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Buildings Schools for the Future reforms didn’t go far enough

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The government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme is a multi-billion pound commitment to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school in England over the next 15 years. So how are we doing, five years on from the launch of BSF?

We’re pleased that the government – and Partnership for Schools (PfS), which administers BSF – acknowledge that there have been difficulties in the early stages. Targets have been missed and that’s disappointing. Effective school investment doesn’t happen without a working partnership. To design and build great schools, lots of disparate groups need to learn to talk to each other: children, teachers, local authorities, architects, construction firms and suppliers.

We’re pleased that PfS took the time and energy to review and streamline the procurement process for BSF. The recommendations, which include reducing the overall procurement time and selecting lead bidders earlier in the process, are welcome, but didn’t go as far as we and our members would have liked; we now have to see whether they make a significant difference and really allow for new innovations by teachers, architects, construction companies and local authorities.

We need minimum standards and guidance on consultation of teachers and pupils, yet the mechanisms to get designs up and running under BSF are too unwieldy, and don’t even allow the schools to represent themselves at the design review panels. Why do they have to do this through a third party – CABE?

We can’t afford for BSF to have its own reality, divorced from the needs and aspirations of communities. The meaningful engagement of teachers and learners in the design process is not yet at the heart of that process.

If school design is poor, we need solutions to improve it. A new design threshold can’t be a diversion and surely must have the transformation of teaching and learning at its heart. If we want great schools, the bar must be set high.

Few people would argue that independent voices and transparent procedures mean more efficiency when it comes to spending public money.

Leadership is crucial at every level and should be driven from the ground – schools and local authorities – but led and motivated from the top. I’m sure Education Secretary Ed Balls has an aspiration for the kind of learning environments he wants his children to be educated in; I know I have such aspirations for my own children.

We don’t want good schools, nor mediocre schools. We want schools that our children and their teachers want and need, not just when they open, but for five and 10 years after that. Schools that we’re proud of, that do the job they should, that become a focal point for the local community. Schools that make us say: ‘Proud to learn,’ when we look at them.

Schools to celebrate. Schools that truly become the ‘third teacher’. Great schools.

This is an edited version of the speech given by Ty Goddard, director of the British Council for School Environments, to the Labour Party Conference fringe meeting in Manchester on 22 September

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