Have new builds helped performance ?


The new Coalition government has brought to an end the BSF programme labelling it dysfunctional, bureaucratic, expensive and behind schedule. Tony Blair launched BSF in 2004, the first school opened in 2006, and 186 schools were completed by July this year, with many projects funded through private-finance initiatives. Those built from scratch cost an average of £24 million each, creating state-of-the-art, open-plan buildings and facilities.

We  won’t see an end to all refurbishments and new builds but cuts  overall  of around 50%  are in evidence and there is a question mark hanging over the longer term future of  the Partnership for Schools quango, which has  been overseeing the BSF programme. The Government is currently undertaking a Capital Review  looking at the future of schools capital funding (running in parallel with a consultation on the  proposed new pupil premium)

New research from NFER  has found that pupils at BSF schools make, on average, less progress than other similar pupils in similar schools and that there is no significant difference in the levels of attendance between pupils in BSF schools and pupils in other schools. However, there is substantially less absence in a small number of schools which have a mixture of rebuild and refurbishment.

Previous NFER research found that in the first new school building to open pupil attitudes to school and the school environment improved substantially.  The latest research is based on Partnerships for Schools’ list of completed BSF projects as of July 2010 and the latest available version of the National Pupil Database for 2009. The research compared pupils in 60 BSF schools to all pupils in England.

Key findings

Attainment: despite rigorous analysis and controlling for a range of  background characteristics, pupils at BSF schools make, on average, less progress than would be expected, based on their intake and past performance. Pupils at BSF schools attain a total GCSE points score on average 11 points lower than pupils at non-BSF schools, equivalent to almost two grades lower.

Attendance: despite rigorous analysis and controlling for a range of background characteristics there was no significant difference in the level of absence between BSF schools and non BSF schools for year 9 and 11 pupils.  This finding was the same whether using authorised and unauthorised absence as the outcome.   However, year 9 pupils in schools that had a mixture of rebuild and refurbishment had, on average, significantly less unauthorised absence.

The relationship between improved attendance and levels of attainment has been identified in a number of previous reports. This new research may indicate that although there is no evidence of better attainment yet, the fact that there is a possible improvement in attendance suggests that attainment may also improve in the future.

NFER’s Ben Durbin said: “There has been a lot of controversy and conjecture about the benefits of new schools and this independent research, based on Government data provides some hard facts. However, this study is based on a relatively limited dataset, and its findings should be considered in this context.  We hope to carry out further work looking at more data.”

Durbin, B. and Yeshanew, T. (2010). BSF School report: B+ for Attendance but C- for Attainment. Slough: NFER.

NFER Summary report




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