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.


Raploch Community Campus - Stirling Council

This section of the Strategy sets out the policy context around its development, the areas where improvements to the school estate will have the biggest impact and the relationships and partnerships that will determine how it will be actioned and implemented.

The National Performance Framework

The Scottish Government's overarching purpose, 5 strategic objectives and 15 national outcomes are set out in Annex B. A high quality school estate, ie buildings and facilities which both drive and support the provision of a range of high quality education and learning opportunities, will contribute to that overarching purpose - by providing the opportunities for everyone to flourish and fulfil all of their potential and so increasing sustainable economic growth. Good schools also support each of the strategic objectives and every single one of the 15 national outcomes - in some degree, either directly or indirectly.

A high quality school estate helps to make Scotland…

  • Smarter - by supporting the quality and range of lifelong learning opportunities on offer for people of all ages: from pre-school right through adulthood;
  • Greener - through school buildings which are sustainable, resilient, with low carbon footprints, which help to meet our climate change targets and which support the 'greener' aspects of the curriculum;
  • Healthier - through accessible sport and recreation facilities, and in some cases with other health facilities incorporated within schools;
  • Safer & stronger - through schools which are 'safe' places to learn in, and which in turn strengthen and help local communities to flourish;
  • Wealthier & fairer - through schools which are welcoming, accessible and inclusive places of opportunity and which nurture talent and potential.

Nesting Primary School - Shetland Islands Council

The ways in which a well-designed and sustainable school estate underpin and contribute to achieving the 15 national outcomes are only illustrated here - but consideration of any one of them is sufficient to highlight the direct relationship between the quality of our schools and achieving the outcomes. For example, schools directly enhance the quality of our built environment, support the achievement of each of the 'education-focused' outcomes and enrich and strengthen local communities. They enhance Scotland as a place to live and work, help tackle the significant inequalities in our society and provide amenities and services in ways that are responsive to people's needs.

Local government too is committed to all of these policies and priorities. Local authorities will be looking to align the aspirations and principles set out in this Strategy with their own views of local needs and priorities and their own approaches to fulfilling their statutory duties and responsibilities. These include achieving best value in the use of resources, working with other public services on a shared services agenda, delivering sufficient education accommodation and provision efficiently, ensuring wide engagement with communities in planning and developing schools (as with other services) and ensuring inclusion, accessibility and equality of opportunity for individuals and groups within those communities.

Effective learning and teaching - Curriculum for Excellence

Fundamental changes are underway in Scottish education that will improve outcomes for all learners. Curriculum for Excellence empowers and enables both teachers and learners to design and deliver more effective learning and teaching, in new and different ways. The result is more enjoyable and interesting learning experiences, ones that will be more engaging and inspirational, better tailored to each learner's needs, wishes and aptitudes, and delivered in ways that will better provide children and young people with the foundation and skills for continued learning on into adulthood and the world of work.

School buildings and facilities are far more than just part of the supporting cast for Curriculum for Excellence. They are at the heart of the whole philosophy and approach to effective learning and teaching and play the fullest part in helping to achieve change for the better. The ethos of the school as a learning community, presenting challenges and opportunities for personal achievement, development and interdisciplinary learning are all a part of, and colour, a child or young person's experience of learning and the curriculum.

The emphasis is also on an inclusion agenda that provides effective learning and teaching for all learners. The importance of a learning environment that is welcoming and accessible to learners with disabilities is a critical aspect of this. Legislation 9 already requires authorities not only to take reasonable steps to avoid putting disabled pupils at a substantial disadvantage, but also to prepare 'accessibility strategies' for all schools in order to improve access to education for pupils with disabilities - access both to the physical environment and to the full curriculum, in particular supported by ICT facilities and developments.

The importance of buildings and facilities which are responsive, flexible, adaptable and malleable - to new ways of learning - is critical. In many instances though, flexibility of mindset in the way places and spaces are perceived and used is as important as the physical structures themselves. It is essential too that the buildings and spaces themselves should be agents of change, inspiring both learners and teachers to new thinking about how education might happen in new and more effective ways. Creativity of design will lead to creativity of thinking and of use, inspiring and inviting exploration of the use of the environment and space in different and imaginative ways. There is a need to learn lessons from the succession of novel and sometimes unexpected ways in which spaces are already being occupied, transformed and used. That needs to feed back into improving the way we design, build in flexibility and incorporate features in future schools. The emphasis must be on innovation and personalisation rather than on standardisation, on presenting learners, teachers and schools with the continuing challenge and inspiration of flexible and sometimes non-standard spaces of different dimensions and configuration to explore.

Wider policy context

The Scottish Government and local authorities have together set out a comprehensive approach to tackling inequalities in our society in three inter-linked policy frameworks.

The Early Years Framework 10 addresses the provision of services and support to children and families whilst Equally Well 11 and Achieving our Potential 12 address health inequalities and poverty respectively. The School Estate Strategy also focuses on outcomes for people - buildings which provide or through which are provided the right range of services to people and communities, both directly and indirectly. The Strategy's objectives are entirely consistent with and supportive of those of the three frameworks. All public services - whether delivered by local government, the NHS or the voluntary and private sectors - need to combine in pursuit of this common goal of improving outcomes. In some circumstances schools will facilitate the integration of services physically; in others, schools may provide an appropriate local venue for services which address people's needs and wishes, support and improve their skills and above all enable them to help themselves. The design, public 'face' and perception of the school needs to be of a safe, welcoming and supportive environment if these common objectives are to be achieved.

There are many links between this Strategy and other government policies, both national and local. For example schools built over the next few years - in light of the Olympics in 2012 and Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 - need to lead the way in provision of school-based sport and recreation facilities and activities, both indoor and outdoor, all contributing to achieving a healthier Scotland. In addition, the community sports hubs described in A Games Legacy for Scotland 13 aim to specifically improve the use of and access to facilities for physical activity and competitive sport. A school's social spaces also help children and young people to learn those social, relationship and citizenship skills which make such a difference to their own well-being and that of our whole society.

Local and Scottish Government are already working together to ensure that schools act as exemplars of environmental performance. Schools which are sustainable, energy, waste and water efficient, with low carbon footprints and responsive and resilient to the effects of climate change, will not only help meet our climate change targets but also convey the right messages to tomorrow's decision makers and consumers about why sustainability and the 'green' agenda matters. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 introduces a new era of year-on-year reductions in Scotland's greenhouse gas. 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 14 Government is currently consulting on improvements to energy standards within building regulations. 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.

It is an increasing priority too to ensure that schools are genuinely a community resource, a hub and focus for community life and activity. They should be providing accessible resources and facilities that complement those nearby and which meet the learning, leisure and social needs of the wider community, in ways that enrich those communities and help them to be viable and to flourish. This will be facilitated, where appropriate, by schools including scope for the provision of childcare for pre-5s as well as for pre-school education, in an integrated way which better meets the needs of families. Advice and support services for parents could also be located in schools thereby reducing the risk of stigmatising such services and underlining the contribution of schools to the social and learning needs of the communities they serve.

Relationships between Local and Scottish Government

The Concordat 15 between the Scottish Government and COSLA established a new relationship between local and Scottish government, a new partnership approach to the delivery of key policies and public services and new supporting funding arrangements. These developments are already changing the way in which the future school estate improvement programme is being planned and will be implemented. The Concordat has had a direct influence on how this Strategy has been developed. It also commits local and Scottish Government to each do what is required to improve the learning experience for children and young people by improving the fabric of schools and nurseries.

The Scottish Government will continue to give clear, national, strategic focus to the whole programme of improvement and investment, including appropriate levels of support, both financial and other, in as straight-forward and flexible a way as possible. At local level, building on the now well-established information base of school estate management plans and processes, local authorities have the freedom and responsibility to set local, strategic and investment plans and then to prioritise and deploy resources as they see fit. Realising those plans and delivering improvements on the ground, to locally set timescales, will all be done within a more flexible and less ring-fenced funding environment. The Concordat makes clear that improving outcomes is the primary aim of both local and Scottish Government, with Single Outcome Agreements 16 as the means of maintaining and demonstrating progress.

Wider partnerships

Successful implementation of this Strategy will depend on more than just the relationship between local and Scottish Government. Firstly, the increasing degree of engagement, sharing and benchmarking between authorities themselves, such as through the long-established Local Authority School Estates Network Group, will be an important part of the process. Other partnerships will also be key to achieving the vision and aspirations set out here. In many cases it will be a matter of building on relationships already well established. The Lighthouse and Architecture+Design Scotland, both supported by Scottish Government, are already working alongside local authorities on the consultation and design fronts. There is increasing involvement too of organisations such as the Carbon Trust, Grounds for Learning and sportscotland in school planning and design. Their advice and input, and that of a range of other specialist organisations, will further improve the quality and efficacy of the school estate.

The Scottish Futures Trust has a major role in delivering and maximising value for money from the £1.25 billion school building programme announced by the Scottish Government in June 2009. They will develop, recommend and implement approaches that will secure a better school building programme across Scotland, better value for money than could be achieved by each authority working separately and better integration and coherence of procurement and delivery of public sector projects through approaches such as the hub initiative 17 . A number of local authorities are already looking to the Scottish Futures Trust to assist and support aspects of their wider school investment programmes.

Successful implementation of this Strategy will depend on more than just the relationship between local and Scottish Government.

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