New London Architecture

Five minutes With... Paul Turpin

Tuesday 25 June 2024

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Five minutes with...Paul Turpin, UK Architectural lead, Arcadis

David Taylor meets Paul Turpin on Arcadis to chat through the SEND schools sector, the practice’s Paddocks project in Tooting and his hopes for education more generally

 
David Taylor  
Hi, Paul.  I wanted to talk to you about your work in education and specifically SEND – for special educational needs and disabilities. Could you paint a picture of that whole sector, and your work in it? And also, I think there's been a bit of a change in your own company that's led to this avenue, Arcadis having taken over the IBI Group last year?
 
Paul Turpin  
Hi David. Yes indeed. Essentially, there's been a continuous increase in pupils and students who are being designated with SEND statements and conditions. The evidence that we're seeing is that the urbanization of our cities, the increase of people living in our cities, is leading to a greater shift in particular illnesses and conditions that we're getting as individuals, as well. So, for instance, with people in cities, I think there is some evidence to show that actually, schizophrenia is on the increase. But certainly, in other areas there are actually less conditions, and other conditions as well. So, it is very variable. Coinciding with that, we've also seen that there's a surplus of pupil places across our education estate – our mainstream education estate – in the last few years. And over the next few years, that is forecast as well. So, there's some very interesting opportunities for our SEND estate.
 
David Taylor  
Why is there a surplus?
 
Paul Turpin  
I think birth rates. Birth rates have dropped. I think it was the birth rates that were predicted a few years ago - we just went through a bubble a few years back and it shifted.
 
David Taylor  
But for kids in urban areas, the "urban-ness" of the area contributes to mental health, then? Is that the correlation? 
 
Paul Turpin  
Well, not directly. There's a lot about our cities that we still don't know about. So, for instance, we've got a fairly good idea now around how the design of our internal environments can impact the way that we feel and the way we react about our space. But actually, what we're not seeing is enough focus on some of our outdoor spaces and how our towns and cities are put together. So, I think that's where different studies are going to help inform that. We're involved in some of that at the moment, which I think is absolutely fascinating. But yes, certainly, in terms of the numbers, there's a whole series of reasons as to why the numbers have gone up for students and pupils with SEND. I don't think it's any one particular reason. I just think it's something we need to learn a lot more about, because I think it's something that's going to continuously change with the increase in people living in our cities.
 
David Taylor  
Perhaps you can explain through a description of one of your on-site projects, the Paddocks SEND school in Tooting, how designs of this kind of school differ from other, more traditional kinds of school? What are the design implications of a SEND school?
 
Paul Turpin  
Firstly, I think it's around how the school operates within the community. Invariably, the children who go to the school don't always come from the local area. So, a big part of this is how we can create that community-facing role. Certainly, the school that we're working with has got that in droves, particularly in the way that it operates at the moment. There is an existing school that we're relocating, and they've got a café, which sounds a very simple idea, but actually the way they operate it is hugely innovative, in terms of the way that pupils get involved. They grow the food, they prepare the food, and they serve the food. I think for children with SEND, the engagement with the local community, the employment skills, the life skills are so important, and innovations like this really help break down those barriers. In terms of the internal environment, I think the way we design the internal spaces is quite different. Equally, the external spaces as well. So, we must very much think of the senses, we are thinking about colour, we're thinking about acoustics. There are much more stringent design standards around things like acoustics, making sure we've got the right daylight, using the right colours as well. And then also on the outdoor spaces as well, we're very much thinking about how the internal and the external spaces work together. We're thinking about calming areas, we're thinking about dysregulation, when the students and pupils first arrive at a school, how they feel calm, and how we can move them into that sort of calming mode. So, we're very much thinking about that journey from when they arrive at the school and coming into those internal spaces. It's really, really important to get them in the right place so they can start their education. 
 
David Taylor  
I note that you're working with around 22 schools, I think, across London and the South. I wondered how the London picture differs, if it does, to the national picture. Is it more concentrated in London, this issue?
 
Paul Turpin  
I think it probably is a little bit different in our cities purely because of what I mentioned earlier. But I also do think the national picture is similar in certain pockets in certain parts of the country.  It's more intense in some parts of the country than others, but we definitely see it a lot in London, particularly in terms of the urbanization. I do think where we are seeing a slightly different picture is for students when they get to 16 years old and there is there is an obligation to continue to deliver education, up to the age of 25. Certainly, the funding arrangements can be quite different post-16, and post-18. It certainly requires some innovative thinking to develop some funding models and create some collaborative opportunities to help deliver that. So, for instance, we very much see the local authorities as a very important cog in the development of colleges, for students with SEND. And that's for a number of reasons, really. Firstly, I think there's the importance of legacy in the community; obviously, local authorities very much believe in that. I think for the students in SEND colleges as well, a lot of what they are looking to do is to create employment connections – but also to create those life skills as well. We are working with a particular multi–Academy Trust which is very focused on that, where we are creating these or working with them to help create those collaborations. And it is creating wonderful opportunities for students. It's not necessarily about what the building looks like, but it's about what it does. The buildings here are the enablers for those opportunities for those students.
 
David Taylor  
So: final question – we've got a general election just around the corner. What are your hopes for education broadly, and perhaps specifically for this sub-sector of education, under a new government? If you have any firm hopes in that regard...
 
Paul Turpin  
I've been in our industry for over 20 years and one of the things I love about it is it never stays still; it's always continuing to evolve. I think it still relies very much on the private sector to help deliver a lot of the aspirations of the public sector, and I don't see that changing over the next few years. We know that there's not going to be a cash cow coming through, I think in all the different sectors we're seeing; I think the challenge is quite different from the HE sector. We have got the focus on utilization rates. We've got fewer international students coming through and the funding shortfall in the school sector. We're seeing a lack of resilience across the building estate and across the teacher cohort. But I think certainly the FE, further education sector, and the training sector, developing something that responds to local needs, I think is crucial to make that sector work, particularly in the world of skill shortages, apprenticeships, alignment with colleges. I think something similar, certainly with the SEND college market as well, I think is going to be very crucial. From a SEND mainstream connection, I think a greater understanding and a greater drive towards creating those collaborative opportunities with their local communities is going to be the big thing, and a greater technical understanding of our cities and towns, not just the inside the buildings, but the way we design our streets and our places is going to be crucial. Not just over the next few years, but over the next 20 or 30 years.
 
David Taylor  
It's interesting, isn't it? When you cast your mind back to the last time there was an incoming Labour government – which isn't to say that it will definitely happen this time, but the signs are there - their mantra was ‘Education, education, education’, wasn't it, the Blair government?
 
Paul Turpin  
Yes
 
David Taylor  
 And that is nowhere near the frontline, this time, is it, as an issue?
 
Paul Turpin  
It's not. And to be honest, it's been a shame that over the last few governments, there's been very little talking from the media around education. The newspapers haven't really picked up that much on that either. And yet, we just seen the gradual decline of that resilience over the last few years, and I think that's a real shame. So, I'd love to see it moved much higher up the agenda. But I can certainly recognize that at this moment in time, there's a lot of other things that are all vying for similar situations as well. And they've got similar challenges. So, I think it's very much with us in the private sector to help drive change and improvement, and to do all we can to help.
 
David Taylor  
Well, good luck with it all. Lovely speaking to you. Thank you very much.
 
Paul Turpin  
Likewise, David, thank you very much.


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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