Rethinking School Capital Investment

Rethinking school capital investment: the new 3Rs?

This research identifies the issues that face policy makers, teachers, parents, governors and their professional advisors when they are considering how to modernise their schools within existing buildings.

In conjunction with the British Council for School Environments (BCSE) and Davis Langdon, Michael Olliff, Managing Director at Scott Brownrigg has authored guidance on school design and construction, as industry braces for capital spending cuts.

Launched during National School Environments Week 2010, ‘Rethinking School Capital Investment – The new 3Rs?’, explores a range of options for the school estate in the light of potential cuts to school capital expenditure and the likely impact on the construction of new buildings.  These include:

Refresh – looking at how limited budgets can be used to improve spaces, for example through good interior design or the provision of new furniture.  The BCSE has been piloting this approach successfully through its Big School Makeover programme.

Refurbishment – already a significant part of current funding streams, this approach incorporates major upgrading of the fabric of buildings as well as intensive internal remodelling.

Reuse – considering how buildings such as redundant office blocks or retail outlets can be adapted into new schools as well as the ways in which existing education buildings can be reinvented.

The guidance explores the cost benefit analysis of each approach as well as pointers on sustainability, and the potential impact of changes from policy makers on educational models, such as independently managed ‘free schools’.

Has the planning of school estates during the past decade unduly favoured new build over refurbishment?  If so, is this presumption about to change?  Concerns over the state of potential public finances, the increasing need to reduce carbon emissions, questions over the suitability of PFI, the rise of parent promoted free schools and the drive to increase the number of independent academies are all pointing to a future that will ensure that the refurbishment of existing buildings could be seen as the redevelopment option of choice.

There is now a significant body of research which suggests that the physical environment of schools has a direct impact on students’ academic achievement and behaviour. It is therefore critical that the recent achievements of the Building Schools for the Future Programme are not completely abandoned in favour of a piecemeal and reactive approach. Schools continue to need significant capital investment and in many cases new build may be the only option available. However, the refurbishment of existing schools may have a valuable place in contributing to the reduction of the UK financial deficit whilst significantly helping to raise educational standards and improve the life chances of young children.

Download Rethinking school capital investment: the new 3Rs here

For more information about this initiative you can also visit the BCSE's website at or

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