Sustaining the schools’ estate in the wake of funding cuts

Good quality school buildings that are safe and fit for purpose are fundamental to sustaining a high quality education for our children. Studies show a clear relationship between the condition of schools and pupil achievement rates. The government has announced that investment in the schools estate is a top priority and its aim is that every child will have a place in a good quality school, with buildings that are safe and fit for purpose.
In 2014, the government announced the second phase of the Priority School Buildings Programme 2015-2021 to address schools in the worst condition. In addition, it also provides grants through the Condition Improvement Fund to academies and sixth‑form colleges, and formula-based grants for councils and larger academies, through the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

Head teachers are concerned at the poor state of the schools estate as a result of years of under-investment in the maintenance and refurbishment of school buildings and infrastructure assets. The situation is now reaching a level that could seriously impact on frontline education services and our children’s learning, as the rising cost of running these facilities is taking money away from teaching budgets. To make matters worse, schools are looking at real-term cuts of up to 12 per cent over the next five years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
Funding from the EFA will help to offset this a little. However, schools applying on an individual basis are all too often failing to secure an appropriate level of funding to address the backlog and undertake maintenance and renewal in a timely and cost‑effective manner to minimise whole life costs.
Unsurprisingly, as teachers are not experts in maintenance and asset management, most struggle to decide what the appropriate maintenance plan is for their buildings and they often do not get ‘value for money’ when they tender out works due to lack of adequate buying power.

The application of holistic asset management approaches could help alleviate the current problems. Asset management is defined as ‘the coordinated activity of an organisation to realise value from assets’. This requires a systematic and coordinated approach to planning and decision‑making in relation to assets in order to achieve organisational objectives.
The ISO 55000 suite of standards provide the specifications for an asset management system, which brings together people, process, information and technology to derive greater value from the investment in assets. Further information on asset management is available from the Institute of Asset Management.
The application of asset management across a number of infrastructure and utility sectors has shown that substantial benefits can be obtained in terms of around 15-25 per cent reduction in costs concurrently with improvement in condition and performance and reduction in operational risks. The education sector could learn from other sectors to help address the challenges of managing the schools estate in the wake of funding cuts.
We believe the following recommendations will help to provide the best long term value for schools from the limited available funding.

Property Data and Information
Availability of quality and reliable asset data and information about the national schools estate is vital for effective policy development, planning and decision-making. The Property Data Survey undertaken in 2013 covering 85 per cent of UK schools has provided some good data on the condition of buildings and their components.
This data should be maintained and supplemented by data captured through full building compliance surveys and reflect ongoing maintenance, repair and refurbishment works carried out locally. Where appropriate asset tracking through sensors and remote monitoring should be introduced to provide real-time information on the location, condition and performance of critical and sensitive assets.

Adopt a whole life value approach
The EFA should consult with all stakeholders, including central government, local authorities and head teachers. This will allow them to publish consistent, transparent and evidence‑based criteria for the prioritisation of all capital and revenue funding allocations under the different national programmes aligned with their policy objectives. The decision criteria should adopt a whole life value for money approach considering costs, benefits and risks over the life cycle of buildings assets. The value benefits should consider educational, social and environmental outcomes to ensure a balanced and sustainable approach to managing school assets.

Develop Asset Management Plans
The EFA, the local councils and large academies should work together to determine long-term investment needs (say over 25 years) for the schools estate and develop whole-life-value optimised five-year asset management plans at an individual school, council and national- levels. This approach would highlight long term funding needs, help inform Government’s policies and programmes and secure the necessary funding to sustain and improve the condition of the national schools estate, avoiding short‑termism and funding cuts which in the end significantly increase the lifecycle costs.

Develop Codes of Practice for Asset Management
The EFA should commission the development and publication of Codes of Practice for Maintenance and Asset Management to provide authoritative and consistent guidance for all those responsible for the schools estate. The highways sector has produced a number of codes of practice, which have been funded by the Department for Transport, and these are applied nationally. These help to promote benchmarking, sharing of best practices and lessons learned.

Block-bid for Condition Improvement Funding
The current approach, whereby funding is allocated to individual schools does not secure adequate funding to cost-effectively address repair and refurbishment works. Schools within a council or across few neighbouring councils and boroughs should get together and make a block-bid for condition improvement funding.
The funding secured should be allocated to individual schools that are most in need according to agreed prioritisation criteria to address the necessary works. This approach has been successfully applied by the 33 London Boroughs for over 15 years for bridge and road maintenance and improvement works.

Enhance Buying Power
As an extension to the block-bidding approach, schools across several councils can get together and procure long term framework contracts for buildings inspection, maintenance and refurbishment works. This approach reduces legal and procurements costs while significantly reducing tendered unit costs because of the economies of scale and enhanced buying power that this offers. This approach has been recommended by the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (sponsored by Department of Transport) and adopted by several local highway authorities in England.

Introduce Energy Monitoring and Management
Energy costs are a major item of expenditure for schools. By implementing energy efficiency measures, e.g. cavity walls, double-glazing, energy efficient boilers and chillers, LED lighting, etc. combined with remote monitoring and control, schools can substantially reduce energy bills and the savings can then be directed to essential building maintenance.

Implement BIM and Soft landing
New-build or major enhancement projects should incorporate Government requirements for BIM (Building Information Modelling, see BS PAS 1192 suite of standards) and Soft Landing (see BS 8536). These approaches will provide high quality information and help to reduce whole life cost of buildings assets.
The quality of school buildings and other assets has a direct impact on the quality of education of our children. Asset management has emerged as a rational approach for managing assets, and has been successfully applied across several sectors around the world with substantial benefits. Asset management of the schools estate should be given a top priority by the Government. Implementation of the recommendations given above in a phased manner will help to sustain the schools estate in the wake of funding cuts.

Further Information