It was Winston Churchill who once famously remarked that: “ We make our buildings, and afterwards they make us ”. Although there is only limited research on design of historic schools from an educational point of view, it is definitely conceivable that in the minds of the architects of these buildings there was a link between outward expressions of grandeur and the importance of the learning that was going on within. Designing schools in order to make some kind of statement is important today as ever before. However, instead of grand architectural gestures the modern schools have to show the extent to which the Government takes seriously its commitment to transform the UK into knowledge based low carbon economy.

To transform the UK into the knowledge based economy the Government has committed to a massive programme of rebuilding and refurbishing schools in England and Wales in the next 10 to 15 years. The aim of this programme entitled ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF) is to ‘build facilities for 21 st century at the scale not being seen since Victorian times ’. Although low carbon school buildings were not mentioned in the BSF launch document, but in the three years since then the issue has risen to the top of the political agenda.

From energy perspective UK schools only are responsible for 15% of the energy used in public and commercial buildings. Therefore, if the Government is to meet a target of at least 60% reduction against the 1990 baseline, and if it intends to set an example and firmly embeds the principles of low carbon economy in hearts and minds of future generations it clearly has to address the issue of schools' carbon emission. Although well intended it has to be admitted that for political reasons the whole BSF programme was rushed not taking into account that the science of designing learning environments is currently remarkably under developed.

For example, a recent post-occupancy evaluation of five low energy BSF schools carried out by Buro Happold and Brunel University has showed that four of the schools evaluated emitted more carbon emissions than the median UK building meaning that the challenge of requiring all new schools to be carbon neutral is substantial, not least because, as yet, no school in England is carbon neutral. From the indoor environment perspective, the recent study carried out by Faber Maunsell, University College London, BSRIA and SRL showed that while the acoustic standards are demanding it was possible to achieve natural ventilation designs that meet the criteria for indoor ambient noise levels when external noise levels are not excessive. The study concluded that the basic requirement of 1500 ppm of CO 2 is achieved as a consequence of the window areas being just sufficient to provide the minimum of 3 l/s per person at low and intermittent occupancy. Temperatures tended to be much higher in practice than the design assumed meaning that the modern schools may overheat even during the winter period when the ventilation rates are at the minimum. The results of both studies inevitably lead to conclusion that the complex interaction between energy consumption, ventilation, thermal comfort and acoustics presents considerable challenge for designers.

To add to complexity of the problem, there is an urgent need to address the impact of climate change issues on school buildings in detail which would enable us to establish which systems are most affected by the predicted change. A small team led by Ian Taylor of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios recently applied for research funding from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to develop research on adaptation of school design to the challenges of climate change. This was received with great interest and this study should start shortly.

Even, if we had the answers on all technical issues a school may be built to the most advanced sustainable standards, but if the occupants are not using the school buildings in a sustainable way, then the benefits may not be apparent. Apart for offering better incentives to the schools to ensure schools are maintained and operated in a sustainable way, the various topics which would educate pupils how to be more environmentally responsible should be incorporated in the curriculum.

At the end it has to be noted that a sustainable school is not defined by looking at the school building only. A sustainable school is a complex built environment system it needs a sustainable transportation and energy infrastructure to supports it in the right manner.

These are just a few issues that CIBSE School Design Group seeks to address by bringing together all stakeholders involved in school design – building services engineers, architects, construction managers, planning officers and building users. The long-term legacy of this group is fostering the building of sustainable schools which can act as a catalyst for their local communities.

The principal terms of reference are as follows:

- to foster knowledge exchange between all interested parties working on sustainable school design

- to develop a strategy for healthy and sustainable school buildings

- to encourage cooperation between different professional bodies and institutions of relevance for school design

- to reflect on changing procurement routes and design standards

- to identify gaps in the science of designing learning environments

- to initiate cooperation between academia and industry to resolve the problems of relevance to the industry

Recently, the group had the launch event in Newcastle at the fringe of the CIBSE/ASHRAE National Conference. A round table discussion on the BSF process and the delivery of schools for the future included the views of wide range of stakeholders involved in Newcastle BSF procurement and delivery. 60 professionals and academics highlighted various issues as crucial for the success of the BSF programme. The host Gordon Hudson of Mott MacDonald has summarised the issues of critical importance to the success of the BSF Programme which will be discussed with all relevant stakeholders in the next period:

- the need for technically well defined post occupancy evaluation and generation of user understanding of the school building and it's systems

- PFI/PPP process and the delivery of innovation

- the knowledge exchange and the agility of the client and the consortia teams

- uncertainty related to modelling stage of the design process and it's conversion into availability criteria and payment mechanism standards

- the needs for streamlining of the overall delivery process