The James Review – digested

Well – its been a busy final day before the Easter holidays. Nothing like a 105 page government report to test your stamina!. We were asked this afternoon to comment on a BBC report that headlines the ‘failure of the school building system’ but as I said: there is much to be welcomed in the report’s conclusions. So… the myriad of elements of the Capital Review have been deliberated, cogitated and digested and here is my view of the main conclusions of the report.

We’ve been saying for a long time that the Building Schools for the Future programme was rightly ambitious but unnecessarily unwieldy, expensive and complicated.  This review mirrors that position.  The key now is to come up with an approach that meets the needs of our children and teachers.

30% savings to school building costs
An ambitious target – whilst this might be true of the pilot school with all industry eyes on it, we must be realistic about that being replicated across all refurbished or newly built schools.

Fit for purpose schools
It’s very good news to see this expression repeated throughout the report.  We hope this leads to the development of a decent school standard, which would ensure that all schools are built to a level that positively supports teaching, learning, sport and play.

There is a role for the standardisation of design – the danger is whether the standard is high or low; that will dictate whether schools have the potential to be fit for purpose. We must ensure there is room for innovation in the future.

Evidence of the impact of school buildings on attainment and behaviour
We’ve always called for a robust programme of research on the impact of new school buildings. There IS clear evidence that school environments matter – detailed research in the form of post occupancy evaluation will also help support good practice around design and construction in the future.

A new central body for school buildings
There’s a role for a new central body to support the school building programme, but we welcome the suggestion that funding could sit within the Department for Education.  This should help support a change in culture in the procurement, design and construction process, which the report says is key to making change happen. We’re sorry the review did not recommend the establishment of a national advisory council which could act as a feedback mechanism direct to the Department – one of our key recommendations in our submission.

Local investment plans
The idea of putting local authorities at the centre of the process is welcome in principle.  The need to manage tensions will be key.

Condition of the school estate
A very welcome recommendation – an ongoing piece of work which tracks the condition of the school estate, which will help central and local government plan and help keep our school estate fit for purpose.

Timetable for recommendations
An ambitious timetable is welcome, particularly after the delays to the review itself.

Related posts:

  1. James Review is (finally) here
  2. Capital ‘James’ Review – our submission
  3. Still waiting for Sebastian James…
  4. Responding to the James review
  5. Capital Review update


  1. Bob Harrison says:

    Thanks Ian, a useful summary, not much about ICT except to divorce it from the building procurement “to increase flexibility”?

    Interesting that James also recommends

    “provide direct central advice supplemented by tools /guidance for individual institutions /education providers” Becta? and

    “The ICT Services Framework, or similar approaches, should be used for all large scale ICT procurements.”

    I was however struck by Tim Byles statement at the EduInvestor gig we attended

    “A policy shift from transforming education environments for learning to address dilapidation of buildings”

  2. Rick Osman says:

    Many of the practical recommendations centre around establishing standards and specifications. This is something the hotel industry has been working on for years and there are well proven (and cheap) solutions available. the most widely used can be seen at Whitbread, Hilton and Campanile amongst others use it to great advantage.

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