NLA Education Conference Report

Tuesday 22 November 2011

London is facing a shortfall of some 70,000 school places over the next four years, but providers could improve the process of meeting that demand by looking at higher densities, building tall, and by using a greater degree of standardised components. Those were some of the key findings of an NLA conference held on 17 November, which looked into the aftermath of the James Review into school capital spending.

The key points raised at the conference were: 

• There are around 1 million pupils in London (61% of them at primary level)

• The forecast is for an extra 100,000 pupils between 2010/2011 and 2014/15

• Over 70,000 more permanent school places are needed over the spending review period

• Nearly 10,000 pupils in London are being taught in temporary classrooms, 90% of them in reception to Year 2 classes

• London has disproportionate funding, ending up with less comparative to the rest of the country than if funding was based on a shortfall in school places. ‘There are problems around the country, but they are much bigger in London’  - Mike Pocock, Divisional Director, Education Estates and Capital Projects, Lambeth Council

• Schools are having to be innovative in finding space for pupils, along with the creation of more ‘bulge classes’

• Lambeth has had a 29% increase in reception applications over 5 years; but the 14% increase in birth rate over that time is ‘only about half the explanation’, immigration being one of the others

• This year, Lambeth will do more than £50m of school building work in the borough, 40% of which is the remains of BSF programme, 60% in primary schools

• 11 FE expansion are projects ready to start – but there are very few sites for new build

• GLA projections have proven to be a ‘complete underestimate’. ‘They do not reflect reality. We realised 4 years ago we had to move away from that in planning’, says Pocock. ‘I have a very big worry about whether we will actually have enough places, going forward.’

• The drivers of current education policies are about meeting demand

• The James review cites standardised designs and specifications – a suite of drawings and specifications to be used to illustrate ‘fit for purpose’, said Mike Coleman, Regional Operations Director, Partnership for Schools. ‘That’s a little bit vague, in my view’. ‘We’re talking about a kit of parts’…‘What we are talking about is providing fit for purpose buildings…The concept of landmark designs no longer applies’

• A capital review pilot is taking place in Doncaster to look at emergent thinking, which focuses on a quick procurement route, and resulting in savings of some £4m to the taxpayer through reduced capital costs. ‘The feeling is in terms of fitness for purpose that we have been able to provide a building which fulfils the educational need and addresses the original problems that they had.’

• The privately financed Priority School Building Programme will be managed centrally by Partnerships for Schools, and then the Education Funding Agency when PfS is absorbed into that body next year. This will provide £2bn for 100-300 schools, delivered over five years, focused on schools with the largest condition need.

• 24 Free Schools opened recently – more than 55 are set to open in September 2012. Refurbishment, not new build, is the norm here. 

• Coleman on the school places problem: ‘It does seem to have been something which has been put on the backburner until it was too late. But we are where we are. We are repeating history here’

• Buildings, however iconic, innovative or well-suited are not the sole reason for school transformation – the teaching is, says Catherine Pinder, Project Manager, ARK Schools

• But: ‘Fit for purpose’ to ARK means: a focus on the inside, not outside; high quality, flexible classrooms; rationalised circulation; high quality fittings, furniture and equipment; and the use of high quality, robust, easily maintainable materials. ‘We don’t think successful delivery is only about construction budgets’

• 70% of our school stock at the moment is over 25 years old

• Refurbishment options for schools are sometimes more expensive than new build, but have the benefit of good space standards, bring identity and are triggers for regeneration, said Darren Talbot – head of schools at Davis Langdon. But they also often lack efficient space, are unsuitable for the curriculum, necessitate temporary accommodation and disruption to school environment

• The retail sector uses kit of parts solutions – why don’t we look at kit of parts for some refurbishments and refreshes? – Darren Talbot – head of schools Davis Langdon

• 82% of respondents to a survey said they would accept some form of standardisation – ‘I think the landscape has changed’. ‘Standardised means a lot of different things to a lot of different people’ – Philip Watson - Atkins

• ‘We believe that without really trying very hard we can make around 85% of a new school standardised design, where we can guarantee the quality of the environment. It’s in the spaces in between – that 15% where we can give the school identity’…‘This absolutely does not prescribe a form’

• Schemes should be measured in £ per pupil per annum, believes Stephen Hockaday, Director, Laing O'Rourke. 

• The 70,000 school places needed up to 2014/15 are only a start. Demographic forces driving this are still there. ‘I want us to start thinking about the next 70,000 beyond that, which is going to be an even bigger challenge because we are going to run out of easy options’  - Barney Stringer, Director, Quod Planning

• 70,000 places equates to £1.3bn, or four times what the Mayor’s Crossrail Levy will raise. It is also equivalent to 80 hectares, or King’s Cross Central three times over

• High density and multi-floor solutions are being investigated, some with housing or other facilities above the school, but even at high densities councils are finding it hard to find the land and money

• Stringer:  ‘There’s no way that London can provide the school capacity it needs in the medium term without an engagement or partnership with developers and without looking at these high density designs’

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