The government’s design watchdog has warned spending cuts on schools would be unfair and come at completely the wrong time
CABE chose this’ weeks BSEC Building Schools conference in London to raise the debate about the future of the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme which looks likely to have its budget slashed following the forthcoming general election.
Matt Bell, director of education and external affairsat CABE, said: ‘‘At last BSF is about to hit its stride. Waves four to six have been much better than the first phase.
‘Ironically, just as the programme is finding its feet, the budget might go through the floor.’
Bell fears much of what has been learned could be squandered if the plug is pulled on funding. He added: ‘Nobody is saying the process is perfect – it could be leaner and quicker – but anecdotally from teachers we are hearing the new BSF schools are improving attainment through better design.
‘However we only have actual data for the last two or thee years so we can’t tell if this is just an early upward blip. The government could be taking a seismic decision when a key matrix isn’t there.’
Bell also feels that cutting the cash would be inequitable for those authorities which have yet to feel the the benefit of BSF funding.
‘There is a fairness issue here – 54 local authorities still have a school estate dating back to the mid-90s or before and some teachers are working in pretty grim environments. So, not far from a new BSF school in one borough, you have schools which are dank and intimidating in another.’
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CABE’s key points about BSF
- Does school design matter?
Well-designed schools have a positive impact on performance and behaviour. It raises pupils’ aspirations and helps attract and keep good teachers. It deters vandalism, truancy and bullying.It all adds up to giving every pupil the best chance to do well and is fundamental to the success of both Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and the Primary Capital Programme (PCP).
- Don’t freeze out quality
Harsh spending cuts could drastically affect capital expenditure programmes. We know that budgets will be tightened but there’s a danger of underfunding to a point where quality can’t be achieved. We can’t squander the opportunities offered by BSF and PCP.
- How do we ensure design quality?
It is possible and it’s not that difficult: six years into BSF, we are getting to a position where we are doing it well. There are many examples. CABE’s schools design panel is seeing real improvements – and now, with the minimum design standard, poor quality schemes won’t be built.
Modifications to the procurement process may lead to some savings. But it’s the client that makes the difference. Quality revolves around the skills and capacity of local authorities and headteachers in BSF and PCP.
- What’s the fundamental point of investment?
It is not just about exam results – there are myriad other benefits, ranging from carbon performance; schools that children and families are proud of and identify with; to opportunities for extended services for the community. There’s also a question of equity and fairness here: why should children and teachers in the 54 local authorities yet to join the programme be condemned to appalling conditions because of an economic crisis not of their making?