PRIORITY SCHOOLS PROGRAMME
Worst off get priority in centrally procured school building programme
The Department for Education has launched a privately financed programme to provide school facilities. The programme is intended to address those schools in the worst condition. Ministers may also take into account pressing cases of basic need (the requirement for additional school places) and other ministerial priorities. The programme is likely to include a mix of primary schools, secondary schools, special schools, sixth form colleges and alternative provision. Maintained schools, voluntary aided schools, academies and sixth form colleges are eligible to apply for funding under the Priority Schools Programme. The programme is being procured centrally to secure best value for money. What is interesting is that the programme is about making schools fit for purpose and not about the doctrine behind the BSF, now regarded as overpriced, which was that building new schools would improve teaching and learning, a doctrine unsupported by evidence.
DFE expects construction costs to be about 20% cheaper per square metre than under BSF. Lowest price is likely to be of greater importance in the tender process than under BSF. The Department for Education (DfE) and Partnerships for Schools (PfS) expect to announce the outcome of applications in December 2011. Those applications will then ‘be considered further in light of value for money requirements.’ DFE anticipates that the programme will support building or rebuilding the equivalent of 100 secondary schools. Depending on the mix of schools (primary, secondary, SEN, sixth form colleges) it expects between 100 and 300 schools to be in the programme. Applications are made electronically by local authorities on a schools’ behalf, along with (where relevant) dioceses/faith bodies and sixth form colleges/academies/academy chains. The deadline for receipt of applications was 14 October 2011. The DfE and PfS are considering the applications against a number of criteria. . If you wish your School to be included DFE suggests the school contact, first off, its local authority to see if it is being considered. If not the DFE will speak to them on the schools behalf. If the local authority will not consider a schools inclusion then DFE says it will accept a response from the governing body of the School with DFEs prior agreement via email@example.com DfE is clear that the Schools in the worst condition are those that require investment New maintenance strategies will deal with the future upkeep of schools. ICT infrastructure and buildings management systems will be procured as part of the buildings. Other ICT ‘kit’ will not be provided through the programme. The programme is split into groups of schools, with each group making up approximately 20% of the whole. Within each group there will be a number of batched schools projects. The schools in the first group will commence procurement in the second quarter 2012 and will open in the academic year 2014-2015. Delivery of the second group is expected to follow in the subsequent academic year, with the other groups following at yearly intervals. Bidders are likely to have to name their supply chain when they submit a response to the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire. The PQQ will be issued following responses to the OJEU notice. DFE expects to publish the OJEU notice for the first group of schools in the second quarter of 2012.
So what are the criteria for selection of schools into the programme?
The DfE’s first priority is to deal with schools in the worst condition and so poor condition is the prime criterion. Shortcomings in the accommodation such as temperature and health and safety will then be taken into account and finally suitability for inclusion in a privately financed programme will be considered. Schools must also demonstrate sufficient long term pupil demand. Deliverability issues will be taken into account when selecting projects for each annual group.
How long will it take?
It is expected that centralised procurement and targeted dialogue will lead to shorter procurement times. DFE is expecting procurement times (i.e. from issue of OJEU to financial close) of approximately one year. Limiting the design work during procurement will also help. Unlike the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme there will be no joint partnership vehicle such as a Local Education Partnership (LEP). This will remove the need for some contractual documentation, again saving on negotiating time. It will also save the costs of setting up the LEP investment structure.
What about revenue funding?
Revenue funding contributions will be agreed with each School and will be made annually, subject to inflationary adjustments, for the duration of the contract period, i.e. approximately 25 years. As a rough guide Schools should be prepared to contribute between £50 and £60 for facilities management costs (including maintenance and cleaning) and between £10 and £20 for utilities, in each case per square metre, per year and excluding VAT. The mechanism for covering these costs has yet to be considered.
The programme is open to free schools and, as we have said, to academies too. This means that local authorities should co-operate with schools now outside their control which could present a challenge. The basic challenge for the private sector is to build at half the cost spent on BSF schools. This may serve to further expose just how costly the BSF scheme was (ie taxpayers might have been ripped- off on more than a few occasions!). New schools will be needed well into the future of course . By 2015 there will be 153,000 more primary school children and so between 2,500 and 5,000 classrooms will need to be built in the next three and a half years.