New school – of thought

Minister for School Standards David Miliband outlines the Government’s ‘radical’ new approach to the modernisation of school buildings and their environments

It is common sense: to learn effectively, children need a clean, comfortable, well-equipped building. High-quality buildings are vital to our ambitions for all schools, along with high-quality teaching and learning. The Government is eager to use the best building, construction and design professionals to realise this ambition, and to help create the kind of modern buildings our children deserve.

Our new consultation paper Building Schools for the Future sets out a radical approach to improving the stock of school buildings and their surrounding landscapes. Building on what works well, we aim to reform the way we allocate capital funding, design schools and procure school buildings. We want to transform the conditions in which secondary school children are educated, and improve the quality of primary schools. We have asked heads, teachers and governors for their views.

Over the past six years, schools and local education authorities have used increasing capital investment to tackle the backlog of repairs caused by decades of under-funding. We believe the most urgent of the backlog will soon have been addressed.

Capital investment for school buildings has risen from less than £700m to £3bn in this period. This money has been spread relatively evenly across schools and local education authorities. But investment until now has focused mainly on patching and mending, not on building modern, well-equipped new spaces. This new focus will be beneficial not only for teachers and pupils, but also for the surveying, design and construction companies that become involved in the hundreds of projects. The increase in schools capital investment to over £5bn in 2005-6, announced by the Chancellor last July, gives us the opportunity for a new approach that will aim to support a step change in standards. We can continue with existing, successful capital programmes. But we can do more.

Six out of seven schools are more than 25 years old – many are Victorian, and most are reaching the end of their useful span. That is why we have undertaken a programme of rebuilding and renewal to ensure secondary education in England has facilities of 21st century standard. This means every secondary school within ten to 15 years from 2005-06, subject to future public spending decisions, will be substantially improved. We will also aim to provide substantial investment in primary school buildings.

Efficient heating and lighting, excellent ICT links, creative use of materials and spaces – all are vital to the learning process. So far, 650 schools have been replaced or modernised, with temporary classrooms replaced and new CCTV and fencing making schools safer. To help schools, local education authorities and planning departments, we’re organising a range of designs for primary and secondary schools. We will offer schools six templates for the ’21st century learning environment’, to be adapted by and for local schools. These will offer world-class design.

The Furniture of the Future project is bringing state-of-the-art equipment into our classrooms. The Design Council has been working in partnership with school furniture supplier Remploy and designers such as Matthew Hilton of Habitat and Azumi. Over 300 entries were submitted to the competition, the best of which will be part of the schools design templates. Another exciting initiative we’ve funded is Joinedupdesignforschools, managed by The Sorrell Foundation. In its pilot, seven schools joined up with seven design groups to work together as client and consultant. The aim is to inspire creativity in young people using designers’ knowledge to improve the quality of life in each school; from the environment to uniforms, meals and the identity.

As schools are built and expanded, the plans need to move quickly through the approval system. We want to reform the procurement process to bring innovation and efficiency into the construction of buildings, and are working on creating a new national procurement body. A balance of conventional and PFI funding will be used, where appropriate.

The programme will be driven by local people’s needs, by partnerships of local education authorities, schools and governors and the wider community. We are interested in bold, imaginative plans that give scope for fresh, inspiring new design in our schools. We believe this educational vision and new approach to capital investment will benefit all. To reform our educational standards, we must not neglect the environment in which it all happens.

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