The United Kingdom’s 15-year Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme aims to improve the fabric of school buildings and provide investment in information and communications technology, making up for chronic underinvestment in school buildings. The problem with a 15-year-long building programme is that it can take a long time to find out whether it was worth it. On the other hand it provides the opportunity for periodic evaluation with the lessons being fed back in to improve the process. So, two reports on the BSF programme serve both as a parliamentary oversight of a key area of government policy and as useful feedback.
The first report, published in August 2007 by a House of Commons committee, describes progress of the programme, and the second, published in October 2007, is a government response to the former. These reports take stock of the programme and inform broader lessons that can be abstracted to other countries, and even other types of project. The UK government has also commissioned an independent evaluation of the BSF programme to assess its impact on educational achievement.
An underlying theme in both reports is the importance of the early stages of brief development – the time needed to develop the brief, involvement of stakeholders, the quality of information (especially feedback from previous projects) and how to be a “good client”. The stakeholders need more time to think about the particular needs of the school. To achieve this, the House of Commons report suggests lengthening the “visioning” phase of the process. Although in its report the government accepts that time is an issue, it suggests that rather than extend visioning period, local authorities should be encouraged to start this thinking before enrolling a project on the programme.
Both reports underline the importance of feedback in the briefing process so that lessons learned from previous projects can be incorporated into the next one. The government recommends a post-occupancy review of every school in the BSF programme with the results being circulated as widely as possible.
Project success is as much determined by client leadership as quality of service by designers and constructors. Both reports emphasise the importance of developing informed clients who know how to manage the process of developing a project.
The House of Commons report questions the sustainability of private finance initiative (PFI) as a funding mechanism. Indeed the government recognises that PFI is only suitable in some cases and even then only where a local authority can convincingly argue that it offers better value for money than any other procurement route.
For details of the August and October 2007 reports, go to:
Sustainable Schools: Are We Building Schools for the Future?
Sustainable Schools: Are We Building Schools for the Future?: Government Response
See also an article by Mukund Patel on this topic published in PEB Exchange, February 2005.