More than bricks and mortar

Badly finished buildings can send the wrong message - that pupils and their schools are regarded as 'cheapskate'

bruce robertson, the outgoing education director of Highland Council, has hit back at a leading architect's claims that public private partnership schools in his authority would "blight the lives of those who learn in them".

Malcolm Fraser, who resigned a week ago from the Scottish Executive's advisory panel, Architecture and Design Scotland, claimed the body had failed to evaluate whether PPP schools and hospitals provided value for money. He said Highland's 27 PPP schools were "catastrophically poor".

However, Mr Robertson said he simply "did not recognise" the schools described by Mr Fraser.

The director of education, culture and sport said the authority's team had worked very closely with school staff and parents, its architects were "excellent" and High-land had some of the largest classrooms of any of the schools built under public private partnership projects in Scotland.

Ardnamurchan High, built under Highland's first round of PPP schools, had won the community school of the year award last year. "I think Mr Fraser fundamentally lacks the knowledge and understanding of what our schools are about," he said.

Mr Fraser said he had reviewed nearly 100 PPP schools in Scotland in his capacity as deputy chair of Architecture and Design Scotland, including 27 in Highland.

"This is is the biggest single financial investment in the built infrastructure of the Highlands and the future of the people - and these schools are catastrophically poor. Some rooms are 24 metres from wall to wall with small windows. Libraries, sports halls and dining rooms are entirely internal with only a wee skylight. It is recognised and understood that there is a direct correlation between educational attainment and good levels of natural daylight," he said.

But Mr Robertson said all the libraries in Highland secondary schools would be a combination of school libraries and learning centres for adults and had lots of natural light. "There is deliberately no natural light in the sports halls because of the impact that sunlight can have on some sports,"

he said. "That decision followed advice from the professionals."

Mr Fraser claimed that schools built via PFIPPP procurement produced more expensive buildings, took longer to build and were significantly poorer in quality than those procured by more traditional routes. He praised the design of the independent Glasgow school St Aloysius College, saying the best of PPP schools were "not good enough, and the worst fill me with despair for the generations of young lives that will be blighted by their dark classrooms, poor facilities and crabbit playgrounds".

His comments were echoed by Keir Bloomer, chief executive of Clackmannanshire Council, who said he had seen nothing in the state sector that matched the school buildings in the independent sector.

In the age of lifelong learning, young people had to be persuaded that their participation in education was valued: "These are young people who regularly visit shopping centres, office buildings and hotels on which money has been spent. If they are going into schools, which may be perfectly competently designed but are built with cheap materials and have rough finishes, then that conveys a cheapskate image. It sends a clear message that they are not valued and their schools are not valued."

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