Schools learn lessons for 35,000 places shortfall

Wednesday 7 October 2015

London is facing a shortfall of almost 35,000 secondary school places by 2020, a significant drop in capital funding and mounting pressures caused by ‘bolting on’ forms of entry to existing establishments - not to mention staff accommodation problems bubbling away in the background.

So, how are schools responding to ease the crisis? A half-day conference held at the NLA last week sponsored by Tobermore sought to find out, kicked off by Creative Wit owner Dr Sharon Wright, who branded the scale of the problem ‘challenging’ and ‘quite overwhelming’.

Adding bulge classes and forms of entry, said Wright, have a considerable impact on the community and expanding too fast can result in standards dropping. Free schools face issues of integration into an area – authorities need to be strategic, not political about working with sponsors to open new free schools in the right places, while there should also be better national and regional planning. ‘A proper funding model is needed that reflects the scale of the problem’, but schools could better use external spaces and offsite resources or adopt new trends such as mixed-use developments.

Good design has mad a palpable difference to William Perkin High School in Greenford, Middlesex, said its associate head teacher Kier Smith, whose key advice was for teams to ‘think nimbly’. The brief was to achieve an architectural solution which took ‘awe and wonder’ alongside a sense of calm, said Smith, with an emphasis on light, achieved with a £19m scheme that uses cross laminated timber. ‘The pride and care and respect the children have for the building is definitely on of the reasons we achieved an outstanding OFSTED’, said Smith. This ethos is borne out in the findings shown by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios researcher Joe Jack Williams. New school buildings show their communities a glimpse of the future and can be the ‘catalyst for change’, although a potentially demoralizing problem for schools, was that we know that we are heading for overcapacity. The practice’s managing partner Ian Taylor had a number of suggestions, including wide consultation, building where there is demographic need, and designing for flexibllity, increased numbers and with generous circulation.

The conference also head from speakers including Ealing’s executive director of housing and regeneration Pat Hayes, who said one of the key tensions for planning had been the switch in the educational programme, and with densification generating educational demand. Ramboll director Gavin White extolled the virtues of using CRT, which can help on airtightness, cut waste and save up to 15% on the programme. Haverstock partner Claire Barton looked at the Board Schools, over 400 of which were built in a 10 year period but only 39 still exist as schools. Working to adapt and improve them today, however, is beneficial. ‘Every single one of them has its uniqueness and it is those things that really allow us to offer character to these spaces’, she said. ‘This is what we’re lacking with the new builds. And finally, WSP’s associate director Ross Harvey showed what could be a part of things to come on these shores, beyond the Plimsoll mixed use building at King’s Cross, with New York’s Beekman Tower including a 600 pupil school and 25,000sq ft hospital in its base.

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