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.


Denholm Primary School - Scottish Borders Council

First, the facts and figures. There are 2713 local authority schools in Scotland 4 - 375 secondary schools, 2152 primaries and 186 special schools catering for pupils with additional support needs (although many such pupils are educated in mainstream schools). Together the school estate represents a large proportion of Scotland's public buildings. Schools account for something like 20% of all council properties. Their estimated total value of £7.1 billion represents 53% or more than half of the £13 billion value of all local authority property assets (not including council housing) 5 . The school estate also includes approximately 400 'standalone' authority-run nursery schools, distinct from those located alongside or within primary schools.

A dynamic estate

We are in the midst of one of the most intensive ever periods of investment in the school estate. The years 2000-2011 will see the major refurbishment or replacement of over 570 schools or 21% of the entire local authority stock. The annual publication of Core Facts data in the School Estate Statistics 6 represents the best overall indication of the evolving physical condition of the school estate. In 2008, around 1850 local authority schools or 68% of the total were in good or satisfactory condition, with 832 or 31% in poor or bad condition 7 . (No condition rating was given for the last 1%.) That compares with a 'low point' around 2000 when significantly in excess of 40% of all schools were in poor or bad condition. By 2011, approaching 80% of all schools are expected to be in good or satisfactory condition.

In terms of numbers and proportion of pupils affected, in 2008 around 200,000 or 29% of pupils were still being educated in poor or bad condition schools. That figure is expected to halve by 2011. Looking beyond 2011 there are already indications of some authorities' future investment plans, a significant part of which will be focused on tackling the 500 or so schools which are still expected to be in poor or bad condition in 2011. Part way through such a long-term improvement programme, there is the appearance of something of a 'two-tier' estate - with a marked contrast between schools already improved and those still in need of attention.

Schools as learning environments

Schools - the buildings and spaces, the grounds, the fittings and facilities, even the furniture - are learning environments in the broadest sense. All these component parts pervade and play a part in helping to deliver positive outcomes. Those outcomes are first and foremost educational, but also social, recreational, cultural and other. The state of the learning environment says a great deal about the ethos of a school as an inclusive learning community, welcoming and accessible to all, reflecting the commitment of first-rate teachers, other staff and encouraging better and closer relationships between all staff working both in and out of school.

Most school-based activities can still take place despite poor quality buildings and facilities. However, where a school is fit for purpose - in good condition, of a design that is inspirational and flexible, with suitable and user-friendly facilities and an environment that is conducive - the results and outcomes, the levels of usage, the enjoyment, satisfaction and the achievements of all users (pupils as well as adult and community learners) are more likely to be richer, better and more long lasting.

Alloa Academy - Clackmannanshire Council

The places and spaces within a school

Schools are complex establishments. They serve many purposes and comprise an array of potentially multi-function spaces. Outdoors are the circulatory and access areas for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, as well as the playgrounds and various 'green' spaces - sports and recreation facilities, gardens, landscaped and quiet areas - indeed all manner of 'outdoor classrooms'. There is even more variety of internal spaces - foyers and entrance areas, atria and other social and circulation spaces, administrative areas, dining areas and kitchens, gyms, fitness suites and pools, changing facilities, showers and toilets, halls, stage and drama facilities, all the ICT infrastructure and facilities, libraries and of course both general and specialised learning areas. Some spaces are clearly single use, but the design of many of the spaces and the way that fittings and furniture are configured can open up myriad possibilities for different uses.

An appreciation of how all the different sorts of places and spaces within a school's perimeter interact and of their potential, reinforces the importance of designing in flexibility. We continue to develop our understanding of the links between space configuration, flexibility and the more creative approaches to learning and teaching which are integral to Curriculum for Excellence. The Scottish Government funded publication Changing Classrooms 8 encourages schools and teachers to be creative - to look afresh at how spaces may be re-configured to inspire and introduce new learning dynamics, inspiration, interactions and experiences. What is encouragingly evident is that the dominant factor in all of this is not so much any physical constraints, as people's imagination, empowerment and freedom. Creativity and a new approach can achieve a great deal in existing schools which are not being refurbished or renewed, despite some of those constraints. The important point is that this Strategy should be every bit as relevant at the small scale as at the large, and for all schools, not just new ones.

Schools are complex establishments. They serve many purposes and comprise an array of potentially multi-function spaces.

The school's wider 'network'

Looking outwards, the extensive network of linkages, movements and activity generated by each school is another important aspect of its dynamics. The daily pattern of home to school travel on the part of pupils, staff and community users of school facilities is the most visible manifestation of this and reaches into every community in the land. In the 'opposite' direction pupils will, during the course of the school day, also be accessing local community facilities. Movements vary according to the time of day - breakfast clubs, the 'school day' itself, often linking directly into after-school activities and care, evening and weekend usage - and also to the time of year. Schools are significant generators of traffic, have a real environmental and local economic impact and are often hubs of social and community activity too. Understanding these networks and how they link to the various school functions and activities is crucial to successful design, planning and management. In turn that will help to establish a school estate that meets demands and expectations in a sustainable way and maximises the value of the assets and investment.

Who benefits from improving the school estate?

Much of the focus of this Strategy is necessarily on the buildings and physical facilities. The potential benefits of a good quality school estate are only realised through the people who spend time in and interacting with those buildings and facilities. Around two million or 40% of Scotland's people are directly affected by or have a close interest in the nature and state of our schools. Most obviously, there are the 680,000 pupils who attend school on a daily basis for at least 11 years of their life, their 1 million parents and carers, the 75,000 staff who work in schools and the many thousands of community users of school facilities.

In truth, we all indirectly benefit from good quality schools because of the way they impact ultimately on our learning and skills, our health and wealth, our quality of life - including by reducing the effect of climate change - and overall, on this country's sustainable economic growth. Investment in schools represent a major component of Scotland's investment in her people, her communities and her future.

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