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.


Ardnamurchan High School - Highland Council

This Strategy has 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 School Estate Strategy Working Group, or who attended organised events. Contributors are listed at Annex C, which also includes 'briefs' developed from the stakeholder and pupil events.

Also set out in Annex C is an illustrative but by no means exhaustive list of some of the many points, suggestions and arguments put to the Group by those who gave evidence either directly or at the stakeholder event. The Strategy - its vision, aspirations and the guiding principles and objectives - has, to a large extent, emerged from the recurrent themes running through the stakeholder input. There was also an encouragingly widespread recognition that much of what was being emphasised, valued and sought is already happening in some or significant measure.

After full consideration of all of the input and views expressed by stakeholders, as well as of the role which both tiers of Government wish to see schools fulfil, the Working Group agreed a statement of shared vision for the future school estate:

"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."

Aspirations for the school estate

Our aspirations for the school estate expand on the statement of vision and spell out what we - local and Scottish Government and local authorities - want to achieve together, namely that:

  • All children and young people will be educated in, and community users able use, schools that are 'fit for purpose' in terms of condition, suitability and sufficiency as defined overleaf;
  • 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, 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 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.
  • condition - no-one would endorse an aspiration that referred to fewer than all schools if that consigned some tens of thousands of pupils and other users to learning in 'poor' or 'bad' condition schools (condition categories C and D; the measures of which are set out in the detailed 'condition' guidance 18 ). That said, even when the continuing school improvement programme has reached a point where the proportion of schools or, more importantly, the proportion of pupils being educated in such schools is down to below 10% and still falling, in reality it will never reach 0% because all buildings deteriorate, sometimes in sudden and unpredictable ways. The cycle of buildings' deterioration, repair and reconstruction is a continuous one.
  • Realistically, the target underpinning this aspiration must be that where there are still poor or bad condition schools there need also to be firm plans to address the situation by removing those schools from Condition C and D - either by repair or refurbishment, or by replacement. The critical equation is that the proportion of pupils educated in condition A and B schools + the plans for tackling condition the C and D schools in which the balance of pupils are being educated must = 100%. The target is that the proportion of pupils within the first two categories (A and B) of schools should well exceed 90%. Reaching that point by any given date will be dependent as much if not more on the decisions of future Governments and councils than it will be on the decisions of the current Scottish Government and local government partners who have jointly articulated the aspiration and target.
  • suitability - how the design, spaces and configuration of the school impacts on function is crucial. Ease of use and accessibility also has a direct bearing on the all-important inclusion agenda in context of authorities' 'accessibility strategies' 19 and their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 20 . The aspiration and eventual target will be to apply the same approach as has already been applied to measuring condition, to suitability - although the development of a standard, reliable and consistent 'measure' is intrinsically more challenging and at a much earlier stage. That precludes at least for now any possibility of setting a measurable target.
  • After much consultation, discussion and collaboration between Scottish Government and authorities, detailed guidance on the development of such a measure (again based on four categories of 'suitability' - A to D) has issued 21 and is being trialled and tested by authorities. As was the case with condition, further development work will be needed before a measure of suitability is developed to the point where it is generally accepted and understood by all, consistently applied and can take its place alongside the measure of condition to inform planning and investment decisions.
  • sufficiency - adjusting the pattern and supply of schools and school places in a way that better adapts to changing 'demand' is challenging but essential. Some 'room for manoeuvre' is desirable but maintaining too many surplus or underused areas is wasteful and dilutes the productive deployment of resources. Changes can be implemented in various ways - new buildings or school closures, catchment area adjustments and by altering capacity through extensions, more flexible use of space, or occasionally by temporary accommodation to cope with a short term fluctuation.
  • Authorities' responsibilities to prepare strategic and local development plans allow for extensive public engagement of the need for and location of new schools in the wider context of planning new residential areas, open spaces and other infrastructure. Where new housing development results in a requirement for additional school capacity, options for delivery, including the possible use of developer contributions, should be identified and the mechanisms agreed, including the phasing of additional capacity in relation to the occupancy of the new housing.
  • Our aspiration is to achieve an estate whose configuration, and for schools whose capacity can be adjusted in response to changes in policy, both national and local and to local changes in 'demand'. Authorities also have to balance this with the fulfilment of their statutory duties to maintain a sufficiency of accommodation and secure the efficient provision of school education whilst taking into account the needs and wishes of people and communities. Improvement in the projection of school rolls is needed, as well as better 'indicators' of capacity, occupancy and the relationship between supply and demand in order to facilitate this. Formulaic measurement of what constitutes 'sufficiency' in any given locality is perhaps the most challenging measure of all, because so many factors will bear on that judgement or decision.

The vision and aspirations should and will inform decisions taken regarding the strategic planning of the future school estate. The nine general principles and objectives set out in the next section will guide how each school is planned, designed, built and ultimately used and enjoyed.

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