learning project allows school partnerships to work with the Department, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, the National College for School Leadership and Becta to try to look forensically at work force reform, the use of technology and at aspects of design and environment that together produce the educational transformation that the Government seek. When you get those ingredients right, there is no doubt in my mind that you produce a significant increase going forward.
Q<172> <Mr. Stuart:> It says "all the literature", and it is not as if this is the first investment in school buildings anywhere in the world, or indeed in this country. As the Minister said, a large number of schools have already been built. All the literature suggests that there is precious little correlation between capital investment and pupil attainment. If the purpose is pupil attainment, that brings this programme into question.
<Jim Knight:> I would like to be able to talk you through what has been done. I met with 65 other Education Ministers last week and tried to talk to most of them. The scale of investment and the nature of what we are doing is unprecedented internationally. Other jurisdictions are investing heavily in their school buildings, but I do not think that any of them are doing so in the same way or on the same scale. What marks our approach out is that we are doing it authority by authority, rather than school by school, and it is genuinely an education investment rather than a building investment. Previous experience has largely been about investing in buildings, rather than education.
By taking a whole authority and looking at the school organisation, structures and governance, agreeing on those sort of issues and then reflecting that school by school in a design that is informed by the pedagogy, the use of ICT and the environment to improve attainment, you will find that we have made an appreciable difference to education through that investment. That is what makes it unique.
Q<173> <Mr. Stuart:> I understand that one of the reasons why we might be unique is that there is no correlation between that capital investment and improvement in pupil performance, so other Ministers might decide that they would rather spend the money where it will make a difference to those young people who do not end up in education, employment or training. Despite a doubling in education expenditure, there has been no movement or progress at all, and those people end up hopelessly failed by the system at age 16, 17 and 18. We have evidence in the report from PricewaterhouseCoopers that head teachers have said that neither the staff nor the buildings have changed.
We understand that it would be lovely if investment by working, thinking of pedagogy and the rest of it, together with the buildings, was to lead to a transformation, but is not there a danger that the language and the visions will not lead to that? We have had people before who had a largely vested interest in such programmes and who talked about transformation and vision, and they visited on us the tower blocks of the 1960s and the resulting social failure. No one would suggest that this investment will blight us, but we might not be able to justify this vast-some might say disproportionate-expenditure on buildings at a time when we are failing to transform pupil experience, not least the experience of those at the bottom of society.
<Jim Knight:> I appreciate that you might not be enthusiastic about this investment, but if you read the comments made yesterday by Malcolm Trobe from ASCL, you will know that, although he had some criticisms, he was hugely welcoming of this level of investment in our education system and could see its value. I do not know whether you have yet managed to see the diploma programme in operation, but I certainly suggest that you go to a school such as Sedgehill, which we visited yesterday, or the Bristol Brunel Academy, or Brislington Community College, or any of the others that are benefiting from the extraordinary transformation that has taken place. The education authority in Bristol was first off the block in getting its LEP agreed and then getting its schools built. I defy you to come back from that and not believe that that is the right thing to do.
Q<174> <Mr. Stuart:> Ministers in all Administrations have set such tables and talked about particular areas where their vision has been realised. You use such examples because they give a cool overview, but they do not mention in the report the increase in GCSE results because they obviously do not think that it is statistically reliable. They are saying that there is no such correlation. Right now, we are talking about fiscal stimulus, trying to help the wider economy, and whether we can bring things forward, but you have said that is impossible. Following the effort at stimulus, we are going to move to an era of austerity. I would love to believe that this investment could help to make a transformation. My constituency neighbours Hull, and I have seen them build the Endeavour School there. They spent £15 million on it, but it has led to the worst education results of any school in the country. Now, a few years on, they want to close the damn thing and build another school, so I am a bit of a sceptic about the idea of buildings alone transforming the educational outcomes of those who are being failed most by our system. I am trying to tease out of you how you would respond when we move from this era, when we get through this panic and the stimulus, to the era of austerity. All these bills will have to be paid, and it looks very likely that this country will be distinctly poorer and more indebted. Any Administration is therefore going to look very closely at this expenditure, and there will need to be overwhelming proof that it is delivering for those we are currently letting down if it is to survive-whoever is in power.
<Jim Knight:> I am sure that people will have noted your scepticism. That is your opinion. I visit many of these schools, not just on the day that they are opened, and I talk to people who work in schools. They see a huge effect, with this sort of investment, in young people, who derive considerable benefit from it. That is not only from having the wow factor at their school, and having the motivation to get up in the morning and turn up in an environment in which they feel valued. It is not only about giving them the feeling that someone values them sufficiently to want to invest tens of millions of pounds in their environment. It is also about getting good results on attendance, behaviour and, ultimately, attainment. I am confident that that will happen, and I am confident that it will be difficult for any future Administration to want to cut this programme, even if that is their commitment now, because local Members of Parliament and councils up and down the country will be up in arms if they see this opportunity lost.
<Chairman:> We are running out of time, but we have two quick questions-one from Fiona and one from John.
Q<175> <Fiona Mactaggart:> It is fun to a follow a colleague who is providing the alibi for planned future cuts in this programme by the Conservative party.
I am concerned about why personalisation has not been driven more clearly through this programme. I have listened to what Ministers have said about educational transformation, and I am struck by the fact that we requested, in our August 2007 report, that the Department provide a clear vision of what it wants from personalisation, with guidance on how it might be realised in BSF projects. That was followed by Professor Hargreaves's evidence to us, in November 2008, when he said that the "Department has just produced new guidance on personalised learning", which he had had for only a week, and that the "very sad thing is that it has virtually nothing about BSF in it."
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report says that there has been some progress on personalisation, but it seems equivocal, probably because it does not have a large enough base. I think the reason why there is not a clearer result, in terms of the personalisation of learning, is because the work to help schools to use this programme to extend personalisation just has not been put in, and I wonder when it will be.
<Jim Knight:> We require every local authority to address personalisation at every stage in their BSF, but particularly in the early stages when they are putting together their strategy for change. They have to set out their vision for personalised learning and how it relates to assessment and tracking, the use of ICT, flexible timetabling and partnership working. We very much expect the relationship between personalised learning and flexible accommodation to be reflected in the design briefs.
Q<176> <Fiona Mactaggart:> But in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, flexibility seemed to score lowest.
<Jim Knight:> As you say, we will have to see how the successive evaluations go as the programme rolls out, but we have certainly sought to embed it right from the outset. As I said earlier, I have a strong belief in PARs-in the use of technology in helping to deliver personalisation in the classroom. It has been a very important aspect of BSF from the word go that ICT should be integrated with the design and the construction programme, so that you can realise some of those things. Perhaps we need to do better in highlighting the personalisation, in spite of it being embedded, so that people can really see it working, but I am happy enough with how we are doing on that.
<Tim Byles:> It is worth recognising, when discussing BSF, that there are at least three angles to look at it from. There is the past, the history; there is what is going in now and the fact that the development of the strategy for change that Jim Knight has just been referring to has now been running for two years, but the schools themselves are not yet open to evidence that key change, which happened at that time; and there are the plans that we have in place for the future. Some of the conversation today has been looking at issues very early on in the programme, and the sorts of analysis you have just been talking about do not yet take into account the impact of changes made in 2006, which will now be coming through. It is a programme whereby we are continuing to learn and make changes with that learning. That is quite an exciting part of the programme-working with people from design as well as construction and teaching in order to make sure that investment is effective.
Q<177> <Mr. Heppell:> Before I ask my question, I want to flag something up. When Graham was talking before, I was quite alarmed at some of the things he was saying, as I had not had a chance to read the PWC report. However, I did manage to see that there is a qualifying paragraph at the end. It is almost the authors saying, "This is our result, but..." It says that "It should be noted, however, that this analysis is more generally of school-led investment, not specifically of investment in the BSF programme and therefore not systematically linked to educational transformation." I would like to read the report now. That statement does cloud the view you expressed on it. There is a qualification in the report, and I need to read the report.
I want to ask about the fact that the DCSF is now talking about lots of extra services being provided in schools. There is the idea of perhaps bringing in health facilities and family learning. I hear a lot of talk about that, but in my locality I can see plenty of examples where health centres are now operating with the local authority and housing services are brought in. Lots of things are being brought on to one site, but I see no real examples of schools where that is happening-where those things are being brought in. Is that being taken into account now with the local authority bids for Building Schools for the Future? Would people get plus points for it if that was the case?
<Jim Knight:> There are some examples. I think in Knowsley there is one involving health and school co-location. There is something similar in Wigan. I remember visiting the co-location of a children's centre with a primary school in Sandwell. We are seeing some of that, but we have not yet published the details of the £200 million co-location fund that we have committed to and how people can apply to that. As ever with this, it is relatively early days, but certainly in terms of delivering the vision that we set out in the children's plan and refreshed in the "One Year On" document last month, we want to see local authorities being able to co-locate services more. The idea of the co-location fund is to allow budgets to be pooled more easily. It is to motivate that pooling of budgets, because the thing that in the end gets in the way of co-location is different budgets being held in different places, with people being measured in different ways in relation to them. Driving your way through that to get something that on the ground seems like good common sense can sometimes be difficult, so we decided that we needed to take it one step further by creating that fund, which we will make more announcements about fairly soon.
<Mr. Heppell:> Yes.
<Chairman:> Minister, Tim Byles, this has been a good session. We could have gone on longer. We are always a bit pushed when we have a double session, but thank you very much. You heard some of what was said-Tim certainly was here for the whole of the earlier session. If there is anything that you would like to communicate to the Committee, please write to us. We will be going out and about and having a good look at some of the BSF schools now that we have 50 to choose from.
<Jim Knight:> Go to Bristol.
<Chairman:> Bristol sounds like a good idea.