Industry slams continuing secrecy after Building reveals raft of post-occupancy findings

The government is understood to be holding back the publication of post-occupancy data on schools that examines the link between school buildings and academic achievement.

The existence of the research has come to light after Building this week revealed findings from a major post-occupancy review by former delivery body Partnerships for Schools (PfS) into the performance of school buildings, which also had not been published.

Key findings of the review have been exclusively revealed by throughout this week after it was leaked, with the report published in full today for the first time (see file attached, below right). The study examines 25 primary, secondary and special schools built or refurbished by the previous government, including those under the Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF). It shows:

  • A third of schools were judged “very good” overall, with all rated “acceptable”
  • Poor sustainability performance, with nine schools judged “unsatisfactory”
  • Schools with expensive green technologies are being vastly outperformed by those which rely on intelligent basic design
  • A shocking difference in annual energy costs between the best and worst performing schools of up to £85,000 a year - the cost of a senior member of teaching staff
  • PFI consortia were financially rewarded for good energy performance at design stage, even if the energy performance of the completed building was in practice far poorer.

Undertaking post-occupancy evaluation (POE) was a central recommendation of Sebastian James’ government-commissioned review of schools capital, which described POE as “a critical tool to capture […] learning” in order to help develop best practice in school design and construction and lower costs.

Below we publish the full recommendations of the report.

For full coverage of the overall design review findings in the report see here

For full coverage of the sustainability failings, see here

A central recommendation of the POE report itself was that it should be “shared more widely” and leading industry figures, including the British Council for School Environments (BCSE)this week slammed the government for not publishing it. The industry also called on Department for Education (DfE) to publish any further post-occupancy information it has thataddresses educational attainment.

Darren Talbot, head of schools for Davis Langdon, said it was a concern the government had not published its POE research.

“We need to know what aspects of it the department has concerns about or what aspects they don’t believe are valid in future schools and that should be part of the debate,” he said.

Steve Beechey, head of education at Wates, said: “The industry is striving to produce more efficient schools to help the government deliver more for less, so this kind of information is invaluable. The more we know about the impact of previous projects, the better equipped we are to achieve this.”

A DfE spokesman said: “As the report focuses on BSF - a programme no longer being taken forward - and on projects where the levels of funding, area sizes, and procurement routes have all changed, it was not published.

“However, the relevant findings have been taken on board and will be used in future school building programmes.”

Post-occupancy evaluation: key recommendations

The future of POE

The report said post-occupancy evaluation should become a “normal part of the capital spend review process, using a streamlined methodology that takes account of the current government priorities, considering the lessons learnt from this POE”. It adds that the POE, which the Department for Education has refused to publish, should be “shared more widely”.

Improving environmental performance in use

The schools evaluated were using “considerably more energy” than current benchmarks. The annual saving achieved by reducing a school’s energy consumption form the worst to the best performance in the POE “could pay for a new teacher”.

  • Schools should comply with the regulatory requirement to have a current Display Energy Certificate to help inform their actions and to take steps to improve energy efficiency”
  • Current energy use benchmarks should be updated and schools should be encouraged to monitor their annual performance against the benchmarks through a simple online toolkit to help drive improvement
  • Design of environmental strategies should be simplified and better take into account the fact that schools staff do not have the expertise, time, or budget to manage complex systems
  • An extended or phased ‘after care approach, such as Soft Landings, should be embedded within the contract, to help ensure improve the building’s performance in use
  • Evidence of performance in use - particularly thermal comfort and energy and carbon consumption - should be collated to help inform the schools capital and climate change programmes and the efficiency of schools capital investment

Low carbon technologies

The POE also found that the impact of low-carbon technologies was variable and that schools with kit, such as solar PV, “had little understanding of the impact of their renewable technology and often had high energy consumption”: “Interestingly the better environmentally performing schools had no low carbon technologies. Instead they adopted good energy management practices and the staff and students had a good understanding of the impact of their behaviour”.

  • Evidence should be collated on the performance-in-use of low carbon technologies to help inform the schools capital and climate change programmes and the efficiency of schools capital investment - this should be aligned with other departments policies

Considering the whole school site

The POE found that while most schools had very good facilities for PE and sports, not many were making the full use of the school grounds to support teaching and learning across the curriculum or for social activities. It said the most successful schools were those where the design considered the whole schools site, not just the buildings.

  • “Designers should consider the potential of the whole school site as a learning environment, providing weather protection, durable outdoor furniture and storage; and locating activities to minimise disturbance to indoor classes.”
  • Best practice on use of outdoor space “should be shared between schools, to increase teachers’ confidence and creativity”.

Improving ICT infrastructure and access

Although schools were well equipped with ICT the POE found that the potential of ICT to support teaching and learning the POE found was “often not fully realised”

  • “ICT infrastructure needs to provide whole-school access and be able to support future educational and technological developments, so that a school’s facilities do not full behind student’s learning needs and expectations”.
  • Best practice using ICT should be shared to increase staff confidence

Improving flexibility

The most successful schools were designed to give users flexibility and were managed to ensure optimum use was made of the spaces.

  • Lessons on designing flexible spaces - and optimising existing spaces - should be included in any future support given to schools as well as in design guidance.