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The big school data project

When the Department for Education needed extensive information about its estate in England, they embarked on a data collection exercise of unprecedented scale

Author: Stephen Cousins

13 April 2020

The Condition Data Collection (CDC) programme was one of the biggest building-condition surveys ever conducted in the UK public sector. Between 2017 and 2019, 500 surveyors captured condition and building management data from almost every state school in England.

The team that undertook the survey for the Department for Education (DfE) had Arcadis acting as technical services manager (TSM) and included four surveying companies: Aecom, Capita, Faithful+Gould, and Rider Levett Bucknall.

"We wanted a greater emphasis on quality control" Phil Beswick
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WHAT CONDITION THE CONDITION DATA COLLECTION WAS IN

22,033 3,731 230 500 69 46
Total number of schools surveyed Number of schools that required immediate repairs Number of surveyors at the start of the job Number of surveyors at the peak of the project Number of schools with more than 10 building elements in bad condition Number of schools not surveyed (all but one of which was inaccessible due to ongoing redevelopments)
Close

WHAT CONDITION THE CONDITION DATA COLLECTION WAS IN

22,033 3,731 230 500 69 46
Total number of schools surveyed Number of schools that required immediate repairs Number of surveyors at the start of the job Number of surveyors at the peak of the project Number of schools with more than 10 building elements in bad condition Number of schools not surveyed (all but one of which was inaccessible due to ongoing redevelopments)

The surveys of building fabric and mechanical and electrical systems were used to generate work and cost estimates to inform the DfE's strategic five-year investment plan. Condition information was also passed to schools to flag up issues for them to investigate before bidding for funds.

CDC rose from the ashes of the pioneering Property Data Survey (PDS), the DfE's first attempt to create a dataset on the condition of schools, which drew some criticism over a lack of data consistency and quality. With CDC, the intention was to build upon its successes and rectify its failures.

Phil Beswick FRICS, who led the TSM team, told Modus: "We wanted a greater focus on quality assurance to check data met key technical standards. Our audit team reviewed 5% of all the data returned and provided feedback to surveying organisations on whether their work was up to scratch."

The structure of PDS was retained to ensure continuity between the old and new programmes, but Aecom developed a new methodology and updated technical manuals. Under PDS the system for data capture had relied on separate proprietary IT systems feeding into a software database. But CDC used a single cloud portal and survey app, supplied by IT provider Kykloud, which all surveyors used for data entry.

"There was an error rate of less than 1% across the programme"

Public and private stakeholders were engaged during planning and execution phases. A piloting exercise involved the DfE setting up a group that included schools, responsible bodies, local authorities, surveying organisations and public bodies, including RICS, to oversee the developing programme and contribute feedback and ideas.

Strong communication with school governors ensured they understood what CDC involved, how it would help build a better picture of investment needed in the estate, and the work required during site visits.

"The sheer pace at which surveys had to be undertaken to capture more than 22,000 schools, and the number of people involved, could easily have sent the programme off course," says Steve Dixon, account director for DfE work at Arcadis. "That it stayed on track is testament to the stakeholder approach, the way CDC was designed to pre-empt issues, and engagement from the organisations on site."

There was an error rate of less than 1% across the programme and CDC has been expanded to cover every government-maintained further education college in England. According to Iain Ashworth MRICS, director and head of building surveying at Aecom, the model may also be applied elsewhere: "Universities or councils could easily carry out these surveys, which are an efficient, cost- effective way to work out a five- to-10-year budget. It doesn't give you a detailed condition survey, but if you need an idea of anticipated strategic spend, it works really well," he says.

Illustration by Mark Allen Miller 

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