Gilbrook College, Middlesbrough, constructed under the BSF programme
Gilbrook College, Middlesbrough, constructed under the BSF programme

Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was the name given to the British government's investment programme in secondary school buildings in England in the 2000s. The programme was ambitious in its costs, timescales and objectives, with politicians from all English political parties supportive of the principle but questioning the wisdom and cost effectiveness of the scheme.[1] The delivery of the programme was overseen by Partnerships for Schools (PfS), a non-departmental public body formed through a joint venture between the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (formerly the Department for Education and Skills), Partnerships UK and private sector partners. Fourteen local education authorities were asked to take part in the first wave of the Building Schools for the Future programme for the fiscal year 2005/6.[2] By December 2009, 96 local authorities had joined the programme.

In 2007 the programme was complemented by the announcement of a Primary Capital Programme, with £1.9 billion to spend on 675 building projects for primary schools in England over three years.[3]

On 5 July 2010 the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, announced that following a review, which was informed by an impartial analysis[citation needed] from Robin F. Paynter Bryant, an experienced City banker, the Building Schools for the Future programme was to be scrapped. Projects which had not achieved the status of 'financial close' would not proceed, meaning that 715 school revamps already signed up to the scheme would not go ahead. He also announced that a further 123 academy schemes were to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.[4]


The BSF programme had historically been dogged by sporadic or no management at the top, with Richard Bowker (Chair and Chief Executive of the Strategic Rail Authority) leaving his post just eight months into the role. However, Bowker was replaced in November 2006 by Tim Byles, who joined from Norfolk County Council, where he had been CEO for 10 years.

Initially all Local Authorities (LAs) had been placed in a national programme consisting of 15 waves. The programme did not proceed as rapidly as had been expected and both the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and Partnerships for Schools (PfS) began looking closely at the authorities' capacity and readiness to deliver projects. During the Spring of 2008 the DCSF consulted on the management of future waves of BSF and subsequently invited all LAs to submit an Expression of Interest to joint the BSF programme sooner than the original programme might have indicated. The announcement of the new programme arrangements was made on 2 March 2009 and at subsequent briefings to Local Authorities it was made clear by PfS that demonstrable "readiness to deliver" was to be a key condition for future pledges of funding.

A tranche of forty authorities were invited to make a "Readiness to Deliver" submission by 8 May 2009. Of those that did, only Hampshire, Barnet, Bolton, Peterborough, Wigan and Sunderland were successful. In early August 2009 the authorities that had been unsuccessful, as well as those who had delayed making a submission, were advised that all submissions for the remaining twelve places to be allocated during the financial year ending on 31 March 2010 were to be made by 17 September 2009. On 30 November 2009 it was announced that eleven local authorities – Brent, Darlington, Devon, Havering, Kingston, Croydon, Norfolk, Plymouth, Sefton, Wakefield, and Warrington – would be joining the BSF programme for the first time, with another two – Lancashire and Tameside – starting the next phase of their BSF schemes. This brought to 96 the number of local authorities in England which were active in BSF.

The revised management arrangements for BSF apparently reinforced the DCSF's faith in PfS, as the Minister for Schools announced in June 2009 that PfS was to assume responsibility for the management and delivery of all school building and refurbishment programmes. Day-to-day responsibility of all schools' capital programmes, including the Primary Capital Programme, transferred from the DCSF to PfS on 1 October 2009.

In 2009 the National Audit Office noted management issues regarding problems in meeting targets, overuse of expensive consultants, and high staff costs (the Chief Executive and top four directors received about £750,000 pa in total).[5][6]

Funding and budgets

Primary education

Primary schools were initially not included in BSF, although in March 2006 it was announced that a parallel programme – the Primary Capital Programme (PCP) – would be starting for primary schools and schools for primary-age special needs pupils. Rather than allocating money by authority in waves, it was intended that there will be regional pilot schemes in 2008, leading to a broader approach whereby all authorities could apply for funding from 2009.[7] Funding to Local Authorities would only be confirmed once they had submitted and gained approval for their 'Strategy for Change' (SfC) describing how they would address the PCP priorities.

Thus 23 Local Authorities (LAs) initially had access to £6.5 million each to refurbish a primary school, before widening access to an overall budget of £1.9 billion, with an initial expectation of starting 675 primary school building projects over the following three years.[3] In November 2008, 41 additional LAs had their Strategies for Change accepted (green status) and thus their PCP funding for 2009/10 and 2010/11 approved. 92 LAs were invited to submit further information (amber status) and only had their 2009/10 funding approved, and 15 LAs (red status) were required to address specific issues in their Strategy before any funding was approved.

Secondary education

The BSF programme involved the decentralisation of funds to local education partnerships (LEPs) to build and improve secondary school buildings. However, the LEPs were not only responsible for the construction of the buildings but also for co-ordinating and overseeing the educational transformation and community regeneration that the investment can support. The private sector LEP partner(s) were intended to introduce capital and expertise. With investments of over £2 billion in the first year, across an estimated 200 schools through the country, it was claimed as the single biggest government investment programme in education for over 50 years.[8] The then- Prime Minister Tony Blair said the investment "will see the entire secondary school building stock upgraded and refurbished in the greatest school renewal programme in British history."[2]

Capital funding available for investment in school buildings rose sharply from £683 million in 1996–97 to £3.8 billion in 2003–04; this further increased to £4.5 billion in 2004–05 and to £5.1 billion in 2005–06, £9.3 billion over 2008–11, and £8.2 billion in 2011,[3] ultimately costing £45 billion over 15 years to 20 years. Funding was in 15 'waves', or groups of authorities.[7] BSF was intended to be approximately half conventional and half Private Finance Initiative (PFI) funded. Of the £2.2 billion for BSF, £1.2 billion (55.5%) was covered by PFI credits.[2]

Funding associated with BSF was not just limited to construction and equipment in new schools, but also improving facilities at existing schools, such as providing schools with direct capital funding to spend on buildings and Information and communications technology (ICT). Depending on their size, primary and secondary schools received about £34,000 and £113,000 respectively during 2007–08 for these initiatives, which equates to around £1 billion across English schools.[9]


Most of the major new building works were PFI-funded, which takes the construction and facilities management (but not the educational provision) out of the financial control of local education authorities because the construction and facilities management of a school becomes a source of revenue for the consortia involved for up to 30 years, even if the school is no longer needed.[10] While promoted as a huge investment in public services within Secondary Education, it allowed a consortium made up of a financiers, construction companies and IT companies to take away control of public assets from the local authority.

This may handicap future changes, as designers currently face difficulties in trying to predict how learning environments will evolve, exacerbated by poor levels of participation by governors, teachers, pupils, and the community in the design process. The scale of the building programme was far larger than the capacity of the available pool of experienced architects and designers, while the educators running the developments had very little prior experience of commissioning such major construction works. There was little sharing of best practice and learning between authorities, schools, contractors, suppliers and others involved in BSF, and the timescales discouraged thorough planning.[7][11] The funds provided under this programme were used for materials and building infrastructure (usually including repairs and on-going maintenance) whilst funding for teaching continued in the normal way, except in the case of academies where funding came directly from the Secretary of State. A consequence of the PFI element of the programme was that recurrent and strategic maintenance of school buildings is addressed within the contract, which reverses the tendency for school governing bodies to under-allocate funds for these aspects of asset management, leading to high levels of backlog maintenance at many schools.[citation needed]

Bidders for funding claimed that the work to put together a bid was onerous and costly, and required the navigation of many government bodies. The co-ordinating body, Partnerships for Schools, was reportedly focused on construction procurement without a full understanding of all the other factors involved.[7]

There were accusations that the relationship between the quality of infrastructure and the quality of pupil education was not clearly demonstrated; many of the schools at the top of the league tables were ancient schools with mostly ancient buildings. The House of Commons Select Committee expressed concerns that, whilst this investment in spaces to support learning was unprecedented, the enormous scale of the project was not being managed to ensure that its scope and aims remained appropriate. There were no clear or consistent objectives set down to judge progress, or to establish if this was the best way to spend £45 billion on education. 800 schools most in need had already been prioritised and refurbished in the years immediately before this programme started; it was unclear what the current need was, and how the money previously spent would fit in with the broad untargetted approach of BSF.[7]

The selection of some schools for demolition and rebuilding was controversial; notably there were criticisms in the architectural press over the demolition of the brutalist Pimlico School, with many calls for the building to be protected by being placed on the register of listed buildings.[12] The designs of 10 of the first 11 schools, including Pimlico, were granted planning permission even though they have been described by CABE as 'mediocre' or 'not yet good enough'.[13] They noted that it was possible to be selected for a PFI scheme without a high quality design.[14]

The upgrade programme took place at a time when building standards were being substantially rewritten to incorporate improved energy efficiency and green construction methods. Schools were alleged to emit about 15% of the public sector's carbon footprint in the UK. New schools and refurbishment projects were required to perform an assessment in accordance with the Building Research Establishment's assessment method (BREEAM) that checked against environmental performance targets for new and refurbished school buildings.[15] However, there were concerns that commercial imperatives would mean no incentives to exceed these standards were put in place, and the subsequent works were mainly being designed against the cheaper but less energy-efficient older building standards, with very little cash being set aside to meet pending standards.[16] To counter some of this criticism and to celebrate the many positive aspects of the BSF programme, in November 2008 Partnerships for Schools hosted the first annual "Excellence in BSF Awards", recognising a wide range of aspects of the initiative.


District BSF plans

Primary and secondary schools in the district of the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire were part of the national school upgrading process from Building Schools for the Future. The plans also involved local sponsors and LEA funding to provide £130m to rebuild, extend and modernise five secondary schools and approximately 10 primary schools. The Wyre Forest area of Worcestershire is a sub-rural settlement of three towns, Kidderminster being the largest, Stourport being the second largest and Bewdley on Severn being the smallest. The schools that were part of the BSF 2013 rebuild plans included:

Primary schools included:

In 2008 The Bewdley School and Sixth Form Centre were provided with a £4m, state-of-the-art modular building. The look, sustainability and practicality are some of the reasons that the modular building has influenced other new major building projects including BSF, in places such as Birmingham, London and Staffordshire. The new projects in Bristol such as Bridge Learning Campus and many new primary schools have been based on the modular building at Bewdley.

New schools / colleges / academies

The BSF programme provided funding for the construction of entirely new schools and colleges, as well as rebuilding existing ones and providing ICT funding to non-BSF, new-build schools.

2008 09


Rebuilt schools / colleges / academies

ICT-only schools, colleges and academies

A number of BSF schools were funded as "One School Pathfinders", in Local Authorities that were in later waves of the programme. These projects helped to build capacity and competence in those authorities, as well as to provide exemplars in sustainability and science ("Project Faraday").

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ As well as difficult Parliamentary questions from opposing parties, a critical report was produced by the Education and Skills Select Committee which has a Labour majority with minority Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat participation
  2. ^ a b c Building Schools for the Future – Government factsheet Archived 12 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c £21.9 bn to transform classroom and school facilities Department for Children, Schools and Families, 10 October 2007
  4. ^ School buildings scheme scrapped – BBC website
  5. ^ "Quango Bosses' Pay: Trebles all round!", Private Eye 1251, 11 December 2009
  6. ^ The Building Schools for the Future Programme National Audit Office 12 February 2009
  7. ^ a b c d e Sustainable Schools House of Commons Education and Skills Committee 16 July 2007
  8. ^ RM – Building Schools for the Future
  9. ^ BSF Funding: The Bigger Picture Archived 25 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Building up a surplus Fran Abrams, The Guardian, 30 October 2007
  11. ^ "Teachers TV programming". Archived from the original on 7 November 2008. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  12. ^ Pimlico school's demolition begins Building Design 5 March 2008
  13. ^ BSF schools approved despite Cabe criticisms Building Design 29 February 2008
  14. ^ Half of rebuilt schools 'architecturally substandard' Katherine Demopoulos The Guardian, 3 July 2006
  15. ^ BRE BREEAM Schools
  16. ^ Schools rebuild project 'ignores green initiative'] The Sunday Times, 24 June 2007