BCSE Features in Building and LGCIn the week of our annual conference, the BCSE was featured in Building (twice) and in LGC. Our conference attendees were lucky enough to get free advanced copies of these publications in their delegate packs. Below we have posted the opinion pieces from the relevant issues. The second article in Building related to increasing our regional presence in the next six to nine months.
LGC article 10th November 2011
"For any local authority, it's a growingly familiar problem: resources shrink; calls upon them do not. In the case of the school buildings programme,a new landscape has emerged shaped by massive capital funding cuts. And yet, with the James Review calling for "enough fit-for-purpose school places to meet the needs of every child" and a forthcoming bulge in the school population to deal with, the task of bringing the school estate up to date is as necessary and urgent as ever.
In the meantime, we're hearing of local authorities streamlining departments and cutting education expertise, which will have an inevitable knock on when it comes to sensible use of limited capital funding for education projects.Hard times indeed, although it's not all bad news. We're also hearing about the development of new ways of doing things, with councils using their expertise to be creative and innovative when it comes to their school buildings.
So what are councils supposed to do, especially at a time when there's a question mark about the 'responsible' role of local authorities and the growing emphasis on autonomy for schools, let alone all the other responsibilities councils have to meet? Part of the response is to make sure that we fully harvest the crop of knowledge that programmes such as Building Schools for the Future has already given us.We need to make sure that lessons learned and innovations are spread. With this in mind,we aresetting up a new network which will helplocal authorities to share their expertise and knowledge around school design and construction. A working group will meet early next year to begin developing the project.
As an ex-teacher, I can testify that decent school buildings are not a luxury item that can be discarded in straitened times; whatever the reservations are of the Priority School Building Programme, it's up to us to ensure it supports educational experiences and outcomes of both current and future generations in the best way possible.
We need to show how good learning environments can impact at a local level; improving attainment (and behaviours) of the children who use them and supporting the teachers who work in them, as well as providing a resource which can act as a focal point for communities.
So sharing know-how across local authority boundaries is more important than ever. The new local authority network will be strengthened by our growing regional presence, with a new base being opened in Wales this month and others due to open next year.
We need more from central government for sure. Simpler procurement methods, a commitment to post-occupancy evaluation, design mechanisms that work, a focus on refurbishment and the re-use of other buildings as schools, and a recognition of the role and value of learning environments will make things easier when the economic outlook is poor. But councils also need to showcase their innovation and creativity, demonstrating results which benefit their local communities, because they are leaders too.
Nusrat Faizullah is the chief executive of the British Council for School Environments"
Building Magazine - Open Mic - 11th November 2011
"Are there grounds for optimism yet, for the design and construction industry working in the education sector? It's hard to feel it, but inevitably changes to spending cuts in the school estate, with all its challenges, also bring new opportunities, ideas, and ways of doing things.
We have to make strong arguments as we compete with all the other sectors when it comes to investment for school buildings. Whilst our sector faces the harshest of the current cuts, there are still opportunities The Priority School Buildings Programme (PSBP), although inevitably over-subscribed, will mean that we should see successful applicants notified by the end of the year, with newly built schools opening in 2014.
And we do need new schools. Whatever the reality of the economic backdrop, there's no disagreement that most of the school estate needs attention. Creating the right learning environments for young people through new building and refurbishmentprojectswill not only create jobs; it will make a difference to the day to day experiences of teachers and children, as well as catering for the forthcoming growth in the school population. Decent school buildingswith the right equipment and facilitiesare a powerful tool for teaching and learning, impacting the attainment of young people, as they find themselves in the kinds of environments that can inspire and support children, adults, families and communities. It'snot rocket science.
And I should know. As an ex-science teacher in a challenginginner London secondary school, I had first-hand experience of the impact of buildings on my students and my colleagues. Children too scared to use the toilets or go into the playground; corridors which were difficult for children to move around, encouraging the wrong sort of behavior.
Having also worked on the development of Studio Schools (a new model of school with a curriculum that reflects the workplace) I saw first hand how the environment can impact those that use it.. Traditional school design makes it difficult for teachers to work together; and hard to innovate in the way we taught, acting as a barrier against group work and project based learning.The ever-growing requirements of technology need to be catered for in our schools, or our children won't get the massive benefits that it offers, nor the preparation they need to be ready for our increasingly technology-dominated world.
There are lessons to be had here, which we hope will be reflected in the response from the Department for Education, following input from the industry on the James Review.
We must be intelligent about how school capital funding is spent, ensuring every penny has the most value squeezed out of it. Standardised design is the order of the day; we need to make sure the designs go through a robust system of scrutiny and testing, and focus on best practice rather than a 'make do' approach.
We need to work smarter, in a way that doesn't exhaust the limited resources. To make the savings necessary.innovation and creativity need to be core principles rather than fashionable buzzwords (along with that other stalwart, partnership). There's so much that we can learn from each other, across sectors and regions. This is one of the reasons we're developing a series of regional bases, as well as launching a new network for staff in local authorities. These initiatives will help share the learning of what works and what doesn't, both locally and nationally.
Post-occupancy evaluation needs to be part of this recipe for future success. It's a natural element of design and construction projects, and the James review pointed out that lessons around school design had not been learned because of the lack of evaluation mechanisms in Building Schools for the Futureprogramme.
The PSBP is not a panacea, and we need to be realistic about what's on offer. The application process has been a challenge and the numbers of new schools are nowhere near what we need. There's concern about the quality of standardised design, and we're unlikely to have consensus on a design approach which works for everyone.
PFI-funded public buildings have had their fair share of poor outcomes, and coupled with a pressured timetable, limited local authority resources and shrinking expertise, there's a danger we end up with long term problems because we need short term solutions.
So we mustn't forget other approaches for the future. Refurbishment programmes and the creative re-use of other buildings as learning environments are also routes to having decent schools.
In the meantime, this isn't a rehearsal. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge out there waiting to be harnessed, and a real willingness by the industry to do the very best with what there is in the form of the PSBP. This is an opportunity to show what we, the design and construction industry, can do.
Nusrat Faizullah is the new chief executive of the British Council for School Environments"