Westminster Education Forum

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Improving school buildings in England - latest on implementation, design and rollout, and priorities for benefiting learning, wellbeing and local areas

June 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference is examining the next steps for improving school buildings in England.
The conference will be an opportunity to discuss progress and outstanding issues - following the announcement of the first 50 schools included in the Government’s ten-year rebuilding programme, with construction due to begin in September, and with the DfE consulting on how it prioritises projects going forward.

We are pleased to be able include keynote sessions with Rory Kennedy, Director, Capital, DfE; Jane Balderstone, Deputy Director of School Rebuilding, DfE; and Ann Bentley, Global Board Director, Rider Levett Bucknall, who are part of the team commissioned to survey the condition of buildings in government-owned schools.

Overall, areas for discussion at this conference include:

  • the rebuilding programme - preparations for the first phase, implementation, and communication with schools
  • safety and hygiene - putting in place ongoing measures in school buildings, and learning from the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • improving facilities in school buildings - accessibility, sustainability, and promoting good health
  • schools for the future - next steps for virtual learning facilities, improving adaptability, and effective allocation of space
  • the school building market - key issues, and keeping pace with upcoming trends and needs

The agenda

  • The ten-year school rebuilding programme - outlook for the first phase
  • Implementing the rebuilding programme - preparation, providing clarity to schools, and what is needed to provide tangible benefits for local areas and the schooling experience
  • Lessons learned during the pandemic for improving the adaptability and design of school buildings - use of space, safety and hygiene, ventilation and heating, costs, and implementing virtual learning facilities
  • Focus areas for improving facilities in school buildings - accessibility, sustainability and promoting good health
    • Inclusivity for students with disabilities - choices in architectural design, specialised equipment and spaces, and supporting pupils with both visible and hidden challenges
    • Sustainable school buildings and aligning with net-zero aims
    • Healthy living and school design - improving sports facilities, supporting active lifestyles, and targeting areas and schools most in need
  • Future for the school building market and keeping at pace with upcoming trends and needs

Areas for discussion:

The Ten-Year School Rebuilding Programme:

  • implementation:
    • providing clarity to schools over the programme, and criteria for how the projects are selected
    • practicalities such as the use of temporary classrooms and their impact on students’ experience
    • mitigating against further disruption to students’ education
    • integrating what has been learned from the pandemic into school building improvements
  • impact on local areas:
    • ensuring that disruption is limited for communities during the construction period
    • improving consultation with local stakeholders over preferences for local design
    • seizing the potential for addressing regional disparities through the creation of new jobs, improving quality of life, and raising educational attainment

Learning from COVID-19 and improving the resilience of school buildings:

  • innovation in allocation of space:
    • use of base classrooms to teach multiple subjects and circulating teachers rather than students
    • timetabling and staggering entry into school sites for effective use in tight sites
    • future uses of modern methods of construction, and opportunities for space reconfiguration
  • hygiene:
    • integration of hand-washing facilities into classrooms and hallways
    • future ventilation practices around natural or mechanical designs, knock-on effects on heating costs during cold weather, and the use of outdoor space
  • virtual learning:
    • options for incorporating the experience of remote and hybrid learning into school study spaces post-pandemic
    • provision of support for schools to improve their technical infrastructure
    • preparation for future disturbance, and the possible need for technologically facilitated learning

Accessible, healthy and sustainable school buildings:

  • inclusion and accessibility for students with physical, learning or hidden disabilities:
    • architectural design - improving accessibility and inclusivity through measures such as:
      • wheelchair ramps and inclusive toilet spaces
      • taking into account noise levels and other disruption
      • the creation of specialised spaces such as sensory and soft play rooms
    • specialised equipment:
      • widening the evidence base around which assistive technologies offer the best support for children with SEND
      • assessing the experience of SEND tech pilots carried out by DfE, and next steps
      • latest thinking on options for the provision of innovative approaches to aid inclusion and accessibility, including in gym equipment
  • sustainable school buildings:
    • policy priorities for supporting schools’ energy transition and ensuring cost-efficiency
    • assessing opportunities provided through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme
    • enabling the development of local jobs and apprenticeships around green construction
  • healthy schools:
    • increasing the diversity and breadth of sporting equipment and facilities
    • the role of design choices in school halls and classrooms in encouraging or discouraging physical movement, circulation, and activity
    • experience so far with the School Sport and Activity Action Plan
    • next steps for co-operation with local stakeholders, and spreading benefits to the wider local population

The school building market - trends in the wake of the pandemic and challenges on the horizon:

  • demand:
    • the growing UK population, as well as long-term trends, following signs of a COVID-19 ‘baby bust’ with few births during the pandemic
    • priorities for accommodating student numbers and responding to the need for new school buildings
    • opportunities for harnessing changing working habits around working from home to refurbish and remodel surplus office buildings for school use
    • the role of free schools
  • the construction sector:
    • the impact of falls in construction during COVID-19 on efforts to upgrade school estates
    • improving land availability for new school projects and using space effectively
    • the construction workforce post-Brexit, and ensuring access to highly qualified staffing and talent

Recent developments and the policy background:

  • PM announces transformative school rebuilding programme - spanning a ten year period, and aimed at improving the quality of school buildings in England, especially those in the worst condition, with:
    • the ambition to deliver 500 rebuilding projects over ten years
    • construction of the first set of 50 projects beginning in September 2021, supported with more than £1bn in funding
    • plans to add 50 more projects to the programme by the end of 2021 - schools will be contacted directly, rather than via an application scheme, and responsible bodies will be able to submit cases for prioritisation following a planned consultation on the department’s approach to prioritising projects
    • measures such as:
      • the creation of 21 new free schools - ten of which are set to be opened in the most deprived areas, with it estimated that they will benefit over 15,500 children
      • supporting school sports and swimming facilities - with £10m to be distributed through Sports England for offering additional support for physical exercise
  • fast track for public service planning - the announcement of new planning rules designed to allow the rapid extension of public buildings, including schools and colleges, in order to deliver increased classroom space
  • funding for repairs - commitment by the government of £560m and £200m in funding for repairing and upgrading schools and FE colleges
  • £1.8 billion to keep schools in top condition - announcement of a 20% funding increase for the maintenance of schools in England for 20212
  • Condition Data Collection 2 (CDC2) programme - the recently announced programme, to be led by Aecom, Faithful+Gould and Rider Levett Bucknall, to survey government-funded schools for condition and building management data over the next 5 years, with the aim of helping to prioritise school estate funding
  • support from the DfE on EdTech:
    • the Get help with technology programme - improving access to EdTech and remote education by providing laptops and other devices to disadvantaged children
    • EdTech Demonstrator Schools and Colleges Programme - offering peer-to-peer support and sharing best practice on the use of EdTech
  • the DfE’s SENDtech pilot - trialling assistive technologies during the 2020-2021 academic year, helping to understand best practice, and backed by £300,000 in investment
  • Changing Places Toilets:
    • now made compulsory in new public buildings with a capacity of 350 or more people, in order to give severely disabled people better access to public places
    • with the DfE seeking to integrate the approach to its review of design specification and guidance for new school buildings, expected to be completed in May 2021
  • All new developments must meet local standards of beauty, quality and design under new rules - the recent MHCLG proposal for local communities to be central in decisions on new buildings and developments in their areas, and to be able to set the standard for how they want their local areas to look through a design code
  • policy developments around green housing and building back greener, including:
    • the PM’s Ten-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution - including the aim to make public buildings more energy efficient, and simultaneously create more jobs
    • the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme - providing grants to help public sector bodies make the transition to greener energy use and decarbonisation
  • the ongoing Review of Building Bulletin 100 - outlining expectations for fire safety in schools, and with the DfE yet to have updated its guidance on, for example, whether sprinklers will be made mandatory for the rebuilding programme
  • related policy strategies and plans, such as:
    • The EdTech Strategy - seeking to transform the use of educational technologies by schools, colleges and universities, supported by £10m in funding
    • the School Sport and Activity Action Plan - seeking to improve young people’s access to an hour of exercise a day through local partnerships with sports organisations and by involving schools and teachers, followed by a further funding boost of £2.4m encouraging schools to open up their facilities to activity clubs outside of school hours
    • the Obesity Strategy - supporting children and adults to turn to healthier habits, including by banning unhealthy food advertising

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by parliamentary pass-holders from the House of Lords and officials from the Department for Education; the Department for International Trade; and the Health and Safety Executive. Also due to attend are representatives from Birmingham Diocesan Multi Academy Trust; Bristol City Council; CLEAPSS; DAC Beachcroft; Darwin Group; Diocese of Chichester Education; Diverse Academies Trust; Dudley Academies Trust; Fair Ways; Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios; Forbes Solicitors; Haverstock; Hoare Lea; LocatED; London Borough of Havering; MAC Construction Consultants; Mayesbrook Park School, Dagenham; Morgan Sindall Construction; North Yorkshire County Council; Place Group; Rider Levett Bucknall; Roberts Limbrick; Rockwool; SS Philip and James Primary School, Oxford; The London Anti-Crime Education Scheme; University of York and West Sussex County Council.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Shortly after every Westminster Education Forum seminar, a briefing document is produced. This is distributed to all delegates on the day as well as to our policymaker contacts in government, and to stakeholders more widely.

A seminar publication provides a timely record of proceedings, and acts as a guide to the latest thinking on current policy issues for those unable to be at the event.

This publication includes


Contributions from keynotes and panellists, including accompanying slides*
*Subject to approval

Delegate Pack

Information from the day, including delegate list, biographies and agenda


Transcript of questions and comments posed to speakers from attending delegates


Supplementary articles from speakers
and delegates