The Excellence in BSF Awards show just how far we've come

It only seems like yesterday that I was writing in this column about going back to school in September, and here we are already in the season of mince pies and festive spirit!

Speaking of celebrations, last month the winners in the 2009 Excellence in BSF Awards took to the stage to collect their gongs. The 19 award winners came from BSF and Academy projects across the country, and it was a great opportunity to bring together representatives of all areas of the schools capital community family to mark just how far we have all, collectively, come.

A couple of categories stood out in particular for me this year. Our Grand Prix and School of the Year winner, Beaumont Leys in Leicester, is a shining example of how pupils in a deprived area can flourish when they step inside a new learning environment, built specially for them and their needs. It also showcases how a headteacher and a leadership team with commitment and passion can work with the public and private sectors to create a truly inspirational school.

The other award I want to highlight is the Jonathan Ibikunle Award for Best Design Adviser, named in memory of our dear friend and former PfS head of design who tragically died last year. Jonathan was someone renowned for the time and attention he gave to all those he worked with, and I was pleased that Jonathan's wife and one of his daughters were able to attend the event and present this inaugural award to Catherine Brownell for her work with Southwark BSF.

Continuing with design matters, at our design conference at the British Museum late last month I unveiled the four pillars which will form the foundations of our second procurement review, and which together will help us to make significant inroads towards the ultimate goal of a 52-week procurement.

I have spoken many times about the complex procurement process which BSF naturally entails - how it must test both the 'bidder' and the 'bid' - to keep within the bounds of European Law and keep me out of jail! The issue of the number of sample designs required and when designs should be tested has been the subject of much debate.

Working closely with the Royal Institute of British Architects, whose efforts were led by immediate past president Sunand Prasad, PfS will explore introducing a model in which local authorities appoint a design team who they work with to develop exemplar designs for the sample scheme in their BSF bid process. Building on the useful work that has been done on proposals for refining “Smart PFI” over the past three years, we have established that there is no legal impediment to the final proposals produced by the RIBA. Under the modified version of the RIBA's Smart BSF model, bidders would be invited to bring innovation to the way the exemplar design is developed and delivered, without reducing the quality of the design. The developed design would then be taken forward by the selected bidder once they have been appointed.

There remain a number of issues to resolve around this approach in terms of deliverability, for example ensuring continuous improvement; integration; how to test partnership working; and securing genuine risk transfer. Whilst not insignificant, these issues need not be insurmountable, and working with the RIBA I look forward to exploring this approach as a live option going forward.

More broadly, we are looking to ensure that revised proposals for procurement for BSF will be useful in reuse of existing buildings that are not currently being used for education (as we are already seeing in the Bristol Cathedral School as part of the City Council's BSF project) as well as refurbishing schools and new build solutions.

Finally, in the New Year PfS, the RIBA and CABE will formally start recruiting for a new list of Client Design Advisers that are accredited to work on BSF projects, with advisers receiving regular updates, training and networking opportunities so that they can give the best advice at all times. Something I think that Jonathan would approve of wholeheartedly.