Ben Marston, Jestico + Whiles reflects on the latest NLA Education Expert Panel meeting, as the new cycle kicks off.
In the previous cycle of the NLA’s Education Expert Panel, we had worked towards defining education priorities for London, from a built environment perspective, to feed into the NLA’s New London Agenda. Access to Education, Employment and Training had been the panel’s highest priority, followed by Net Zero, Environment and Wellbeing and access to Creativity in the Curriculum. A series of policy proposals had been made around these priorities.
With new panellists joining for this next cycle, the NLA’s agenda for this meeting was simple: reflect and discuss those priorities amongst the new group to get fresh perspectives and insight. The wide breadth of education design expertise around the table led to a really engaging session.
Design quality, and its educational impacts, was a major theme, alongside the need to learn from post-occupancy evaluation. We heard about award-winning buildings let down by basic design issues like not enough toilets, alongside fundamental construction issues. And we learnt about the Department of Education’s forthcoming design codes, why they are needed and what they will and won’t do. We talked about the need for design review on projects, and how much CABE is missed.
Retrofit of the existing estate, and the challenge of achieving NetZero with it, was another recurring discussion. Deep retrofit, which may be what is needed but may prove too challenging, should not be an excuse for doing nothing. Much can be achieved with low-cost high-impact interventions. Schools often struggle without access to expertise. A simple roadmap for education premises was advocated to inform where limited resources might be best spent. The increasing awareness and focus on wellbeing was also discussed, particularly the need for a WELL standard specifically tailored to education buildings.
We discussed how education could be made more accessible through making it available in new contexts through retail partnerships, or multi-use facilities shared between schools for example. We talked about how commercial developments are often contributing social value, which can have educational impact, but this often appears uncoordinated, questioning who is keeping the overall view? We heard how there was a need for flexibility of use in school buildings given falling rolls, to enable local authorities to hold on to, rather than dispose of, their estate when demand fluctuates. The challenge of resources came up repeatedly. Lots of much-needed investment is simply not possible due to the worsening financial outlook.
We concluded there was lots more to discuss. The panel is planning to form some subgroups this cycle to investigate in more depth some of the issues identified. Stay tuned.