Wednesday, 18 February 2009

NAO Report on BSF

You sit around waiting for analysis of BSF for months on end, and then all of a sudden three reports come along in quick succession.

This one is from the National Audit Office and can be downloaded from here. The NAO is concerned with value for money and effective use of money. This is not a report about the learning and teaching in BSF schools. Nevertheless it is worth a look if you have an interest in BSF, at least read the executive summary (only 10 sides).

The opening sections explain the byzantine funding arrangements. They are baffling.

The report contains a number of very instructive graphics, diagrams explaining the funding arrangements, number of new schools built against the targets and so on, and I've tried to copy some into here but without success. If you want the pleasure of these you'll have to look at the original report.

The substance of the report is about value for money and here the NAO are equivocal. They explain that 'projects have been slow to provide data, and PfS has not yet collected enough on their whole life costs to enable us to come to a firm judgement on the projects’ overall value for money. There is also limited data on schools procured through other routes to provide ready benchmarks of all aspects of their costs.' (p24) The report does find that Academies were significantly more expensive to build than BSF schools, BSF £1,850 per square metre average costs compared to £2,240 per square metre for Academies before the programme was integrated into BSF.
'There is no statistical difference between the average price of BSF schools and PFI schools built before BSF was launched. The prices of schools procured through other routes are not collected centrally.' (p24)

The report also finds some benefits from the use of the LEP as well as some shortcomings. The report echoes the findings of PWC when it says 'BSF requires significant time commitment from school leaders, who told us that it creates considerable pressure on their ability to carry out their other duties. Some Local Authorities provide their schools with additional resources to plan and procure BSF, including to cover teaching while leaders (Governors, Heads, Deputies, and other senior staff) commit time to BSF.' But 'School leaders in our focus groups told us they often felt left to manage alone.' (p27) This is unacceptable. I also wondered about the observation, 'The best design of each individual school developed by bidders during the procurement process does not always win, because: the Local Authority scores bids on a variety of factors of which design counts for only 18 per cent...' I understand that LAs can't make a choice solely on design quality, companies selected must have the capacity and the experience necessary to be successful. Yet 18% seems very low.

It is very interesting that the views of LAs and private sector partners differ significantly when asked about if the LEP is a good approach to renewing school estate and equipping it to be capable of improving educational outcomes. It is hard to say exactly as the figures are not given but around 65% of the private sector partners thought that the LEP was either 'effective' or 'highly effective and worthwhile'. Only about 28% of LAs were of the same opinion. Quite why these opinions differed so widely I couldn't explain. The report does not even note this variation. I would be very keen to hear from anyone involved who thought they could explain this.

There is positive judgement about PfS in the report. But the NAO does note that PfS performance targets are all about timeliness and not quality and an implication that this isn't helpful to the main task at hand.

The report includes detailed case studies from Manchester, Bristol, Kent, Lewisham, Solihull, Lancashire and Ealing. There is a great deal of informative material in these and I'd cover this if I had the time. Again I recommend the report to you, but don't go there looking for answers to questions of educational quality.

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