Sustainable Schools and Building Schools for the Future - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Microsoft


  1.1  This submission has been prepared by Microsoft UK in response to the press notice issued by the CSF Committee on 22 May 2008 regarding the follow-up inquiry into Sustainable Schools and Building Schools for the Future.

  1.2  Microsoft have been involved in the BSF programme since its inception. Our evidence draws on our experience on both the client and supply side and with Partnerships for Schools (PfS) and other agencies and organisations involved in the programme.

  1.3  We are very supportive of the work PfS do and enjoy the open and frank relationship that organisation have with us and other companies, competitors and partners alike. That can only be good for the market and ultimate success of the programme.

  1.4  We are clear from our engagements with PfS and the DCSF that they want to see a return on the investment, that over time, will transform practice and outcomes in our education system.

  1.5  Our involvement with the education transformation agenda predates BSF and extends globally. Before BSF we worked closely with some authorities who felt the current model of education was under pressure and wanted to discuss the opportunities ICT offered to create a step change.

  1.6  Microsoft has been involved in the education marketplace in the UK for over 15 years. We develop technology, tools, programmes and solutions to help address education challenges while improving teaching and learning opportunities. Microsoft has a partner business model which means our extensive ecosystem of IT partners deliver technology solutions adding value to our software.

  1.7  To deliver against our Public Sector business mission to "make the UK a better place to work, learn and do business" the Microsoft Education Group works closely with local authorities, educators, educational organisations and industry partners.

  1.8  Our evidence focuses, in the main, on the ICT related aspects of the programme but draws on a strong view that ICT holds a significant potential to help stakeholders re-think the nature of a learning experience and the role and purpose of schools as we look forward to a globalised and knowledge based economy. It is often said that education policy is key to a nation's economic policy. We agree and see this attitude around the world.

  1.9  ICT therefore, either directly or indirectly, impacts on all aspects of educational reform including the experience of young people, curriculum and pedagogy, role of the teacher, appropriate configuration and use of space, the culture and organisation of institutions, professional development, ICT seen as an investment not a cost, financial modelling, the wider community—in short the transformation of the education model. This applies at national, area and institution level.

  1.10  Fresh attitudes to "partnering" are key and we also draw on the deep relationships we enjoy with a number of innovative local authorities and schools who are already doing things differently and facing up to the challenges systemic transformation brings.

  1.11  Microsoft are actively involved in all aspects of the BSF market place on both client and supply sides. We have supported bidding consortia, working closely with the construction industry, ICT primes and a range of consultants. In two instances we have sat as a "critical friend" on the client side team.

  1.12  We have also made investments in Showcases and tools to help stakeholders be better informed as they develop their visions and plan for significant programmes of change for learning in connected communities of the future. Our investments have been made in partnership with local authorities and other stakeholders including young people to ensure their relevance and applicability.

  1.13  The students in our schools deserve the very best that ICT has to offer their learning experience. After all it is the "air they breathe" outside of a place called a school and we have heard young people say consistently "we power down when we go to school".

  1.14  Currently BSF, for reasons I will outline in our evidence, is delivering "just good enough" solutions and not those that will help educators drive a significant change in practice in line with the changing expectations young people have for how they prefer to learn.

  1.15  Strong vision and determined leadership is vital. Too few local authorities see BSF as catalyst for much wider reform across their communities. When you begin to re-think the role and purpose of schools in increasingly connected communities BSF has to be set in the context of the outcomes our regions will need to prosper in a global and knowledge based economy.

  1.16  Making the transformational goals of BSF a reality is key.

  We are encouraged by the consistent views laid out in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report Realising Britain's Potential: Future Strategic Challenges for Britain (February 2008), "the defining social challenges of the 21st century—climate change, an ageing population and globalisation—will not be solved by `off-the-shelf' answers. Meeting them will depend increasingly on innovative solutions that raise standards, meet new objectives and improve efficiency..."

  1.17  ... and further in Innovation Nation from the DIUS where it states, "We must innovate in our public services too. Innovation is as important to the delivery of healthcare and education as it is to industries such as manufacturing, retail and the creative economy ... We need to ensure that Britain contributes to the innovative solutions and that British business and the British people benefit from the new opportunities and prosperity they create".

  1.18  Turning to the thrust of our evidence it is clear the easy way forward is to build better versions of what we had before. Those involved consistently say that won't do. While progress has been made, much still remains to be done to ensure BSF is a transformation programme and I will present in our evidence that:

    —  A fresh attitude to public/private sector partnerships is needed for success.

    —  We feel there is still too much focus on buildings. BSF should be seen as a change programme that will utilise both buildings and ICT to achieve transformational outcomes.

    —  The focus has been on compliance, not innovation. The "process" and commercial arrangements make it difficult for those seeking "transformation".

    —  We feel that ICT is under-represented in relation to its potential to deliver transformation. Some authorities have found suppliers are bidding low and they have to spend time driving proposals up towards their vision.

    —  We have concerns about capacity and capability in the market. In particular it is important that local authority and school stakeholders become better informed about future directions and possibilities. We are conscious of the cry, "I don't know what I don't know".

    —  Funding is presented in terms of buildings and ICT with a notional 90:10 split? These proportions are largely based on a traditional, and arguably increasingly outdated, model of education. If transformation is key, there needs to be enough flexibility to allow for a shift in the funding proportions, if it will provide a better outcome.


  2.1  The Committee aims to examine progress in a number of areas, namely:

    2.1.1  the rate of progress that is being made in bringing projects to the construction stage;

    2.1.2  how the experience of those in the early waves is being disseminated;

    2.1.3  how the visioning process is being developed;

    2.1.4  how the procurement process is working;

    2.1.5  Progress on reducing schools' carbon emissions and on achieving zero carbon new school buildings;

    2.1.6  how personalisation and other educational strategies are guiding the design of new schools; and

    2.1.7  developments in the procurement and design of ICT for schools.

  2.2  The Committee is also inviting comments on other issues, in particular:

    2.2.1  how the need to cater for the 14-19 Diplomas and the joint working that will involve, and for the Government's proposal to raise the participation age for education and training to 18, is being addressed in BSF proposals; and

    2.2.2  the Government's announcement in April about the "acceleration" and "streamlining" of Building Schools for the Future and its implications for the delivery of the project as a whole.

  2.3  We will address each of these areas in turn.


  3.1  Progress has undoubtedly been made in bringing projects through the process to construction and the recent procurement review by PfS streamlines the process still further. However, we feel this has not helped to raise the profile, and innovative quality, of ICT in the programme.

  3.2  The review has reduced bid costs through a more streamlined engagement. This is to be welcomed and is good in terms of getting through the process to construction. However, engagement time is particularly valuable if an authority finds suppliers are bidding low and they need to spend time driving the quality of bids up towards their vision and requirements.


  4.1  It is important that experience is shared and there are many different areas of learning from a BSF project. There are also several audiences and it is important they have access to the learning and experience that is most relevant to them.

  4.2  We have expressed a view that ICT is under-represented in relation to its potential to enable many aspects of the transformation agenda. In relation to the scale of the investment and the nature of the opportunity being presented we do not believe.

  4.3  In relation to ICT, and its wider potential, we have heard authorities comment on the variable quality of advice they have received or had access to. Technology is a fast moving area but we believe the quality of advice is variable.

  4.4  The later waves will have the advantage of some time to prepare, and ensure they are able to look over the horizon, but the main lesson is "start early and now"—even if you are in wave 15!

  4.5  We will continue to play a role in contributing to opportunities for sharing of practice through briefings we organise for local authority stakeholders and the occasions when we bring authorities together either at our headquarters in the UK or in Seattle.

  4.6  We often get asked to host visits to the few places that, in our experience, have something to offer as exemplars of what educational transformation can be about.


  5.1  Vision is arguably the most important aspect of a change programme and should guide activity at every stage. It is also important that all stakeholders are involved to avoid a danger of "it being done to us".

  5.2  A clear vision is critical and central to the entire programme—from initial discussions with stakeholders, to the successful operation of the new schools. Wide engagement is important as we are seeing some teachers not fully engaged with the need for transformation with regards BSF. We do not think that is because they don't want to but more because they have not had the right opportunities.

  5.3  We recognise the challenge to authorities and schools in a world where many believe that:

    —  Within 10 years the nature of schools and learning will be fundamentally different from today.

    —  Young people's digital lifestyles challenge the relevance of current education delivery. We must imagine the unimaginable to dream the impossible and think the unthinkable.

    —  We don't know all the answers but we know enough to start the journey.

    —  ICT, as an integral tool, will be a key enabler.

    —  BSF is a once in a lifetime opportunity to move in a new direction NOT reinforce the past.

  5.4  Authorities will get what they procure. Visions show bidders the direction and aspirations of an authority. Visions also need to be reflected in the requirements placed in front of the market. It is imperative the right people are involved in the process, along with the right advice and stimulus to procure the best possible outcome.

  5.5  Too often this is not the case. A lack of capacity, largely in terms of time, and capability in terms of the quality of advice are limiting factors in this regard.

  5.6  In our view ICT is often seen as separate and a task to be completed and not linked to the other elements of a school of the future. It is not seen or expressed as a "key enabler".

  5.7  I would like to bring to your attention the case of New Line Learning in South Maidstone where we have been involved in developing their vision in the way I described. New Line Learning is a federation of two Academies. ICT vision is at the heart of their overall vision for education and learning. ICT will enable many aspects of the Academies, their operation and how they want young people to learn.

  5.8  The nature and extent of the vision is important. BSF is intended to be a catalyst to transform secondary education and further improve education outcomes across the country.

  5.9  Sandwell and Knowsley are examples of authorities who see BSF within a wider context of community renewal and regeneration. In Sandwell we have been involved in visioning sessions for their headteachers and then with a much wider group of school stakeholders.

  5.10  We have now begun work with the authority to shape that wider vision as expressed in the slide below. Working with a wide group of stakeholders from those organisations represented in the slide, and focusing initially on education and health, we are developing a proof of concept to show what a joined up view can mean for the experience of a young citizen.

  5.11  We are aware of the challenge visioning represents and will continue with our efforts to contribute in terms of exemplars, resources and tools that can help stakeholders be more aware of the possibilities to arrive and more informed views of where they are headed.


  6.1  We have been close to a number of procurements and particularly so, where, in the case of Knowsley and Sandwell we have sat as a `critical friend' on the client side.

  6.2  From this experience we recognise this is a very demanding process. Without strong leadership and clear vision there is a danger of the goals being lost through all the different workstreams.

  6.3  We believe the revised ICT output specification will bring an improvement by encouraging authorities and their stakeholders to be more demanding and set their requirements in terms of their intended outcomes.

  6.4  It will be important that the payment mechanism and other commercial arrangements are revised accordingly. We have seen authorities trying hard to drive a transformation agenda but running up against what they see as largely inflexible and outdated payment mechanism documents which assume, for example, the traditional ICT suite model with workstations and requests for the number of student and staff workstations per classroom. For those developing a transformational approach these assumptions are largely outmoded.

  6.5  We have heard a frustration where the consequence of transformation and planning to "change the way things are done" means that a local authority wants to see money spent in different ways. We are seeing situations where, to achieve their desired outcomes, authorities may want to spend less on the physical environment and more on the virtual environment. At the moment this is problematic and links to arguments presented in section 8.

  6.6  We have seen a healthy focus on the importance of change management which was not present at the start of BSF. This is encouraging but we would like to see a further shift towards R&D to stimulate a forward looking attitude. See the reference to test modelling environments in section 8.

  6.7  We are encouraged by the consistent views laid out in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report Realising Britain's Potential: Future Strategic Challenges for Britain (February 2008), "the defining social challenges of the 21st century—climate change, an ageing population and globalisation—will not be solved by `off-the-shelf' answers. Meeting them will depend increasingly on innovative solutions that raise standards, meet new objectives and improve efficiency" ...

  6.8  ... "and further in Innovation Nation from the DIUS where it states, "We must innovate in our public services too. Innovation is as important to the delivery of healthcare and education as it is to industries such as manufacturing, retail and the creative economy ... We need to ensure that Britain contributes to the innovative solutions and that British business and the British people benefit from the new opportunities and prosperity they create".

  6.9  We look forward to a closing of the gap between strategy and practice on the ground.


  7.1  We think there is a lot more work to be done in this area. This is an area that Microsoft and the IT industry take very seriously. So far IT and technology has gained very little global attention although Gartner estimate that it is broadly responsible for around 2% of the world's CO2 emissions, the same as the airline industry. The problem is this does not account for the cost in carbon emissions if IT and technology was not present. It also ignores the potential role of technology as an enabler of positive change in reducing the remaining 98% of CO2 emissions.

  7.2  Again it highlights the transformation agenda and whether we really do mean "doing things differently". It may well be that IT can help bring about reductions in other ways. For example the time shifted curriculum being developed at Hugh Christie Technology College in Kent where Key Stage 5 students go to school at different times could mean a reduction in car journeys involved in the school run. It could also mean, as in that case, less physical space needing to be constructed.

  7.3  Another example we hear is in relation to the development of the 14-19 agenda and the need for students to learn in other places than their host institution. There can be a significant cost in transportation to move students around. That need, and the cost, might be reduced by the effective use of ICT to create virtual lessons or distance learning methodology.

  7.4  This is an important matter and something Microsoft are committed to continue work on.


  8.1  The rhetoric is there but our experience is that most conversations too easily start and end with the physical elements of building and ICT. Our view is, and this links to comments already made on visioning, that there needs to be a greater focus on the design of the learning experience that a school and an authority want to develop for its young people within its wider community.

  8.2  In this way it is more likely the "future schooling" debate will be led by learning and curriculum and then reflected and enabled by the building and design of space and ICT. The examples I offer to substantiate that view are in Knowsley with the design of their new learning centres and in Kent with New Line learning and Hugh Christie Technology College as illustrated below in this section.

  8.3  This does beg the question of what "personalised learning" could look like in the future and how can a project based curriculum offer opportunities for young people to learn in ways they prefer and equip them with 21st Century skills?

  8.4  If you don't know what is possible how can you design properly? We are aware of these challenges and invested in the development of a BSF Showcase to illustrate the possible experiences of teachers, learners and parents, who are also citizens, in a connected learning community. We attempted to place the learner at the centre of their own learning experience able to determine appropriate pathways for success. This also draws out issues of less prescription, active learner, co-producer, new teacher/learner and learner/learner relationships, different role for institutions, design of space etc.

  8.5  We worked with Knowsley, Kent, Sandwell and Sheffield to develop the BSF Showcase as below and available in full from our web site.

  8.6  New Line Learning and Hugh Christie are examples that show how learning and curriculum can be reflected in the design of schools. They provide evidence and practice that significant reform to the existing school model in all the areas I mentioned earlier, are both effective in terms of improving student outcomes and engagement, and efficient in terms of the use of space and teacher skills.

  8.7  Both are built to a design and on a footprint that steps away from traditional practice. In the case of Hugh Christie it is a school with 1,250 students but built on a footprint for a 1,000. It is estimated this reduced building costs by around 18%.

  8.8  At New Line Learning the savings are nearer 30%. Their Learning Plaza design has no corridors and is designed to help facilitate their project based curriculum. In both instances there has been significant reform in the curriculum and project based learning is becoming the norm. Furthermore they are developing, with our help, a business intelligence model that allows them to identify risk on students and plan appropriate interventions as a result. This can apply to an individual as well as to groups of students.

  8.9  We believe this is significant because by turning data into dynamic information and presenting it in a visual manner it will be possible to drive a significant change in practice. The slide below explains.

  8.10  We are aware members of the CSF Committee have visited New Line Learning and viewed their Learning Plaza. This is significant as well because in that environment they are test modelling to de-risk the investment and also the reform.

  8.11 We are seeing other authorities like Knowsley and Lewisham developing test modelling environments for the same reasons.


  9.1  The BSF procurement approach means that, in some cases, schools will get the ICT service that happens to be supplied as part of the building programme. ICT has little weight in the decision making process (circa 20%) despite the increasing recognition, by a maturing client, of the extent to which it can enable transformational outcomes.

  9.2  With relatively little emphasis on the provision of innovative ICT, there is little incentive for existing suppliers to invest in developing products and services that demonstrate these characteristics. There is also little incentive for new entrants to the market.

  9.3  We are concerned that ICT suppliers, our partners, will tend to propose ICT solutions that are "just-good-enough" and will focus on selecting the right consortium partner.

  9.4  We do not believe there has been any significant change since the Committee's first inquiry and we are unable to improve on the suggestions made, at that time, by the IT Industry group Intellect, namely,

    "we would like to see a procurement process that encourages ICT suppliers to take risks and offer genuinely innovative ICT products and services. This means that the choice of ICT supplier needs to be made on the basis of their educational vision, not which consortium they are part of".

  There are a number of ways that this could be achieved:

    (a) The threshold level for ICT could be set much higher, with the aim of ensuring that all ICT suppliers offered innovative services.

    (b) The ICT element could be given a much higher weighting in the decision making process.

    (c) ICT and buildings could be procured separately as part of a multi-stage process.


  10.1  From our work with authorities we do see the 14-19 agenda being addressed in BSF proposals. The 14-19 agenda is potentially "disruptive" in the sense it is requiring a range of institutions and providers to collaborate and think differently about educational provision.

  10.2  Where we are closely involved, or otherwise involved in discussions with authorities, we see 14-19 being viewed as something of a catalyst in its own right. BSF does provide the opportunity to re-think in a number of ways. An example from one authority is where they recognise that students will not always be in their host institution, and sometimes in a workplace, and are exploring the notion of virtual registration.

  10.3  In section 7 we referenced an example relevant to this question. There can be a significant cost in transportation to move students around. That need might be reduced by the effective use of ICT to create virtual lessons and therefore embodied in both the education and ICT visions for BSF.


  11.1  We welcome the announcements made in this area. We support the broader context within which the BSF investment is being made and therefore the acceleration of the programme.

  11.2  Drawing on matters raised elsewhere in this evidence we would like to raise the potential for, and indeed, continuing implications for capacity and capability within the market. This is already being tested within the programme to date and as the programme scales further this will need to be addressed.

  11.3  There are also some opportunities as the programme moves forward, some of which may help address the issues I have raised.

  11.4  There is an opportunity to bring some fresh thinking to the programme and take some different approaches. The context will have changed for the authorities being accelerated. They will have the benefit of the revisions to the process, including the ICT output specification, and also the benefit of learning from earlier projects who now have experience through to operational LEPs.

  11.5  We believe there are also significant opportunities for aggregation. While there will be challenges that need to be addressed when multiple authorities come together there remains the potential to gain from the considerable economies of scale and effort.

  11.6  The context has also changed in that other capital programmes have come forward. The opportunity exists for a wider view to be taken from the outset and with the benefits of a joined up approach.

July 2008

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