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News archive - January/February 2019

ANALYSIS: Scottish schools get new £1bn building boost

ANALYSIS: Scottish schools get new £1bn building boost

The Scottish Government has committed to investing £1bn in rebuilding and refurbishing schools after the current school building programme ends in 2021. Andrew Pring examines the new deal and the philosophy of Peter Reekie, the man charged with delivering it.

The new billion-pound phase of investment - announced at the end of last year by Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney - means an estimated 50,000 pupils will see their schools renewed or refurbished.

It comes off the back of the current Schools for the Future Programme, which when it concludes in March 2020 will have delivered 117 new school projects benefitting 60,000 pupils since it began in 2009.

The new funding will deliver digitally enabled, low-carbon schools and campuses, which will be developed in partnership with COSLA and councils, with decisions on which schools will benefit focused on those in the poorest condition.

At the time of the announcement, Swinney commented: “Every pupil should have the best support throughout their education, which includes access to high-quality, up-to-date facilities that parents, staff and children can be proud of.

“This further £1Bn investment will build on the progress already made by the existing Schools for the Future Programme and drive further improvements in the learning estate from 2021. We will keep up the momentum of improvements in education facilities throughout Scotland.”

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ (COSLA) Children and Young People Spokesperson Councillor Stephen McCabe welcomed the news: “I am pleased that this investment will be developed in partnership with COSLA. It is vitally important that we get this right and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure that we do.”

The programme will be driven by the Scottish Futures Trust (STF), which works with local authorities across Scotland to achieve the very best value from their investment in new schools.

STF Chief Executive Peter Reekie says the investment is “fantastic news”, and identifies three broad objectives for the programme:

  • Delivering digitally-enabled learning places with functional wifi.
  • Designing spaces around how students want to learn, and making them colourful and vibrant “so that young people want to be there”.
  • Delivering more outdoor learning.

On the digital thrust, he says: “It’s part of the move from desks and chairs to squashy spaces and group working environments - we at SFT are absolutely clear that we must allow space standards and budgets to incorporate these spaces.”

Thanks to the STF’s prompting, designs of secondary schools have moved from an E shape to a block and Reekie wants that emphasis to continue. “I recognise the engineering challenge associated with that, but it has been a great enabler of different spaces and a change in which I hope SFT has played a role co-ordinating and sharing learning between local authorities and across the design community.”

As to outdoor learning, Reekie says “SFT has been working with colleagues on driving forward approaches to providing, registering and using outdoor space in early years settings, and I’d say there is now a clear momentum in that sector, and I think this needs to continue through the stages of learning.

“If we are not providing outdoor learning settings in buildings now, the three and four-year olds of today who are growing up with outdoor learning will be even more disappointed in 2030 when a not-very-old school at that time, doesn’t support their expectation for outdoor learning to be a part of their lives.”

At the heart of the Scottish school expansion programme is a new community dimension, explains Reekie. “A school used to be a building in which primary or secondary aged children were taught from 9am until 3:30pm on weekdays during term time. Today, many school buildings are now about much more than that - and I would argue that these very significant investments of public funds need to work harder still at their job of contributing to inclusive economic growth and sustainable communities: by bringing communities in - to use the facilities of the buildings both out of hours and increasingly during school hours; by acting as a roof over an increasing range of services - a journey which started for us at the Lasswade Centre (see box) , one of our early pilots for the programme, which brought seven services into one building and now extends to buildings like the Wade in.

“The power of this is so much more than saving space and releasing land - though that can have significant value. It is in using investment in a building to drive the transformation of services for a community; in linking to industry, something which our universities are increasingly active in, and at the heart of some ambitions projects in both Glasgow and Edinburgh supported through City Deal funding amongst many other sources. There must however be more of a role for these links in colleges and schools.”

Reekie’s philosophy is that buildings now must “work across the ages - from 3-18 campuses through bringing college and school facilities together to truly intergenerational learning places which will support the ever-increasing need for re-skilling thorough life, and keeping mentally active into older age.”

In fact, says Reekie, “We have to think about whether we are really building schools at all. Schools won’t be the same everywhere and will respond to what different communities need. If we are simply replacing an old building with a new one which is designed to modern standards but to meet fundamentally the same purpose as the old building, we are probably getting it wrong. These new buildings must be fit for the future and ok for now, not just a lot better than the old one.”

Though the current schools building programme is seen as successful, there’s one aspect which hasn’t gone to plan, admits Reekie: “Energy efficiency is an area where we have not had as much success as we would have liked. There are some new school buildings using more energy than the buildings they replaced. Some of that is because the building is used more intensively and for more things - which is to be celebrated - and some of it is because the building contains more digital kit - which is progress. But I have a nagging concern that the fundamental energy performance of these buildings and the behaviours of their users and operators, and the interaction of all of those things with the comfort and wellness promoted by the internal environment, needs more work.”

Two other issues rank high in Reekie’s priorities for schools’ construction - quality and cost.

On quality, Reekie says “there is a need for a transformation in the way buildings are bought and produced to improve the quality of the product, the productivity of the industry and the fairness of the work of the many thousands of people involved in the construction supply chains.”

And with regard to cost, he explains: “I’m not about to announce a change in the metrics to go with John Swinney’s £1bn but I can say that discussions I am part of are now a lot more around the need to procure for industry as well as from industry, to produce a high-quality and sustainable product which works for sustainable communities.”

Exemplar school

SFT’s Schools Pilot project brought together two councils from opposite sides of the country to build state-of-the-art schools for the benefit of their communities (Eastwood High School in East Renfrewshire and the Lasswade Centre in Midlothian), using a similar design.

Initiated between 2011-13, it was the first time two Scottish councils had come together and proved so successful that the collaborative approach has been used by other councils to achieve benefits and savings across the programme.

The Lasswade Centre has stood out for the numerous community benefits being delivered as it has a 1,500-pupils secondary school, a community library, a town hall, a 25m leisure pool, a specialist gymnastics centre, varied sports facilities, a crèche, a community cinema and café all under one roof and open to the public.