School estates: suitability reporting core facts

Guidance for local authorities on reporting on the suitability of school estates.

01 Introduction

The following guidance has been prepared for reporting on the suitability of the School Estate. This Core Fact on suitability is part of a suite of Core Facts[1] for data which is collected annually as part of the performance management regime for the School Estate Strategy[2].

This refreshed guidance has been produced as the result of a collaborative venture between the Scottish Government, Scottish Futures Trust, Scottish Heads of Property Services (local authorities), Education Scotland, Scottish Building Standards, Architecture and Design Scotland and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

It seeks to further improve the consistency and robustness of the reporting of the Suitability Core Fact and therefore increase confidence in the comparability of the ratings within and among local authorities across Scotland. It also aims to strengthen the links between the school estate and its suitability for delivering Curriculum for Excellence[3].

Use of this document

This document should be read in conjunction with Core Facts - Building Our Future: Scotland's School Estate, issued in November 2017. It sets out the framework within which information should be reported to the Scottish Government. While offering recommendations on assessment methodology, it is not intended to restrict or constrain the exercise of good practice in the school estate asset management function within local authorities.

Note the term 'school' is used as a general term throughout the guidance to cover the many differing models of the 'learning environment' such as 'through-schools', 'community campuses', etc. which invite wider ideas of learning. It also means, in practical terms, the buildings and the grounds contained within the site.

The guidance has been structured in a way to ensure it is sufficiently flexible to address the latest national priorities as they emerge, develop and become embedded as part of the curriculum e.g. Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Developing the Young Workforce (DYW), etc.

Timing of condition core fact reports

The Core Facts on each school are reported by local authorities to the Scottish Government annually, based on the situation at 1st April each year, for validation and publication later in the year. There is an expectation that local authorities will maintain their suitability assessments up to date in a manner which best fits their own annual reporting cycle.

Timescales for implementation

It is expected that authorities will implement the guidance immediately as most, if not all, already hold the data required and the requirements are based on long-standing recognised best practice much of which is already set out in the 2008 guidance.

What is Suitability?

Suitability is a measure of whether a school is fit for the purpose of delivering the education curriculum.

That is whether its design and layout enhance its function and use, whether there is space and scope to accommodate all the pre-school, day-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.

Why assess Suitability?

Since the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), there has been an ever-increasing interest in and understanding of the contribution that place and space make to a successful learning environment. Designed as a curriculum for the 21st century, CfE encourages active learning approaches which engage and motivate learners, and which allow them to develop skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work. Schools have responded to this ambition by using their existing buildings and grounds in new and imaginative ways. For example, by working with learners and members of the wider community to plan a wilderness garden to ensure learners engage in outdoor learning and receive their entitlement to learning for sustainability. Not only does this afford learners exciting ways to learn about biodiversity and eco-systems but in the process of designing and building the garden, young people will develop employability skills such as project management, leadership, budgeting, communication and problem solving.

In similar ways, schools are increasingly using their grounds and outdoor spaces to inspire or nurture learners; to grow their own food as an integral part of a healthy eating project; or to learn about the impact of climate change on local species.

Internal spaces are also finding new leases of life as schools explore how best to rise to the new policy drivers including: Getting it Right for Every Child, national STEM strategy, Scottish Attainment Challenge and the National Improvement Framework. The national focus on closing the attainment gap and raising attainment, for example, means that practitioners and schools are increasingly looking for flexible and adaptable spaces which can be used to engage and inspire learners in different ways. Other schools have adapted internal spaces to create STEM labs or hubs whilst others have repurposed areas to create community cafes which allow young people with additional support needs to learn in an inclusive way and to develop essential skills for their life and future careers.

In the ten years since this Suitability Guidance was first published, digital technologies have transformed approaches to learning and teaching with progress now being driven through the Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy. The internet is no longer something young people access for one hour a week in the school ICT suite. Learners now need to be fully connected and to have access to digital infrastructure which enables them to design and build new mobile apps or online games and to develop skills in cybersecurity.

Therefore, the spaces where our children and young people learn have never been so important.

Learners and teachers alike are thriving, and education is being delivered in school buildings of an increasingly high standard. As we strive for continuous improvement it is essential that we retain and update, and indeed continue to improve, our Core Facts data in order that the progress which has been made can be measured, and also to ensure there is a clear evidence-based picture of what remains to be done.

Assessing the suitability of school buildings and grounds has established benchmarking measures and allowed authorities to identify and prioritise need, related to user expectations and aspirations.

In recent years there has also been an increasing focus on the development of community campuses and modern designs for learning. The following guidance therefore must be sufficiently flexible to assess the wide range of traditional and modern designs which are used to deliver the curriculum while in many cases also providing facilities for the community.

What are the benefits?

The Core Facts collectively inform the local authorities school estates management plan and are used at both local and national level to:

  • provide consistent data,
  • assess performance and allow improvements to be focused on areas of greatest need,
  • enable the provision of safe buildings,
  • assess buildings on their suitability for supporting learning to deliver Curriculum for Excellence,
  • inform spending and investment decisions,
  • encourage best practice, and
  • measure progress in delivering the vision and aspirations of the school estate strategy.

Who is this for?

Essentially it is for the benefit of all school users. The design and layout of the school, and the way the buildings work in combination with the grounds, should be suitable to meet the needs of all users, promoting well-being and making a positive contribution to the activities in which they engage. A school should act as a learning and teaching resource, enhancing opportunities for learners and supporting their growth and development.

It is also considered good practice to involve school users in the creation, use and assessment of the Core Facts and how the information can be linked to the local curriculum and the development of the learning spaces within the school as part of context-based learning.



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