9 August 2007
GOVERNMENT MUST NOT MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY TO TRANSFORM EDUCATION AND BUILD SUSTAINABLE SCHOOLS, SAY MPS
The Education and Skills Committee today releases its report on Sustainable Schools: Are we building schools for the future? It concludes that the Government's investment in schools represents an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that all of the physical spaces which pupils occupy effectively support their learning, but that there are a number of issues which need to be addressed to make sure that the investment is used to maximum effect.
âTake the time to get it rightâ? is the clearest message that the Committee identified to ensure the success of the Government's programme Building Schools for the Future (BSF). Greater involvement of teachers, other school staff and pupils is needed in the planning stage and maintaining this dialogue is the best way for local authorities to help to create an excellent learning environment.
What do we want education to be in the 21st century? According to the report this is the crucial question and one that has not been fully answered by the Government, despite its declaration that educational transformation is at the heart of BSF. The Committee asks the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to provide âa clear statement of the national ambitions for 21st century educationâ?. This should provide guidance for local authorities to encourage innovation and educational transformation.
Sustainability is another key part of BSF. There are a large number of factors which go towards making a school sustainable, of which the level of carbon emissions is one of the most significant. The Government must address the issue of schools' carbon emissions if it wants to lead by example in cutting emissions created by the public sector building stock. The ideal, according to the report, would be for all new school buildings to be carbon neutral.
Half of the cost of BSF - approximately £22.5 billion - will be met using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The Committee concludes that there are risks associated in using PFI as a method of funding, particularly the ongoing revenue costs for local authorities and the cost of closing a PFI-funded school which becomes unviable through a fall in pupil numbers. The Government should set out more clearly its assessment of the sustainability of local authorities' revenue commitments, and the lessons learned from PFI schools that have been forced to close, says the report.
The Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, Mr Barry Sheerman MP, said:
âThis project is hugely ambitious in its scope. We welcome that ambition, but the question of whether BSF is the best way to spend £45 billion on education must be kept under regular review to ensure that its scope and aims remain appropriate. Clear targets to measure BSF's success must also be developed.
"If the Government is serious about educational innovation it must provide bold leadership to the whole sector. Research, innovation, the spread of good practice and action based on evidence should be at the heart of transformation. Schools and local authorities should also have the freedom to innovate and develop local solutions. Teachers and students need to be closely involved from the outset and the vital importance of their input should not be underestimated.
"The project's success lies in clear thinking and early planning, not in rushing to meet self-imposed deadlines. If the aim of BSF is to transform the educational experiences of pupils and to embed sustainability, then due time, care and attention must be taken to get it right.â?
Teachers TV, the digital channel for those in education, is to broadcast a documentary, School Matters: The Select Committee and the £45 billion question, based on exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the Education and Skills Select Committee. This is a groundbreaking programme and gives a rare insight into how the Committee works and gathers evidence ahead of its report on sustainable schools. The programme will air on Thursday 9 August at 7.30pm. For more information on the programme contact Emily Lacey on
firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7400 4480.