Building better schools: investing in Scotland's future

The school estate strategy is relevant to all parts of the learning environment: the buildings and spaces, the grounds, the fixtures, facilities and furniture.


Dalry Primary School - North Ayrshire Council


This School Estate Strategy has been prepared by a School Estate Strategy Working Group which was jointly chaired by COSLA and the Scottish Government. Members included representatives of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the Scottish Futures Trust. The Strategy greatly benefited from input from a wide range of stakeholders - individuals as well as organisations - who were invited to give evidence to and engage in discussion with the Working Group, or who attended organised events.

The Strategy both builds on and supersedes the one published in 2003 by the then Scottish Executive and COSLA. Audit Scotland's March 2008 Report Improving the School Estate acknowledged that significant progress had been made since 1999 in improving the estate and overtaking the legacy of underinvestment in schools, but that much more still needed to be done. This Strategy is a direct response to that, all of whose 19 recommendations have already been jointly accepted by COSLA and the Scottish Government.

The Strategy is relevant to all parts of the school learning environment - the buildings and spaces, the grounds, the fixtures and facilities, even the furniture - and to all schools, not just those being replaced or refurbished. It is focused firmly on those who benefit from improvements to the estate - the pupils, the staff, the parents and the wider community.

The Strategy will contribute towards achieving the Government's overarching Purpose, 5 Strategic Objectives and all 15 national outcomes. It is an integral part of the Curriculum for Excellence focus on more effective learning and teaching. It also supports the Government's three frameworks to tackle inequality: Early Years Framework, Equally Well and Achieving our Potential. This Strategy also provides a key opportunity for local and Scottish Government to demonstrate action in line with the new statutory duty placed on public bodies by the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

It reflects too the new partnership between the Scottish Government and local government around the delivery of key policies and public services and new supporting funding arrangements. The explicit commitment in the Concordat is that both partners will each do what is required to improve the learning experience for children and young people, including by improving the fabric of schools and nurseries.

Delivery of the strategy will depend not just on this partnership between central and local government but also on the key involvement of stakeholders such as Architecture+Design Scotland, The Lighthouse, The Carbon Trust, sportscotland, Grounds for Learning and others whose advice and guidance will further improve the quality and efficacy of the school estate. The Scottish Futures Trust will have a major role to play, both in delivering and maximising value for money from the new £1.25 billion school building programme and also in supporting wider local authority school investment programmes. Value for money will be paramount in the context of increasing competition for tightening public finances.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 introduces a new era of year-on-year reductions in Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions and the need to ensure that all services are resilient to the impacts of climate change. In January 2009, the Scottish Government announced measures to work towards a lower carbon school estate. The focus of attention will now be redoubled on energy efficiency measures, renewable technologies and the design of all aspects of 'sustainable' schools, so that the school estate (which represents a sizeable proportion of public sector buildings) plays its full part in delivering the Act's targets for emissions reduction of 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Following publication of the Sullivan Report in 2007 Government is currently consulting on changes to the relevant building standards for 2010. It will be important, in context of the new public sector duty introduced in the Act, that school buildings are indeed exemplars of best practice in this regard.

Strathallan Nursery - Fife Council

Vision, Aspiration and Principles

The Scottish Government and local government's shared vision for the future of the school estate is set out below. The Working Group also articulated a set of aspirations, and nine guiding principles and objectives for future planning and action to be taken into account by local authorities, community planning partners and Scottish Government.


"Our vision is for schools which signal the high value we place on learning; which people and communities can enjoy using and can be proud; which are well designed, maintained and managed and which encourage continuous engagement with learning; which are far more than just 'educational establishments' whose quality of environment supports an accessible range of services and opportunities and which enrich the communities they serve and the lives of learners and families."

Meldrum Academy - Aberdeenshire Council

Aspirations for the school estate

  • All children and young people will be educated in, and community users will use, schools that are 'fit for purpose' in terms of condition, suitability and sufficiency.
  • Schools are well-designed, accessible, inclusive learning environments that inspire and drive new thinking and change and which support the delivery of high quality educational experiences through Curriculum for Excellence;
  • Schools are integral parts of the communities they serve, with pupils making use of community facilities and communities accessing school facilities;
  • Schools accommodate and provide a range of services, activities and facilities that make a difference to people's health and well being, to sustaining economic growth and to the strength and vibrancy of communities;
  • A sustainable school estate whose design, construction and operation is environmentally and energy efficient; contributes directly to delivering the
    year-on-year reductions in greenhouse gas emissions introduced by the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which is resilient to the impact of climate change and which leads by example in matters of environmental performance;
  • A school estate that is efficiently run and that delivers maximises value for money;
  • A school estate which is flexible and responsive - both to changes in demand for school places and to learners' and teachers' requirements and wishes, and where the beneficial impact of change is maximised by thorough consultation and engagement with users and stakeholders.

Schools are integral parts of the communities they serve, with pupils making use of community facilities and communities accessing school facilities.

Guiding principles and objectives for future planning and action

1) Good consultation means better outcomes - engaging with, consulting and involving all the potential users and interests helps to highlight expectations, identify the options and refine the objectives.

2) Innovative design and change is better informed by experience - improvements in school design will be accelerated by speeding up the rate at which lessons are learned from experiences, both locally and elsewhere.

3) A more integrated, holistic and longer term approach to change - taking an integrated, holistic view of the school - the buildings, the grounds, the fixtures, facilities, even the furniture - will result in better planning and design and deliver better outcomes.

4) Schools whose condition supports and enhances their functions - a school in good condition - irrespective of age or design - signals to all the users (pupils, other learners and staff) that learning is a valued activity, and that the learning environment is a priority.

5) More 'suitable' and 'inclusive' schools, better future-proofed for flexibility and adaptability - schools should be fit for purpose: the design and layout should enhance their function and use; they should be 'inclusive' and accessible to those with disabilities; and they need to be able to 'flex' in response to future changes in the scale and nature of demand and usage, ICT and other technology and the changing ways in which education may be delivered.

6) Schools which are 'greener', more sustainable and environmentally efficient - school buildings will contribute to the statutory framework of annual targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and lead by example in environmental performance.

7) A well-managed school estate which represents and delivers best value - it is to the collective benefit of everyone - learners, teachers, parents and taxpayers - and of every community, if the school estate is efficiently and effectively managed.

8) Schools which both drive and support effective learning and teaching - Curriculum for Excellence - schools should be attention-grabbing, eye-opening, thought-provoking and empowering - inspiring and driving the approach to more effective learning and teaching which is Curriculum for Excellence.

9) Schools which best serve their communities - close engagement with communities and community interests and partners will better identify local needs and wishes and result in schools which offer a wider and more accessible range of public services, opportunities and facilities to complement those available elsewhere in the community.

Next Steps

The School Estate Strategy represents the first step in a long term programme of joint work by Scottish Government and local government on the school estate. The next steps will be to develop a Financial Strategy and Implementation Plan for its delivery. The three parts - the Strategy itself, Financial Strategy and the Implementation Plan - will form a joint strategic approach to and plan for the continuing improvement of Scotland's school estate.

The Scottish Government makes capital and revenue resources available to authorities through the local government settlement. That funding supports a current programme of local authority investment activity in the school estate which exceeds £2 billion. In June 2009 the Government announced an additional £800 million of funding towards a £1.25 billion school building programme that will see the replacement of around another 55 schools, benefitting around 35,000 or 5% of Scotland's pupils. However, the scale of the estate and of the task ahead - and the shared commitment which this Strategy represents - mean that investment in schools will always need to feature as a major consideration in successive government spending reviews and local authority budget setting processes and capital plans.

The set of guiding principles and objectives sets the parameters for and will provide a stimulus to future work at both local and national level. This will be progressed by way of a series of partnerships, through joint and commissioned work, publications, conferences, seminars, workshops, networking and the development of guidance and better ways of sharing good practice.

The School Estate Strategy represents the first step in a long-term programme of joint work by Scottish Government and local government on the school estate.

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