Education is a top priority for local and Scottish Government. The quality of our education system and outcomes is absolutely key to delivering the sustainable economic growth that is a pre-requisite for a more successful Scotland. We are creating a smarter, greener, healthier, safer and stronger, wealthier and fairer nation, one which maximises all our talents and is thereby better able to compete globally. Providing all of our children and young people with the best possible start in life and ensuring that each of them reaches their full potential is critical to this.
The Scottish Government and COSLA have already signalled a new focus on supporting children (and families) during their early years. The overriding goal through their school years is on further enabling them to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. By expanding opportunities for community and adult education we are also looking to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland.
Schools, as learning environments which embody a learning-centred philosophy for both pupils and adult learners, are crucial to achieving these fundamental objectives. They are much more though than just 'educational establishments'. The availability and accessibility of school buildings and facilities for community use - be it educational, recreational, sporting, cultural, social or other - are equally important. That has been an aspiration for sometime now. We are beginning to see it realised and one of the main aims of this Strategy is to consolidate and accelerate that trend. With a lifespan measured in decades and a cost in billions of pounds, the need for adaptable and flexible school buildings and facilities that will better meet future demands and changes in technology and learning and increasingly, the challenges posed by climate change, cannot be overstated. It is though at the individual and personal level that their real impact is concentrated. The state of a school speaks volumes to each community, parent, pupil and teacher about how we value learning. Children and young people especially respond to that, but so too do all the other 'school users'.
The range of activities that schools support, provide and make possible, beyond the purely educational, mean that this School Estate Strategy has implications across the entire public sector. It supports each of the 15 national outcomes and many of the underpinning policies and initiatives. It is necessarily ambitious in a way that will deliver real benefits for people and communities. It recognises the different social and learning experiences and expectations of today's children and young people; and it addresses our aspirations for lifelong learning, a seed which must be sown at a young age. This Strategy is about achieving our vision of all pupils being educated in fit for purpose, engaging and inspiring environments. In order to achieve this, Scottish Government and local authorities will need to work towards eradicating sub-standard schools and ensure that the whole of the school estate is prioritised, reorganised where necessary and well maintained. The Strategy is relevant to all aspects of the school estate - new buildings and improvement of existing ones.
A fundamental change is underway in Scottish education - a holistic approach to more effective learning and teaching. Curriculum for Excellence is already driving changes to the concept of the school - its purposes, functions, design and the way spaces are used. In turn, the buildings, the physical environment and facilities must themselves also be drivers of change. They need to be more than just passive or responsive, to be used and adapted. They need to inspire and challenge both learners and teachers to think in new and imaginative ways about the surroundings within which learning takes place, indeed about the very 'how' it takes place. Buildings can and should be real catalysts for creativity.
What needs to be done to bring this Strategy to life is clearly set out in these pages and will be further expanded in the Financial Strategy and Implementation Plan which will follow. There is a joint Concordat commitment on the part of both local and Scottish Government to working together to continue to improve the school estate and learners' experiences. During the current Parliamentary period, Government has signed off further Public Private Partnership ( PPP) and Non Profit Distribution ( NPD) school projects and these, together with the record levels of capital funding in the local government settlement for 2008-11, are supporting a current programme of local authority investment in the school estate in excess of £2 billion.
The Scottish Government is committed to continuing to work with local government partners to bring to bear the financial and other resources still needed. A clear demonstration of this commitment was the Government's announcement in June 2009 of an additional £800 million of funding towards a £1.25 billion local authority programme of new school building.
We recognise that although the current government and councils together can ensure that progress and improvements are made, in time the task will inevitably become the responsibility of governments and councils yet to come. The contents of this Strategy are commended to future administrations, who will need to continue the investment in the school estate and ensure that all the ground gained is held firm and consolidated - as we each play our part in creating a school estate which is a credit to our nation and schools which are a source of pride and pleasure to all who use them.
Finally, we would wish to thank the members of the School Estate Strategy Working Group and those who gave evidence to it or contributed in other ways, for all the work that has gone into the preparation of this Strategy.
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning
Councillor Isabel Hutton
COSLA Spokesperson on Education, Children and Young People