Last edited 16 Oct 2020

Building Schools for the Future BSF

The Buildings Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was a government investment scheme for secondary schools in England. It was announced by the DfES in February 2003, by the Labour Schools Minister David Miliband who said: “School buildings should inspire learning. They should nurture every pupil and member of staff. They should be a source of pride and a practical resource for the community

In a 2003 consultation document, the Labour government suggested that ‘Every child deserves to learn in modern school buildings with state-of-the-art facilities. We want local communities to ensure that over the next 10 to 15 years all secondary pupils can learn in modern accommodation, fully suited to their needs and to the challenges of the 21st Century.’ Ref DfES Building schools for the future, Consultation on a new approach to capital investment, 2003.

The programme was launched by Tony Blair in 2004, however, it was scrapped by the Conservative Education Secretary, Michael Gove in July 2010 as it was considered to be wasteful and over-bureaucratic.

Whilst it was operational, Buildings Schools for the Future was widely described as the biggest school building programme since Victorian times. The government planned to allocate £55 billion to rebuild every secondary school in England. Inspirational buildings and state of the art facilities would be provided for pupils and staff to make them feel valued and to encourage new ways of learning. In the first instance, the government prioritised funding for 14 projects in 17 socially deprived local authorities, in an effort to raise education standards and promote social mobility.

Local authorities oversaw the projects, and discussions took place with school governors, staff, pupils and the local community, who were key parts of the process. Schools developed a vision of their needs, then a private sector partner would realise their vision by carrying out the design and construction. For the multi-billion pound investment to be sustainable, the new facilities had to be flexible, as it was considered difficult to predict what education would look like in the future.

However, the programme was hit by many problems which meant that the original programme slipped. Getting building started quickly, in particular in the most deprived areas of the country, was a significant task, and reshaping education provision and rebuilding schools took time to plan.

More than 70 local councils had joined the programme by the second year but only 5 had reached a level where they could commence building. The original targets were seen as too ambitious and the actual quality and design of half the schools built was considered to be poor or mediocre.

The government believed that local authorities lacked the management expertise to oversee these big school projects, and so they were required to pass a readiness test to be eligible for BSF money, and client design advisors were introduced to maintain quality.

However, Gove continued to believe that BSF was characterised by "massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy", and controversially, criticised fees charged by architects, suggesting that that they were “creaming off cash” under BSF (Ref Construction Manager, Architects cream off over £1m in BSF advice fees 3 December 2010) and proposing that in future school building programmes, “We won’t be getting Richard Rogers to design your school. We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design it, because no one in this room is here to make architects richer.”

When the programme was cancelled, around 150 schools were left in limbo. In the end about 75 of these schools were given the go ahead. By June 2010, 178 schools were rebuilt or refurbished with a further 231 under construction.

The Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) was established in 2011 to address the needs of those schools that remained in the worst condition. The government now believes that schools are being developed much faster and cheaper under the PSBP than those developed under Building Schools for the Future. It took around 3 years for construction work to begin under the BSF, whereas under the PSBP this has been reduced to 1 year. PSBP projects are thought to have cost around a third less.

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