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New school follows in Victorians' footprints

Sustainable primary has same carbon emissions as 19th-century building

A modern school built as an exemplar of sustainability is no greener than one constructed by the Victorians. The finding by The TES Magazine raises questions about the multi-billion pound school rebuilding programme, which has made reducing schools' carbon footprints one of its principle aims.

The TES commissioned a building consultant to carry out a carbon footprinting exercise on three schools. The study looked at gas and electricity consumption and the resulting carbon dioxide emissions from a late 19th-century school, one built in 1974 and one completed in 2004.

The 2004 school, Kingsmead Primary in Northwich, Cheshire, is fitted with a woodchip boiler and solar panels and largely lit by natural light. The results showed it performed almost identically to the Victorian school, Leigh Primary in Tonbridge, Kent. Both came out better than the 1970s school.

Catriona Stewart, head of Kingsmead, said there had been teething problems with the boiler, which had been added at a late stage in the design. But she said the school's electricity usage had been declining year on year.

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, which promotes sustainable construction, said there was a danger in trying to incorporate the latest technology in new buildings. "Sometimes it is bolted on to an existing design and the result can be an even greater carbon footprint," he said.

The Government is spending about pound;45 billion over the next 13 years to refurbish or replace every secondary school in England under the Building Schools for the Future programme. A further pound;7 billion is being spent on replacing or improving half the nation's primaries.

Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, told MPs last December that he wanted all new school buildings to have zero net carbon emissions by 2016.

Despite the scale of the investment, the DCSF has not looked into whether the new buildings live up to their green credentials.

Mr King said: "We need to know whether these buildings are performing as they should, but no one is measuring what is happening."

Roderic Bunn, the buildings consultant who carried out the study for The TES, said: "There is pound;45 billion going into secondary schools but none of that money is being spent on looking at what works and what doesn't."

A spokeswoman for Partnerships for Schools, responsible for the Building Schools programme, said their evaluations did not cover carbon footprints, although there were plans to try to identify measures effective in reducing emissions.

Building a future Magazine, Page 14.

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