Saturday, 27 June 2009

My talk at the RSA

Thought you might be interested in the speech I gave at RSA as part of Big Debate on education:

The Big Debate Thank you Ty for that introduction. I am delighted to be here on behalf of Mouchel as part of the Big Debate hosted by the British Council for School Environments and I am particularly keen to explore the future of the our schools capital programmes and to raise some thoughts about the impact that such investment in buildings can have on the nature of learning and on what our schools mean to us and future generations. At the moment we live in difficult times. It is hard to assess what the future will be for public spending and public services given the state of the economy and the economic climate and the impact that this will have on our programmes for capital investment in education. The college rebuilding programme is staggering to a halt, we are all eagerly awaiting the next ministerial announcement on the future of the BSF programme, and whatever happens in the election next year, there are likely to be greater constraints on public spending. However, we are starting to see some glimpses of themes that may help us understand what may happen to the big capital investment schemes for schools in place over the next couple of years In particular, it seems likely that regardless of the election result, there will be a reduction in the overall funding available for education capital programmes. The current programme (covering primary capital, voluntary schools, children’s centres, secondary schools as well as building schools for the future) totals some £8bn. We may be looking at a substantial reduction in this spend which would necessitate a reordering of the current priorities. It is not clear what this would mean for the BSF programme (which represents roughly 40%) of the overall total or for each of the other funding streams. However, it is likely that pressure on capital investment programmes overall will encourage a greater emphasis on ‘joining up ‘ the money – looking at how local services can be delivered more effectively across the local estate modelled on initiatives such as extended full service schools and the recently announced co-location fund. In essence there may be a ‘more bang for the bucks’ approach with central government continuing to ask the question of local authorities and schools ‘if we give you this large injection of capital funding for schools, what else are we getting?’. We could also see a greater emphasis on how all the services involved in education particularly those in the non statutory area (libraries, museums, art galleries) contribute to the learning of each child. Perhaps a shift to greater involvement of this sector in education and schools so that, say, the visit to the local museum becomes an central part of the delivery of the curriculum in all schools rather than an extra nicety for some. However, the pressures behind the investment in education will not go away. The country continues to need to urgently tackle our relative position in the global league tables and to create the energy and innovation in the next generation that will tackle some of the global issues that face us. The need to create a sustainable future for all our communities is critical to futureproofing UK plc. As well as safeguarding our planet and creating a low carbon economy. We need to have green ways of learning to create green jobs.

Given the current economic climate and rising unemployment levels, the role of building schools as a way of creating local employment opportunities and breaking cycles of deprivation and disadvantage is central to achieving the fiscal stimulus and regenerating the economy.
Given this backdrop, it’s likely that whatever the complexion of the next Government, there will be a review of the Building Schools for the Future scheme with the possibility that a hold is put on those programmes not yet in contract for a year and either a stretching of the programme over a longer time period or the spend per scheme will be reduced. This could create the climate for an increasing interest in refurbish and remodel programmes that are arguable more sustainably sound and (perhaps) more cost effective. These factors may put increasing pressure on the need to review the current LEP model of procurement to ensure it is fit for purpose under any new regime. The emphasis on greater cost efficiency in school design and delivery could see a greater move to standard designs and offsite solutions. New ways of lowering building costs through streamlining design processes or restructuring procurement routes could also enable a more cost efficient delivery of such programmes particularly where these are broader than just a small group of schools and encompass the wider cultural estate. We need to understand that the BSF programme has the potential to act as a regeneration catalyst in any local area, providing an opportunity to create new visions for the future which transform community aspirations and put learning, creativity and innovation at their heart. Taking the lessons from some of the one school pathfinders and earlier BSF programme, there is great potential at looking at how transformation can be created in existing buildings. This will be a greater challenge than innovation in brand new buildings, and would enable more schools to be involved in the programme. What goes on within the learning environment and school becomes more important in a refurbished school where there are physical boundaries to what can be achieved than schools which have the benefit of new build. As we all know, it’s the people that deliver change, and transform lives – not the building! Getting teachers and learners to be innovative in their approach to schooling, supporting change management programmes to place the learner at the centre are fundamentally more important in changing learning than the physical building. But…………………….good school design can act as a catalyst for thinking about new ways of teaching and learning and good school design helps to inspire lifelong learners who are active citizens participating in and creating the workforce of the future. Good design can raise the aspirations of young people and their local communities, good design can create cathedrals of learning that inspire us all and send a message about the value of education.

So any Government support for a greater emphasis on change management in all schools and learning environments is to be welcomed - we need to invest in our teachers and learners arguably more than we invest in our buildings…….it is what goes on inside the school that really matters. On the other hand, we mustn’t loss the power of buildings to simulate, to create, to innovate and to inspire. To say to the next generation, we value you and your learning. The Big Debate and the Schools Enquiry is an important part of learning what works in buildings now and Mouchel is proud to be part of that continuing discussion.
When it comes to design, it is sometimes too easy to say that new schools are still behaving like old schools. We are all learners in this programme – and we need to learn lessons from the early school builds to improve future schools. Many of the later schools will be different in design and feel. The RSA Academy in Tipton which I visited this week, will be significantly different in its classroom design than the predecessor school. Building in flexible learning, different workspaces and exploiting the benefits of new technology, creating low carbon buildings which act as a curriculum resource will be at the forefront of new schools as we move forward. More research would be useful here, so that the lessons from early parts of the programme are fed into later schemes drawing on BSF, academies and the primary capital programme.

Mouchel’s own research for our Buildings 4 Education programme looked at 40 schools who had undergone significant capital investment (predominantly a total rebuild of the premises). The feedback from these schools highlighted the value of building a new school as an opportunity to reflect and change teaching and learning practice and to create new ways of working. The inspirational impact of investment in disadvantaged and deprived communities was significant – with schools talking about the difference that a new school had made to the pride of students and the local community. That injection of capital investment acted as a catalyst to think about what new technology means to learning, what do we know about learning that we didn’t when we built ‘old’ schools, what do we need to equip our young people for their futures. The building itself becomes a role model of how an organisation could be in the future – sustainable, full of light, creative, innovative, spaces that are flexible, that celebrate and value all forms of learning. Would this have happened without such investment – probably not.
May be the question we should be asking is not ‘are we designing new old schools’, but ‘are we designing schools and learning environments that are flexible, have the learner at the centre, provide wider community services and act to raise the aspirations of the local community’? On that basis Mouchel’s answer would be a yes and there’s more that we can do. We do know that schools make a difference – to children and young people, their families and their communities. We do know that local communities value their schools and that building new schools can have a major impact on raising the aspirations of local communities. We do know that those involved in our schools are committed to making a difference to children, young people and their families. We witness this in every school across the country and we know that schools need to continue to serve the needs of learner today, yet be flexible enough to meet the demands of tomorrow – whatever they may be. Just think about it, children starting school this September could retire in 2074, will they have the life skills, the learning, and the values they need for their adult lives…….? Mouchel is proud to be part of the Big Debate and proud to work daily with those making a difference to the next generation.

Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Great points Kate. Keeping an open eye on older builds and incorporating past with future designs develops into an exciting present-day learning environment.
    Sam Rhodes
    Anchorage, AK