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.


Sgoil Nan Loch - Comhairle nan Eilean

This section is the heart of the Strategy - a set of nine guiding principles and objectives for future planning and action to be taken into account by local authorities, community planning partners and Scottish Government when considering changes to the school estate. Better strategic thinking, planning and management of change will result in better focus of effort, investment and more successful outcomes. These guiding principles and objectives are not presented as any sort of blueprint or 'one-size-fits-all' approach. At the local level it will of course be for authorities to judge how best they should be applied or incorporated into planning and management of the school estate. The principles and objectives, although peppered with 'action points', are not ends in themselves. They will be applicable in varying degrees to different types of change and development, according to local circumstances. Each should be given consideration, with a presumption in favour of applicability unless there are strong counter arguments. The nine guiding principles and objectives together represent a coherent package that will deliver the Strategy's vision and aspirations. Other considerations are of course to be welcomed if they lead to better long-term improvements and outcomes and will inevitably emerge as the programme of investment matures.

Principles for guiding and managing change

1 - Good consultation means better outcomes

Whatever the scale and nature of the change proposed - everything from a whole new school to changing a room's furniture around - the benefits of engaging with, consulting and involving all the potential users and interests cannot be overstated. It helps to highlight expectations, identify the options and refine the objectives based on the widest possible evidence base 22 . Local and Scottish Government will:

  • use partners such as Architecture+Design Scotland and The Lighthouse further to champion the message that consultation and involvement is the essential pre-requisite to change both at the early design stage and the later statutory land use planning process;
  • improve ways of consulting appropriately with children and young people, according to their 'age and stage' - which can produce some of the most novel and best ideas about design and space usage;
  • achieve greater involvement of interests and users in post-occupancy evaluation processes in order to improve the way lessons are learnt that will benefit future plans and projects;
  • consider how the input and impact of consultation may be better captured and measured.

Kingspark School - Dundee Council

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. Systematic review, learning loops and other feedback mechanisms are vital, as is a willingness to admit and share mistakes as well as to showcase the successes and the best. Important too is a keenness not just to replicate what works or has been done before, but also to develop, innovate and try something new. Local and Scottish Government and other partners will:

  • develop further the means of capturing experiences and verdicts (post occupancy evaluations of all types of change) and of disseminating and sharing them more effectively through publications and guidance, web-based means, better networking etc;
  • build on existing work with Architecture+Design Scotland and others to champion and enhance good school design - both 'whole school' as well as aspects or components;
  • explore what indicators, comparators and exemplars of good school design there already are, or might be, developed.

St Peter the Apostle High School - West Dunbartonshire Council

3 - A more integrated, holistic and longer-term approach to change

As Charles Rennie Mackintosh demonstrated a century ago, taking an integrated, holistic view of the school - the buildings, the grounds, the fixtures (which nowadays of course include ICT infrastructure and resources), facilities and the furniture - will result in better planning and design and deliver better outcomes. This means looking at the school as an entity which embraces all of its functions - learning, recreation, social, cultural etc. - in relationship to its surroundings and to the local community. To this end, local and Scottish Government, will:

  • consider how the approach of adopting a more holistic way of looking at a suite of interrelated issues such as heating, lighting, ventilation, acoustics etc. as set out in Optimising the internal environment 23 could be better implemented in new and existing schools because overall levels of 'comfort' are vital for good learning and teaching 'performance' and how it might be replicated in other areas of design;
  • consider how to make best use of school grounds and the outdoor spaces as an integral part of the learning environment ensuring that landscape design is at a par with building design;
  • focus more on consideration of whole life cycle costs and implications for all changes, not just new builds. Factors such as durability, rates of deterioration, obsolescence, expected lifespan, long term contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, management and maintenance implications need to be considered;
  • improve the way we think about a school's 'fit' with its surroundings and relationship to the community.

Williamwood High School - East Renfrewshire Council

Principles/objectives which relate to the state of the school estate

4 - Schools whose condition supports and enhances their functions

Condition has a direct impact on what goes on in the school. Appropriate forward planning and prudent, timely decisions on ongoing maintenance will best enable authorities to sustain the quality and asset value of their school buildings over the long term. Schools in good condition - irrespective of age or design - signals to all the users (pupils, other learners and staff) that learning is a valued activity, that the learning environment is a priority and often gives that all important 'feel-good factor'. Local and Scottish Government will:

  • build on standards of school condition already set out in detailed guidance, in order to improve interpretation and consistency 24 ;
  • take a more prudent, long-term approach to maintenance and its implications; and
  • develop ways of capturing the day-to-day experiences and users' perceptions of condition, in ways that could better inform future planning and investment.

Carnoustie High - Angus Council

5 - More 'suitable' and 'inclusive' schools, better future-proofed for flexibility and adaptability

Suitability is a measure of whether a school is fit for purpose - whether its design and layout enhance its function and use, whether there is space and scope to accommodate all the pre-school and after-school demands and services, whether it is 'inclusive' and accessible to those with disabilities, how capable it is of adjustment or adaptation, how able to 'flex' in response to future, sometimes unforeseen changes in the scale and nature of demand and usage, to changes in climate and to changes in ICT and other technology and the ways in which education may be delivered. Local and Scottish Government will:

  • utilise and build on the new guidance 25 on the measure of suitability issued by the Scottish Government to improve its usage, application and consistency of interpretation;
  • further support the inclusion agenda and improve access to education by enhancing the suitability of all schools to meet the special requirements of pupils with additional support needs;
  • improve analysis of longer term community needs in order to ensure that schools are better able to meet those needs and deliver an appropriate range of services for years to come;
  • consider whether a measure of 'adaptability' should be developed and would be of value.

Achahoish Primary - Argyll and Bute Council

6 - Schools which are 'greener', more sustainable and environmentally efficient

Sustainability needs to become a core aspect of planning, design, development and management of schools and changes to them. Schools will be a significant contributor to mitigating the effects of climate change and meeting the Scottish Government's climate change targets and need to lead by example. In turn, they also need to be adaptable to the unavoidable consequences of it. In addition, 'greener' schools, in themselves, are a powerful learning and teaching tool. Local and Scottish Government will:

  • refocus attention on all aspects of sustainability and environmental efficiency - construction materials, design, the importance of natural daylight, ventilation etc., energy, waste and water efficiency, options for on-site renewables, options for sustainable travel, carbon footprint, environmental impact, enhancing biodiversity - all in context of both new builds and adaptations of existing schools;
  • promote better understanding and consideration of the full environmental and carbon/energy implications of options, better appreciation of cost-benefits in the widest sense and life cycle and longer term (best value) implications especially
    of future climate projections;
  • consider how sustainable school design and practice can increasingly become a teaching tool (for tomorrow's decision makers and consumers) and an inspiration to the community and other parts of the public sector.

Dunning Primary - Perth and Kinross Council

7 - A well-managed school estate which represents and delivers best value

This is a fundamental aspect of school estate management. Audit Scotland rightly focuses on 'best value'; an issue of heightened importance at a time of pressure on and competition for public finances 26 . Collectively we must maximise the benefits from our investment in the school estate and the assets created, throughout their life cycle. All stakeholders - learners, teachers, parents, communities and taxpayers - stand to benefit if the school estate is efficiently and effectively managed. There are undoubtedly challenges in securing value for money overall, while balancing the particular interests of individuals and individual communities and of increased carbon efficiency. Everyone recognizes that, and that the responsibility for striking the right balance falls, ultimately, to the local authorities. The Scottish Government has introduced legislation 27 which will improve the robustness, openness and transparency of consultation and decision making processes around proposed changes to the configuration of the school estate. Local authorities, in partnership with the Scottish Government will:

  • look at ways of further improving public understanding of option appraisal processes and cost-benefit analysis, of why proposals for changes to the configuration of the school estate have to be considered and of the 'opportunity cost' and wider community and short-term versus long-term implications of such proposals.
  • consider whether and how best measures of sufficiency, or aspects of it (e.g. demand for places, capacity etc.) could be developed.
  • work with the Scottish Futures Trust to maximise synergies in the co-ordination of design, procurement and financing of the school building programme.

Objectives which relate to school functions

8 - Schools which both drive and support effective learning and teaching through Curriculum for Excellence

Design, management and use of schools of course very much focuses on the educational needs and wishes of learners, on supporting effective, learner-focused ways of learning and teaching which are at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence. Social and learning environments need to be supportive, responsive and reactive. More than that, they must also provoke and generate new ideas, new expectations and ways of learning, proactively and continually challenging learners to engage with learning through school and to stay engaged with learning after they have left. Schools should be attention-grabbing,
eye-opening, thought-provoking, empowering and should thereby inspire and drive
new the approach to effective learning and teaching which Curriculum for Excellence embodies. To help achieve this local and Scottish Government will:

  • focus attention not only on how the physical environment and facilities (especially ICT) support new ways of learning and delivering the curriculum, but also on how they themselves are instruments of change in thinking and practice, encouraging and enabling interdisciplinary learning, enhance teacher collegiality and collaboration etc;
  • further extend the Building Excellence 28 programme which looks at the learning environment as an integral part of Curriculum for Excellence - highlighting the opportunities for adapting and using space within existing schools as much as the design of new ones, and challenging designers to think afresh and in radical ways about the relationship between the environment and effective learning and teaching;
  • highlight the inspirational 'wow' factors, including designs, features, spaces, places, colours etc. - both indoor and outdoor - in ways that engage pupils and other school users in shaping their learning environment and the way it is used.

9 - Schools which best serve their communities

Schools are major public and community assets. School estate management planning needs to be better integrated into wider council asset management planning and the full range of community planning processes. This should include building effective links with local community regeneration strategies. A school can be a real catalyst in tackling high levels of deprivation in both urban and rural areas and in stabilising and helping the communities served to be viable and to flourish. Local and Scottish Government will:

  • better integrate school estate management planning with wider corporate asset planning and link with the asset plans of community planning partners;
  • jointly identify the longer-term role of schools and their relationship to other local assets such as health centres, libraries, leisure and recreation centres and childcare facilities;
  • further develop the concept of the school as a 'community hub' - where the school accommodates and supports provision of a range of community services, eg health, community education, sport, recreation, social and cultural activity etc;
  • explore how best to encourage community use of both indoor and outdoor facilities within the school estate by making schools more open, accessible and welcoming at all times - to entice the community in and continue to engage with learners. Schools and local communities should be more open and accessible to each other for mutual benefit.


A series of case studies focusing on different aspects of improvement to the school estate, illustrating a range of achievements and best practice to date, are set out on page 58. They illustrate aspects of good design - consultation, the classroom, the outdoors, sustainability, and a community campus - as well as on wider issues of investment strategy, planning and corporate asset management.

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