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Better Spaces for Learning

Published in May 2016, this report demonstrates how good design can help ensure that capital funding for schools stretches as far as possible, and supports good outcomes for both teachers and pupils.

Each pupil deserves a place at a good school. This is a key government objective, but is becoming harder to achieve in the face of budget pressures and increasing numbers of children entering the education system.

The report triggered two high-profile inquiries into the government school buildings programme, one by the National Audit Office, the other by the Public Accounts Committee. Both came to the same conclusion as our report – government needs to get better at collecting data about the buildings it funds and use this information to improve its school building programme.

We outlined how government can achieve this via systematic Post Occupation Evaluations.

With many existing schools also in need of an overhaul, there could not be a better time to look more closely at how excellent design can help the government’s school building programme deliver better value for money.

Our new report, comprising what we believe is the largest analysis of Post Occupancy Evaluations of primary and secondary schools in the UK, a nation-wide poll of teachers and numerous conversations with stakeholders involved in delivering government-funded school buildings, demonstrates how good design can help ensure that capital funding stretches as far as possible.

What we found out

Current government school building programme

• Delivering school buildings to varying degrees of quality, with the poorest likely to experience higher running and maintenance costs, poorer pupil performance and behaviour, as well as lower staff productivity

• In the quest to limit time and costs, the government is cutting out key elements from its programme which represents a false economy

• Money is very tight, but it is possible to deliver better outcomes through the programme if existing money is invested wisely

The value of good school design

• Good design is about creating cost-effective environments that help drive up educational outcomes, enhance teacher-and-pupil-wellbeing, while limiting future running and maintenance costs. It can also be achieved through the government’s school building programme.

• Good school buildings have a significant and positive impact on pupil behaviour, engagement, wellbeing and attainment.

• It pays to invest in good design. It has a positive impact on school staff’s productivity, with the most comfortable and well-designed schools demonstrating a 15% increase.

• Good design makes schools cheaper to run – up to £150 million is being spent annually on unnecessary services and maintenance which could have been avoided if schools were better designed.

Teachers’ views on school building design

• More than 9 in 10 teachers believe school design is important

• 1 in 5 teachers have considered quitting because of the condition of school buildings

• Nearly half of teachers are worried schools they currently teach in are too small (especially secondary)

• 91% of teachers feel good design is important to good pupil behaviour

What this means

Schools delivered by central government are not delivering the value for money they could if they embraced the principles of good design.

This is preventing the available money in the pot from stretching as far as possible.

The government needs to put good design at the top of the agenda

Our pupils, teachers, parents and taxpayers deserve top mark schools. It is time the government reviewed its school building programme, taking into account evidence-based design.

What we're proposing

We believe the time is right for the government to review how the current generation of centrally planned school building projects is working. We believe three areas should be the priority for reform:

• Reviewing how information and communication flows between schools, government and design and construction teams during projects

• Adopting a more flexible approach to the rules governing the design and size of new schools to allow for the best possible use of resources

• Taking a smarter approach to the use of building management equipment that controls the internal environment of modern school buildings.

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