The government's investment of billions in Britain's schools has raised the question of how that money can be spent most efficiently and effectively. Davis Langdon & Everest examines education from the point of view of policy and design, and gives cost breakdowns for two typical school building types
<B><font size="+1">Introduction</b></font>Education is a key area in which government performance will be assessed at the next election. The current three-year investment strategy focuses on a number of important areas, including equipping all 16-year-olds with the skills required in the modern workplace, and encouraging patterns of life-long learning. School buildings have a clear place in this strategy – providing the facilities and spaces required by new methods of learning, contributing to the motivation of pupils and staff, and encouraging pupils to stay beyond the minimum age of 16. In delivering these objectives, any capital investment in new or refurbished buildings will need to be targeted at policy areas including:
- changing methods of learning that focus on pupils as individuals
- greater use of information and communications technology
- increasing levels of social inclusion in schools, including the integration of special needs pupils
- increasing community use of a school's facilities.
<B><font size="+1">Investment in schools - where are the opportunities?</b></font>The government's current high level of capital investment in schools has created opportunities for the first large-scale building programme for schools in decades. Simultaneously, the way in which education is delivered is also being reviewed – creating opportunities to reconsider how buildings contribute to the education process.
In 1996/97, barely 5% of total expenditure on schools – £683m – represented capital expenditure. This level of investment, into an estate worth £60bn, was wholly inadequate and at the time OFSTED estimated that the physical condition of school buildings was adversely affecting the delivery of teaching in 20% of schools.
The backlog of repair and replacement of schools is immense. According to 2001 figures, more than 90% of school buildings predate 1976, and more than 50% of schools are in their replacement period, including many from the 1960s and 1970s designed with a life-span of only 30 years. The backlog of maintenance alone, identified in the 2000 round of asset management plans and currently being addressed through the New Deal for Schools, has a value of £7bn. More than half of this work must be undertaken within two years to avoid serious deterioration to building fabric and to address health and safety risks.
In response to these problems, capital expenditure, through direct investment and through the PFI, is increasing dramatically. The 2000 comprehensive spending review set out allocations for the four years to 2004.
In real terms, planned capital expenditure over the period represents an average year-on-year increase of 17%, compared with an annual average increase in overall schools expenditure of 5.6%. This expenditure will be aimed at buildings, IT and equipment. The main focus of expenditure during 2001-04 will be on achieving the following targets:
- Urgent repairs in 7000 schools and the prevention of any further deterioration in all schools by 2004.
- The commencement or completion of refurbishment programmes in 650 schools.
- The construction of PFI-based projects with a capital value of £1.65bn. These projects will include elements of new build and refurbishment – particularly in bundled projects such as those in Glasgow, Sheffield or Norfolk.
- Creation of up to 250,000 new school places worth £1.5bn to meet local population growth.
- 200 rationalisation and space removal schemes in areas with falling school rolls.
- Publicly funded modernisation schemes in 175 schools.
There is also capital expenditure available for initiatives including the Seed Challenge Fund, Disabled Access, Fresh Start and City Academies. Many of these aim to secure private sector funding and involvement in the delivery of new education programmes.
Although the levels of capital expenditure have increased significantly, the legacy of underinvestment, cost of statutory commitments and need to introduce new technologies means that capital will continue to be scarce and require careful management. Government strategy is to devolve an increasing proportion of expenditure to local education authorities based on locally produced asset management plans.
<B><font size="+1">Cost breakdown: science and CDT blocks</b></font>This cost model details the construction costs of two schools buildings: a science block and a crafts and technology building. The science building forms part of a sixth form college. It is a framed three-storey building, with a gross floor area of 1460 m2, with classrooms accessible from a central corridor. Classrooms are deeper than 6 m, and as a result, an extensive supply and extract ventilation system is installed.
The crafts, design technology building provides 1010 m2 of accommodation over a ground floor and mezzanine. The building is also deep plan, but in this case, ventilation is through high level windows.
The science building is representative of the standards of design and specification achieved following a design-and-build route. As the building features extensive M&E installations, the costs are above average for schools laboratory buildings. The craft and technology building is a distinctive high-quality, architect-led design, and costs are at the high end of the range.
The unit rates in the models are based on price levels current in the South-east in the first quarter of 2002, for lump sum competitive tenders. The costs exclude enabling works, demolitions and external works and services. The costs of non-fixed furniture and equipment, professional fees and VAT are also excluded. Adjustments to the unit rates should be made to account for location, site conditions, programme and procurement route.
<B>Summary costs and regional variations</b>
Costs are for buildings only, and exclude non-fixed furniture and equipment, enabling and external works, professional fees and VAT. Costs are at first quarter 2002 and price levels based on locations in south-east England. They should be adjusted by the following location factors for schemes in other regions.
<B><font size="+1">What is good school design?</b></font>Architectural watchdog CABE wants to use the current round of investment in schools to improve public sector design quality. Schools are often the most important civic building in a community, so the effect of the investment extends well beyond the direct experience of pupils. According to CABE, the key elements of good school design are:
- clear spatial organisation and full accessibility
- well proportioned space that is fit for its intended purpose
- well designed circulation
- natural light and ventilation, and the use of environmentally responsible materials
- attractive design
- the achievement of a public presence as a civic building
- a layout that facilitates effective out-of-hours use of the facility
- attractive, secure and varied external spaces
- the use of robust, non-institutional building materials and finishes
- the ability to accommodate change in IT use and teaching methods and the potential for extension.
<B><font size="+1">The effect of design on educational outcome</b></font>Substantial informal evidence demonstrates that good design can improve teacher and pupil motivation and the amount of teaching delivered. Research by Pricewaterhouse Coopers published in 1999 found strong correlations between the areas which both designers and teachers find important – circulation, daylighting and so on – demonstrating the relevance of current design thinking in devising solutions to the problems that schools face. The principal areas identified in which school buildings can contribute include:
- increased teacher motivation through the provision of an appropriate working environment and equipment
- improved teacher efficiencies through improvements to the range of facilities available and their greater adjacency
- more effective teaching due to the provision of better equipped specialist spaces
- improved pupil morale and retention – combating the perception that education is a low government priority and addressing the negative impression that many pupils can form when comparing facilities available at home to those at school
- improved pupil behaviour as a result of the better design of circulation spaces
- increased teaching time due to improved circulation, colocation of specialist equipment and provision of extended hours for facilities such as libraries and homework space
- more efficient management – resulting from better spatial organisation the greater openness of classrooms.
One of the areas where new buildings contribute particularly to improved management performance is that the condition of the buildings are no longer a distraction to managers or teachers. This is particularly the case with PFI projects, where problems associated with commissioning, defects and the maintenance of the building fabric are managed by the service provider rather than by school management.
<B><font size="+1">Labour's secondary schools agenda</b></font>If Labour's focus during its first term was on getting the foundations of primary education right, it has turned its attention to secondary education in its second. The 2001 green paper Schools – Building on Success clearly defines the agenda for secondary schools including:
- greater management autonomy of successful schools
- greater diversity of schools provision, including specialist schools, more faith-based schools, city academies and so on
- the promotion of new education pathways, academic and vocational, to suit the educational needs of individual pupils.
In addition to these broad strategic objectives, others including the encouragement of greater inclusion and the establishment of stronger links between schools and communities will have an effect on design.
<B><font size="+1">Procurement of schools projects</b></font>Current school building programmes are being delivered by a combination of conventional routes and public–private partnerships. PPPs are increasingly being used in connection with high-value bundles of schools. Bundling projects typically involve the rationalisation of the teaching estate of an LEA – generating development programmes, which include a combination of new build and refurbished accommodation.
PFI procurement has been examined in detail in previous cost models. Currently 138 schools projects have been approved for funding, and 48 projects, including 21 building schemes, have been signed. Experience of the operational aspects of school PFIs is limited as not many have been open for more than two years. However, from completed projects, the following broad conclusions have been drawn:
- PFI probably represents the best opportunity currently available to schools to comprehensively redevelop their facilities. Projects are built on time and budget, and have been welcomed by staff and pupils used to working in substandard surroundings. However, in common with other PFI projects, this opportunity may come at the cost of the loss of some of the design excellence associated with the best conventionally procured schemes.
- Despite the introduction of standard contracts and other documentation, internal and external client costs for setting up a typical school PFI deal are estimated to total about £500,000. Although this is a small proportion of the total costs of a PFI, the high upfront costs mean that the PFI can only be considered for larger bundled projects.
- Schools completed to date have reported improvements in staff morale and more effective management of pupil behaviour outside of classes.
- Some problems with the delivery of schools' design expectations have occurred, usually as a result of requirements not being included in contractually binding elements of the project documentation such as the output specification.
- Some service providers have not had the in-house expertise to effectively manage schools' facilities management services. Practical difficulties have been experienced in outsourcing services such as IT provision and catering on some PFIs, together with the value for money procurement of furniture and equipment.
Overall feedback on the PFI, which has provided much-needed new accommodation after years of neglect, has been very positive. One particular benefit has been the transfer of responsibility for problems with handover and defects, and continuing building management to the service provider. However, there are concerns about stakeholder consultation, design quality, flexibility of operation, ease of adaptation and long-term affordability that have not yet been resolved.
For more conventionally procured projects, government initiatives to reform the public sector as a construction client will have an increasing effect on procurement options for schools projects. The Achieving Excellence programme is, for example, encouraging public sector clients to adopt "integrated" procurement strategies such as design and build and partnering. As a result, the traditional lump sum contract will become less common on schools projects. On one-off projects, the use of design-and-build or traditional procurement will continue to provide clients with the best balance between cost and time certainty and the achievement of appropriate levels of quality. However, for clients who can provide continuity of workload, partnering approaches will generate opportunities for the development of long-term relationships and establish performance improvement targets.
Experience of public sector partnering to date has been that it involves a great deal of up-front commitment, and that the immediate benefits are associated with quality and defects performance rather than cost and programme reduction. In the context of schools, partnering arrangements have the potential to deliver long-term development programmes identified in asset management plans, or extensive repair and maintenance requirements spread over a number of schools. Although the existence of standard contracts and best practice guidance makes it easier for clients to consider the adoption of partnering, the challenges associated with, and the resources required, to establish successful relationships should not be underestimated.
<B><font size="+1">Key issues for current school design</b></font>New methods of learning, greater use of IT, a wider and more flexible curriculum, aspirations towards greater inclusion and the desire to encourage greater community use of schools are all factors that challenge school managers and the project teams they commission.
Areas that could be particularly affected by these changes include those used for circulation and social activities, as these can be used to facilitate flexible working – for example, providing shared resource areas in circulation space. What used to be described as "non-learning space" is increasingly recognised as critical in supporting learning, increasing pupil morale and retention and in facilitating community use of the facilities.
An increased use of IT has resulted in the need for more dedicated IT teaching space, together with the need to provide the equipment in more localised resource bases. This can result in problems with cabling, environmental control and security. The introduction of greater levels of IT usage is one of a number of trends increasing the number of non-teaching jobs in schools and the amount of storage space required for equipment – resulting in an increase in the space required per pupil.
Today's flexible curriculum has caused the development of more specialist schools, the implementation of vocational GCSEs and A-levels, together with a greater emphasis on working with business and the community. These will require a different mix of facilities depending on the focus of the school. A strategy of "loose-fit" classroom design is being adopted in some schools to provide long-term flexibility to accommodate a wider range of activities without the need for substantial adaptation. Although this results in larger classrooms and an increased overall floor area, the additional expenditure is justified on the basis of reduced long-term disruption and remodelling. Additional measures to increase flexibility include the use of moveable acoustic partitions.
Greater inclusion focuses in particular on educating special needs and disabled pupils in mainstream schools. Under this policy, the physical fabric of schools will need to be adapted to ensure that it does not disadvantage these pupils. Dedicated facilities, commonly described as a learning support centres, may need to be provided for special needs pupils and their specialist support staff to enable them to be taught in most instances in general classes. Group spaces may also have to increase in size to accommodate wheelchair users and other disabled pupils.
The design and layout of facilities, such as assembly space, resource areas, libraries and so on, requires careful consideration if they are to be use by the community. The most important issues are those of access control and security, clarity of circulation for users who are not familiar with the layout of the school, and the grouping of facilities that may be made available to the wider public. The standards of design and specification may also be affected by the decision to make facilities more widely available to the public, including changed space standards for sports halls or enhanced technical equipment in possible performance areas such as halls or music rooms.
Acknowledgment: DL&E would like to thank John Waldron of Architecture plb for his assistance in the preparation of this article.