Post-occupancy evaluation of schools built under previous government leaked to Building

An in-depth government-commissioned evaluation of schools built under the previous government has found that all schools were built to an ‘acceptable’ standard with one third rated ‘very good’.

The Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) report into schools built under the Labour government, obtained by Building magazine, reveals that of the 25 schools assessed, all schools were rated ‘acceptable’, with 16 of the 25 (64%) rated ‘pass’ and nine of 25 (36%) rated as ‘very good’.

Undertaking thorough POE was a central recommendation of Sebastian James’ government-commissioned review of schools capital, which described POE as “a critical tool to capture … learning”.

However, as Building revealed last week, the government has refused to publish the POE research on schools built under the previous government, despite calls from the industry and the British Council for School Environments (BCSE) to do so in order to help share learning and develop best practice in school design and construction as well as driving down costs.

Speaking at a BSCE event last week, Mairi Johnson, EFA deputy director of design said: “It’s no longer the intention to publish the POE work. It was done under the previous government and was an analysis of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) schools and we are not building BSF schools anymore, so you can see why.”

However, Building has since obtained a copy of the report, which assesses 25 schools built under the previous government’s school building programme, including secondary schools built under the BSF programme, cancelled by the coalition government, as well as schools built under the previous Academies and Primary Capital Programme.

General satisfaction

In total the POE evaluates nine primary schools, 14 secondary/sixth form schools and two special schools on a range of elements of design and construction. The POE includes peer review by design, education, ICT and sustainability professionals; student and staff feedback; as well as an assessment of environmental performance (for more in-depth results see PDF attached, right).

The report said the conclusions of the education specialists were the “most positive”, followed by the design and ICT specialists, with sustainability specialists the “least positive”.

Peer review results

  • Overall peer review: 36% rated ‘very good’; 64% ‘pass’
  • Education specialists: 56% rated ‘very good’; 44% ‘pass’
  • Design specialists: 36% rated ‘very good’; 64% ‘pass’
  • ICT specialists: 24% rated ‘very good’; 68% ‘pass’; 8% ‘unsatisfactory’
  • Sustainability specialists: 24% rated  ‘very good’; 40% ‘pass’; 36% ‘unsatisfactory’

Factors highlighted as successful

  • Organisation of spaces and circulation; internal leanring spaces; ICT provision; functional, flexible spaces

Factors highlighted as not successful

School grounds; ICT infrastructure; adaptability of spaces to future changes; environmental performance in use,particularly thermal comfort in summer and high energy and carbon use; sound insulation; poor quality furniture.

The report said the review teams “commented particularly favourably on the organisation of spaces and the provision of ICT, but less favourably on ventilation, toilets and the ability of buildings to adapt to changing circumstances”.

It added that “staff and students were generally very satisfied with their school buildings and grounds”.

However, the POE did identify serious concerns around the sustainability of the schools, with nine of the 25 schools (36%) rated unsatisfactory, with particular concerns around the energy consumption of the schools (See tomorrow for more on the sustainability issues).

Darren Talbot, Davis Langdon head of schools, who was passed a copy of the report by Building, highlighted the sustainability performance as an area of concern, but said overall the POE revealed that the schools were generally of a “reasonable” standard.

“It’s a reasonable performance… it could be a lot worse, could be a lot better. But you have to remember that these schools were built without the benefit of POE work that had previously been done, so some mistakes were always going to be made.

“These schools were never going to be as good as they could have been because they weren’t learning - holistically learning - the lessons of previous building programmes.”

Sharing learning

One of the key recommendations of the POE report is that it should be “shared widely” among the industry in order to “help to improve the quality of design in school buildings and inform any support that’s given to schools so that they make the most effective use of their premises”.

Talbot said it was a concern that the government had not published the POE research - despite this recommendation to do so - as there was a danger that the lessons would not be taken on board for its own school building programmes.

“I can’t see there’s anything particularly scary inside this report. I’m not entirely sure why it hasn’t been released. It’s just good lessons for the future. All I can see is good learning.

“If there are good reasons for not publishing it then as an industry we need to know - we need to know what aspects of it the department has concerns about or what aspects they say they don’t believe are valid in future schools and that should be part of the debate.”

Nusrat Faizullah, BCSE chief executive said POE was a “crucial tool when it comes to designing and building schools, especially at a time of austerity”.

She said: “We hope that when the Department for Education (DfE) finally responds to the James review we’ll see post-occupancy evaluation as part of the DNA of future school capital investment programmes.

“We learn from past successes as well as failures - highlighting key areas such as sustainability gives us key information on where the spotlight needs to be.

A DfE spokesman said: “The POE was carried out for the previous government by [schools delivery agency] Partnerships for Schools.

“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 such as the Priority School Building Programme.”

  • For more on the schools report, including how the schools are failing to meet environmental standards, see here.
  • Then on Friday will cover the key recommendations and publish the report in full.

Building Future Education UK


The Post-Occupancy Evaluation will be one of many talking points at BFE UK on 9-10 May 2012, along with the Priority Schools Building Programme, new schools, design and sustainability. Find out more and register FREE for the exhibition or paid for conference online >>