New thinking, new advice and new builds

BSEC In a challenging period for the education built environment industry, the sixth Building Schools Exhibition and Conference (BSEC) at London’s ExCeL proved successful and a major destination for education and industry leaders, attracting delegations and decision makers from across the globe, with 49 per cent at director level and above.

Marked as the annual event to openly discuss issues facing the sector, it also unveiled emerging new opportunities in education, with a particular demand for new and refurbished buildings, including new free schools. Free schools, new academies and the James Review were all popular topics of conversation and the subject of much debate throughout BSEC 2011, whilst the industry still awaits Michael Gove’s capital spending plans now expected in June.

This year’s event also attracted education ministers, directors and managers from overseas, sharing their experiences from working in the education sector in the USA, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.

Unique event
With many new and expanded features this year, including the Green Learning Theatre and School Interior Innovations, BSEC remains the only UK event catering for everyone involved in the education built environment. It’s aimed at everyone from architects and contractors, communities establishing new schools and cross-sector teachers to government policy advisors.

Commenting on this year’s event, Samuel Jennings, BSEC’s event director, said: “Despite it being such a difficult time for those involved in the industry as we await the government’s James Review, BSEC 2011 proved a huge success for those seeking the latest government news, to speak with peers and procure the best products and services available.

“We’ve had great feedback from those attending who felt that despite the tough economic environment, there are still significant new opportunities emerging in the education sector, particularly for new free schools and refurbishment projects. Visitors also commented on the strong conference programme and some very well attended presentations on the plenary stage.”

Conference highlights
The conference programme was opened by education expert Professor Stephen Heppell, a leading voice throughout the two-day event, having introduced many key speakers from across the industry and giving his personal views about the future of education.

Conference discussions explored new procurement and funding models for all types of education establishments, how to improve existing stock and adapt existing buildings to create quality education spaces.

Other key speakers included Rachel Wolf, director at the New Schools Network, Tim Byles, chief executive at Partnerships for Schools, and Sir Bruce Liddington, director at Edu-Trust Academies Charitable Trust (E-ACT), who featured in numerous panel discussions. Heated debate ran throughout the two days surrounding key topics, including new procurement routes, the role of local authorities, SEN schools and the use of digital media in education.

Focusing on educational construction and design, talks about the cost of educational spaces were weighed up by Robert Holt, director of education at Carillion. Analysis concentrated on how much a school really costs long term, taking into account new builds, maintenance and refurbishments.

Architects were also involved in a talk on the plenary stage about how to move on without the support of organisations such as BECTA and CABE. Practical tips on continuing high standards with lower costs were suggested by a variety of speakers from HOK, Steljes, John Lyall Architects and Greenhill Jenner Architects.

Exhibition features
The Green Learning Theatre, in partnership with the Carbon Trust and the UK Green Building Council, hosted best practice case studies and talks on how to create sustainable and affordable education environments. Sarah McCarrick, BREEAM education sector manager at BRE presented her thoughts on how to build affordable and green buildings in conjunction with the Big Society, and George Martin, head of sustainability at Wilmott Dixon offered lessons from the Zero Carbon Schools Initiative.

Energy consciousness for both new and existing buildings was also covered in some detail, including how facilities such as lighting, through energy efficient products, can improve learning environments.

School Interior Innovations also hosted free seminar programmes. As well as showcasing a fully equipped classroom, washroom, laboratory and an innovative adaptive learning space, presentations explored the changing role of design within a modern learning environment. A particular highlight was the practical workshop, bringing designers and consultants to help teachers discuss and develop a classroom design that connects the Curriculum with an educational environment under limited budgets and resources. Richard Woods from Capita Symonds also presented his thoughts and advice on making the most of outside spaces in light of decreasing funding for sports.

The newly launched Project Leaders VIP Lounge also recruited over 150 budget holders (first time visitors) who scheduled one-to-one meetings with exhibitors. These visitors were involved in a range of education building projects, including academies, local authorities, private providers, international schools, FE, HE and free schools.

Other features included Local Authorities Connect, which focused on the continuing important role by local authorities in the procurement and management of education spaces, following the government’s proposed White Paper in October last year.

BSEC also showcased the Take 5 Hub this year, where visitors could find out more about building free schools, academies and higher education spaces through best practice case studies. Past projects showcased challenges including spatial and financial, overcome through strategic design and refurbishments and delivered to PassivHaus standard.

Networking dinner
The sell-out networking dinner on the first evening (23 February) was a substantial success, providing an opportunity to informally network with other exhibitors from the show. The after-dinner speech also made reference to the growth of BSEC’s sister event, Building Future Education in the Middle East and its expansion into China later this year. Those attending the dinner also raised £3,600 towards the £60,000 target for BSEC’s official charity HSK (Harambee Schools Kenya), a volunteer-run education charity based in the UK.

Exhibitors included platinum sponsors Skanska and Bam and gold sponsors Capita Symonds, Carillion and Graham Construction, who all noted the quality of this year’s visitors.

Ian Wright, commercial manager at Zaun Limited, commented: “With a third of our trade being focused in the education sector, BSEC has been a great place for us again this year, our second year exhibiting. We’ve met an excellent quality of visitors, including architects and construction companies, both of which are core for our role in the procurement process. BSEC has also been excellent again this year to help us raise our profile in this sector.”

James Barber, specification consultant from Altro, added: “We’ve been coming to BSEC for several years now and it always provides quality leads. It’s also a great opportunity to network with other main contractors and architects, and to find out more about what’s happening across the industry.”

Free schools

BSEC visitors were able to attend a packed plenary stage on the opening day for a talk by journalist and free school founder Toby Young on his experience and challenges in establishing a new free school. This was valuable to those visitors who are also developing free schools in their communities.

A debate on free schools proved lively in the conference on 24 February, with Mark Lehain, campaign director for the Bedford and Kempston free school sharing his experiences and vision with those working in the sector, alongside the Partnerships for Schools director of education and planning, Russell Andrews.

Terry Mitchell, project director at Skanska, said: “We’ve had some good conversations at BSEC with many visitors interested in free schools, Green Retrofit and modern methods of construction, who are all eager to see the resurgence of schools development.”

Design My Learning Space LIVE!
The increasingly popular ‘Design My Learning Space LIVE!’ competition was successful, having been extended to include all primary and secondary schools in the UK. Winners were Lauriston Primary School in Hackney and Hagley Catholic High School in Worcester.

Paired with architects and designers, the competition is aimed at encouraging essential dialogue between architects and schools to promote the importance of a well-designed school environment.

Sponsors of the event included Stejies, RIBA, Surface to Air and EC Harris. EC Harris’ head of education and children services, Simon Lucas, also delivered a key speech on day one on whether standardisation in schools is the answer to living with more for less.

Mathew Pearson, education consultant at Steljes, commented: “As sponsors of the competition, schools being directly involved with the show has been a real highlight. BSEC has also been a great opportunity to engage and network with other contractors and suppliers about new ways of delivering value for schools.”

With BSEC becoming more directly involved with schools and educational workshops, there was also a special performance by the Shakespeare Schools Festival – the largest drama festival in the UK. This festival works with both children and teachers to tackle the preconceptions of Shakespeare being a challenging subject.

About BSEC
BSEC is the UK’s only annual event that caters for everyone at the forefront of educational building and refurbishment projects. The exhibition is free to attend with free exhibition seminar content, plus a paid conference. BSEC is aimed at everyone in the sector and attracts visitors from backgrounds in local authority, teaching, architecture, engineering and contracting.

For more information

To find out more about exhibiting or getting involved in 2012, please call 020 75604040 or e-mail

To find out more about HSK, BSEC’s official charity, or to donate, please visit