New London Architecture

New London Agenda and Early Years and Family Support the new focus of Expert Panel on Education

Tuesday 07 December 2021

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Ben Marston

Director
Jestico + Whiles

We held the fourth NLA Expert Panel on Education on 29th November 2021, focussing on two subjects: the New London Agenda and Early Years and Family Support. 

The New London Agenda is being defined in advance of the next mayoral election with the NLA becoming more politically active. The intention is for all 14 NLA panels to work collaboratively on a collective goal of a plan to inform the incoming mayor of key objectives that will see London resilient and sustainable in the future. 

Being the Education panel, it is always appropriate to set a bit of homework: on this occasion panellists were asked to identify their own two key priorities for education in London. Our panel is made up of experts who work in different ways in and around education. It includes architects, engineers, estate directors, local authority leaders, teachers and property agents. What followed was a range of views, with a wide-ranging and informative discussion, which touched on many key topics that should be, and hopefully already are, in the mayor’s inbox. 

New London Agenda

Mat Oakley, Savills:

Affordable student housing: we need to think holistically about the challenge of housing London’s students. Currently there’s a record low of student housing delivery and fewer private landlords. The affordability gap is getting worse. There needs to be greater provision in the London Plan for student living. Developers are not providing affordability in these schemes.

Change of Use for Education: in practice it is proving challenging to change properties from Use Class E (Commercial, Business and Service) to Use Class F (Local Community and Learning). Local authorities seem to be making it very hard. We need to promote education as a worthwhile use for buildings. 

Jessica Mailey, Architect, BDP: 

Environment and Wellbeing: the biggest challenges are to achieve the zero-carbon target, whilst improving health and wellbeing for students and children. 

Access to Education: should be all-encompassing and easier, supporting communities, making education accessible and inclusive, creating flexible and usable spaces, which everyone can use. Schools could bring in other businesses and work together to create multi-purpose spaces. 

Jess also produced the diagram which illustrates this piece and sought to summarise the interrelationships between the topics the panel has addressed in our previous sessions. 



Douglas Inglis, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands:

Wellbeing: as student and tutors return to higher education, a key thing to consider must be maximising the benefit of using those spaces. Social interaction has to be more positive. 

Adaptability: things are changing rapidly, so buildings must be designed with absolute adaptability. And with increasing student numbers- UCL has increased its student intake by 8000 in a year – where are they going to be housed?

Ventilation: rethinking ventilation: psychologically people feel healthier in naturally ventilated spaces. UCL are asking if spaces can be naturally ventilated rather than mechanically ventilated. 

 

Marta Galinanes-Garcia, AKTII:

Retrofit first: how many of London’s 3,250 existing schools can be retrofitted? Rather than construct wholesale new schools, consider refitting. This could have a big impact. Many schools could benefit from easy retrofit, we don’t do enough of it in schools.

 

Bruce Glockling, London Borough of Southwark:

Depopulation: Pupil enrolment in inner London boroughs is declining rapidly after years of demand; how do we attract families to live and grow in London? Are we creating the type of places that people in London want to live in or do they move away and find spaces for families? We are trying to build family council homes, but are we creating the right type of homes?

 

Judy Raper, CEO and Dean, TEDI-London:

Accessibility: Students can’t afford to come to university. Students are having to work at the same time to afford accommodation. Finding work which is suitable to their hours can be tough. We should provide more scholarships; perhaps make those available to key workers post-pandemic.

Student accommodation: Affordable accommodation is difficult to come by. 

 

Rachel Moulton, HKS Architects Limited:

Sustainability: budget is lacking, we should have a London levy for sustainability, on top of the budget provided, to enable us to use materials that are sustainable and renewable.  Someone in government needs to put pressure on insurance companies to accept timber as a viable form of construction.

External space: There needs to be more access to outdoor spaces in schools. Some free schools built without virtually any external space. Green spaces located away from highly polluted areas and achieve cleaner air in London. Also improve acoustics and wellbeing. 



Angela Mitten, Royal College of Art:

Climate adaptation: what funding is available for applying sustainable measures to legacy buildings? There is not the same funding available for higher education buildings and adaption of existing estates.

Attracting staff back on campus: Staff communities have broken down in the pandemic, connections lost with colleagues. There is a need to build back the community spatially and build back interaction with students.

 

Neil Pinder, Graveney School:

Carbon/clean air: local authorities need to act quickly to improve air quality.

Curriculum: the way students are judged at primary school is via a test which doesn’t consider creativity vs academia, would like to see creativity being added to these tests. Progress 8 in secondary – a government initiative of eight academic subjects deemed to be the most important -excludes creative subjects because they are too expensive. They become limited to lunchtime clubs / after school. Solution: every single school pair up with a creative industry to add creativity back onto the curriculum. 

 

Ann Dalzell, Arup:

Clean air: has to be at the top of the agenda! Net zero and decarbonising large London universities: make them natural ventilated and more comfortable. Mixed-mode ventilation solutions have to work on a traffic light system.

Accessibility: It can be a struggle to get kids interested and considering careers in the built environment. Get kids involved in what goes on behind the scenes. We’re engaging Yr5s and Yr6s early on so they can become involved in the conversations. 

 

Ian Goodfellow, Penoyre & Prasad: 

Post COP26 leadership: If leadership isn’t coming from government, universities can step up and make enormous differences to action sustainable campuses. A desire for better outside space with nature and landscapes. 

Clean air / sustainable campuses: better controls of internal environment - links to mental health / isolation / community and social spaces. A survey revealed a desire for better outside spaces, biophilic spaces. How to make London a more liveable city?

 

We had an engaging discussion around a number of the priorities suggested. 

Wellbeing and particularly air quality - so important in an educational setting inside and outside of buildings - was a recurring theme. Mat Oakley challenged how practical the desire for natural ventilation is if air quality is not currently suitable for it? This is an example of how priorities are often interlinked: if air quality improves city-wide, then the prospects of natural ventilation are much better. We also touched on complications with noise and acoustics of natural ventilation in a London context. Mat also proposed that a simple policy point for government would be that no educational institutions be allowed to sell off green spaces. 

We talked about the accessibility of education, and the types of education offered. Neil Pinder highlighted that English education does not value apprenticeships like Europe does. He argued there is a need to champion more creative and technical education channels alongside apprenticeships. Ann Dalzell commented that BTEC’s have become devalued. 

We touched on the mental health impact of Covid, with the majority of teachers’ mental health deteriorating over the pandemic. Angela Mitten talked about how the hybrid model of education is proving hard to make work. There is a need for consideration to be given to staff office accommodation to enable it. 

Early Years and Family Support

For the final part of our agenda, we discussed early years and family support, which is an area we have not focussed on previously. The formative years are the most important as success here unlocks education attainment in later years. With new investment promised in the recent budget, where does that take us? What do good quality education and childcare facilities look like?

Bruce Glocking, in his role at Southwark had helpfully consulted some of this colleagues to get a views from the ground. Some of these dovetailed with our earlier discussion points: 

·       Importance of outdoor learning and the environment
·       Consolidation in the sector and the consequential overwhelming physical scale of some facilities for children. The design challenge of how to maintain a homely environment. 
·       Community integration and potential intergenerational benefits of co-location. 
·       Family Hubs are envisaged as being similar to Sure Start Centres, many architecturally innovative, built 15 years ago. It would be good to understand how these have performed. 

We discussed each of these points. Neil Pinder highlighted an overall response to good quality education and childcare which was pertinent: 

·       Practices that support positive interaction amongst children 
·       Respect for diversity and difference, inclusion of children with disabilities
·       Taking responsible risk, failure is not a weakness
·       You engage with children by talking to them 
·       Allow children to be children

Neil encouraged the NLA to get out there and talk to children. 

Jess Mailey talked about the potential of partnerships between businesses, facilities, institutions, and schools, suggesting the need for a platform to facilitate these connections. 

We talked about the benefits of intergenerational facilities. Rachel Moulton noted that whilst there were obvious safeguarding issues to overcome, there have been some examples of early years joining forces with a care home to huge mutual benefit. Though we worried how this will work in Covid times.  Fundamentally, community should be at the heart of schools. Mat Oakley tangentially pointed to the success of seniors and students co-living, with access to 24hr security, healthcare and high-quality education. He observed that these questions are being asked in big companies: how to create culture? 

At times, we also got a bit political. Mat speculated that maybe we do not need more educational spaces in London, if they can be used to make better spaces, that is the better solution. Whilst protecting green space, the practicalities of re-gearing education estates might mean selling off buildings if demand is reduced, and then use the proceeds sensibly. This drew a passionate contrary view from Neil Pinder, who said that no school building or land should be sold off. Wandsworth’s decision to sell schools was cited as counterproductive, when new schools were subsequently needed a few years later in the same location.

This discussion segued back to the challenge currently being faced with the reduction of the school-age population in Inner London and the question of how to attract families back. We discussed how new developments are often targeted at young, mobile people and not families, with the consequence of forcing indigenous populations out. There is a need to encourage families back and build the right kind of housing for them. It was an example of how priorities in the New London Agenda will naturally overlap: ultimately how do we make London a more liveable, affordable, accessible city? 

 


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Ben Marston

Director
Jestico + Whiles


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